Many downtown businesses and their customers are asking: where is the Olympia Police Department’s evening downtown walking patrol?
They’re coming, but staffing challenges are delaying their arrival, said Lt. Paul Lower, spokesman for the police department. They’ll likely hit the streets in mid-July and stick around until late September.
Two officers will be dedicated to 10-hour shifts — 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays.
Councilwoman Jeannine Roe raised the issue at last week’s Olympia City Council meeting, and said that downtown businesses have been asking about the patrols. City Manager Steve Hall said $60,000 of the city’s budget has been set aside for the walking patrol — but that’s not the issue.
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Following a rash of retirements late last year and early this year, the police department has a lot of empty positions to fill.
“We have a lot of people in the training process,” Lower said. “And that takes awhile.”
Many of the recent retirees joined the Olympia Police Department in the 1980s and never left, Lower said. Several department managers also became eligible for retirement at the same time.
As a result, many officers have been moved out of the patrol division — the division that walking patrol officers are pulled from — and placed temporarily in management positions, Lower said. The department is working to permanently promote people.
Meanwhile, four officers are in training, and two are waiting to go to the state academy. But, several other departments are in the same position, so the academy is full. The two officers will likely enter the academy in late August, Lower said.
The police department also is running background checks on candidates for two other officer positions. Since the demand for officers statewide is high, it’s getting harder and harder to find candidates.
“It’s really competitive,” Lower said. “Most candidates come to us with three or four other agencies looking at them. We’ll start backgrounding someone only to learn that they’ve been hired by Fife, or somewhere else.”
After a several-year hiatus, the Olympia Police Department reinstated the evening walking patrol in 2015, with the goal of making downtown safer on summer nights, when police typically see an increase in disorderly activity.
The job involves getting to know the downtown community — including business owners and patrons, said Officer Paul Frailey, who held the job in 2015.
The job also involves a lot of — you guessed it — walking.
In 2015, Frailey said he invested in a new pair of boots for his new assignment.