Olympia police are preparing for big changes in the coming months after voters approved a public safety levy.
The property tax increase that passed in November gives the Olympia Police Department an extra $2.8 million per year for a new mental health outreach team, more officers for downtown walking patrols, and a new station on Harrison Avenue Northwest, set to open in March.
In a presentation Tuesday to the City Council, Chief Ronnie Roberts said the changes will reshape his department, with new positions that emphasize community policing, recruitment and training.
“All these processes take time. We’re trying to map it out as best we can (but) this is really going to be a work in progress,” Roberts told the council.
For mental health outreach, the department plans to contract with a provider that will work with police to help people in crises and connect them with social services. In the past, Roberts described the program as a way to respond to people causing disturbances but not acting criminally.
A request for proposals will go out soon with the hopes of selecting a provider by May and having a team in place by the summer. Roberts said a posting for a coordinator position garnered more than 80 applications from across the country.
Among of the most anticipated changes are additions to the department’s downtown walking patrol, which began in 1985 but was cut during the recession. Voters approved a sales tax increase in 2012 that added back two walking patrol positions.
Beginning in June, the department will move four officers and a sergeant to the walking patrol. Walking patrol will now be year round whereas before it was primarily done in the summer months. Nighttime patrols, which were cut in 2016, also will return.
Two new neighborhood liaison officers will be assigned later this year.
Roberts said one challenge amid all these changes could be hiring. That’s because there is a backlog at the academy that trains recruits for law enforcement agencies across the state.
“This is going to be a significant year of transition for us,” Roberts said. “Managing community expectations is really important, and I think it’s really important for the community to know that hiring a police officer takes a year, and that’s just the reality of it.”