Traffic cop in budget proposal
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:20 PM
"Two cops and three computers.That's the essence of the new budget items sought by Bainbridge Police for next year.We're doing alright, Chief Bill Cooper said, assessing the department. We've got a good facility now, good equipment, good support. Life is pretty good.Authorized to have 21 commissioned officers this year, the department is currently down to 19 because of turnover. Two desired candidates have been identified, Cooper said, but academy time and other training will keep them off the beat for months.For 2001, citing an increase in calls for service and internal reorganization, Cooper would like three more officers as well. The preliminary budget from the mayor's office would give him two.One would be a full-time traffic enforcement officer, to deal with ongoing citizen complaints of speeding drivers on local roadways. The position would be a permanent day-shift assignment, with duties including radar enforcement in problem areas as well as accident investigation.The second would be a deputy chief, to handle administrative duties including overseeing day-to-day department operations; personnel and financial issues; and fleet and equipment management. The position was recommended by the Civil Service Commission in 1995.Cooper's goal is to get out in the field more, meeting citizens for the community policing that has been the focus of his tenure.I haven't been as visible as I was when I first got here, Cooper said. It hasn't hurt us, but it hasn't helped.Under the proposed budget, total expenditures for the department next year would be $2.58 million, a 3.1 percent increase over 2000, and 18 percent higher than 1999.Call/responseBainbridge Police records show that overall calls for service are up 9 percent from a year ago.Among them, Cooper said, are an increase in domestic disputes, often followed by violations of restraining orders against one of the parties.Topping the list of officer responses through August, the latest numbers available, were false alarms of various causes, at 321. Other items of note included motor-vehicle accidents of the non-injury (131), injury (42) and hit-and-run (29) varieties; vandalism (153); thefts (141) and burglary (67); driving under the influence of intoxicants (52); runaway youths (33); minors in possession of alcohol (19); possession of marijuana and paraphernalia (18); indecent exposure (0).Other possible trends emerging in the past year:* Traffic fatalities: Atypical for Bainbridge Island, three fatal automobile crashes occurred in the past year - two on the highway, another in a curve off Ferncliff Avenue. By comparison, there was a single fatality in 1999, with few recorded over the last decade.* Transients: Cooper said police have seen an increase in the number of transients drifting around the island, some perhaps hailing from Seattle. They can turn up in suspicious persons reports, and many, he said, bring the added complication of apparent mental problems. In a recent incident, a transient was found living in a wooded area near Lumbermen's, with an array of equipment believed to have been stolen from area construction sites. Police are still trying to reunite those items with their owners.* Arson: Twelve incidents were reported through August, most of them around the Fourth of July. That week, the island saw a rash of fires consuming portable toilets at construction sites, and a car left at a park-and-ride near Lynwood Center was set ablaze by vandals and destroyed.There were also four police standoffs, several involving armed persons who threatened to harm themselves. Cooper's response in such incidents has been to overstaff the response team, to guarantee safety as officers try to defuse the situation.The results, including an hours-long incident on High School Road earlier this year in which a resident fired a rifle, have been positive.You spend some hours out there, and the motoring public is sometimes inconvenienced, Cooper said, but everybody goes home safe, and the suspect goes home safe.Coupled with a short staff, the result has been more overtime, with the department exhausting its budget in that area by the end of July. Many officers, Cooper said, have voluntarily taken comp time instead of overtime pay, to help keep the department budget down.They know the city's financial situation, he said.After years of lightning-rod proposals for new vehicles, the department recently went to a cheaper, all-leased fleet of patrol cars. In fact, the only current vehicle purchase is a new patrol boat, which hit the high seas about six weeks ago. The vessel was paid for out of a state fund collected from boat licensing fees.ComplaintsIf the success of an organization can be measured in the absence of complaints, the department would seem to be in decent shape.Through Oct. 3 of this year, Bainbridge Police has received five formal complaints regarding the conduct of officers.Two of the complaints, one alleging that a patrol officer drove too fast and the other that an investigation was poorly handled, were not sustained - parlance indicating that the complaints were found to not merit department action.Two complaints were sustained, one for a substandard investigation of a residential burglary, another for an officer failing to make appropriate notification regarding a domestic court order. In the fifth complaint, the citizen dropped the matter before it was resolved.Those numbers are down from eight formal complaints - three of them from the same person, upset with parking tickets - in 1999. None of those complaints were sustained.The department still faces uncertainty at the top; unable to sell his home in Olympia and frustrated by the commute, Cooper is in the running for the chief position in the Federal Way department. Thursday, Cooper said the field of candidates is still being winnowed down, and the results of that process are not known. "