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More cops on the street with law/justice levy

Kitsap voters will decide a sales tax hike for law enforcement on Sept. 20.

It amounts to less than a ha’penny on a cup of coffee, but a proposed sales tax increase could provide a big money boost for the island’s crime fighters.

The Bainbridge Island Police Department, along with other law enforcement agencies in Kitsap County, would benefit from a 0.15 percent sales tax levy on the Sept. 20 ballot to address a wide range of staff shortfalls.

“The levy is part of a multi-pronged approach to fulfill a lot of needs,” said Bainbridge Police Chief Matt Haney. “It uses both law enforcement and education, a very effective combination.”

The tax increase, which would amount to about 1.5 cents on a $10 purchase, would pay for two traffic officers, a school resource officer, a “vulnerable adult victimization” detective, a half-time court security officer and an investigative assistant.

The levy has a five-year sunset and would require a vote for renewal. Automobile sales and leases would be exempt from the tax increase.

The levy would raise approximately $4.2 million in the first year, and would be portioned out at 60 percent for the county and 40 percent for city law and justice agencies, according to the levy’s author, Kitsap County Prosecutor Russ Hauge.

Haney said the island is in particularly dire need of the two traffic officers.

“Last year, we had three fatal collisions and four near-fatal collisions,” he said, adding that the crash rate on the island has steadily increased since the early 1990s. “All of our officers do traffic enforcement when they’re available, but we need a dedicated unit to address this need.”

The department had a full-time traffic officer last year, but that position was moved to patrol service to meet increased demand.

Haney has proposed that the additional traffic police be motorcycle-mounted for increased maneuverability.

In addition to speed monitoring and education duties, the traffic team would conduct commercial vehicle inspections – a task no Bainbridge police officer has undertaken since the island came under city jurisdiction.

Haney cited an escalation in a wide range of juvenile crime in his call for a full-time school-based officer.

“Increasingly, bad things are happening at the high school, and the schools are asking us to be more present,” he said.

In a comparison of the first seven months of 2004 and 2005, assaults and thefts among 10-18-year-olds doubled, according to police crime analyst Patti Richie.

Drug use, drug possession and suicide attempts also rose during that period.

Bainbridge Island public schools Superin­tendent Ken Crawford is particularly interested in increasing contact between younger students and local officers.

He said an early connection to police can translate into a more positive relationship with law enforcement in the future.

“What we’ve found, in having a resource officer, is the development of comfort, friendship and, at times, a collaborative relationship between students and officers,” Crawford said. “They then better understand the role police can play in the quality of their lives.”

Crawford said an on-campus police presence can also be a benefit during school emergencies.

While Bainbridge High School has a security guard, Crawford and Haney say many similar-sized schools have a security guard as well as a regular police presence.

“Having a school resource officer is considered standard procedure anywhere else,” Haney said. “Yet we don’t have one.”

A resource officer active in island schools was reassigned in 2003 to general patrol duties and to work on emergency preparedness.

The officer’s presence at Bainbridge schools dwindled to one day a week in 2004.

Haney also hopes to support the increasing population of elderly adults on the island with a special detective who would investigate financial crimes, identity thefts, elderly abuse, abandonment, neglect and exploitation.

This detective would also meet with elderly residents to discuss methods and strategies they can use to prevent these types of crimes, Haney said.

Hiring a special investigative assistant for 18 months would help the department analyze and organize a growing evidence backlog.

Haney hopes to make the Bainbridge Island Municipal Court at Rolling Bay a safer place with a new part-time security officer who would screen court attendees.

“The court must be a place where victims and witnesses can appear without fear for their safety,” he said.

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Law levy

More information on the law and justice levy, which will appear on the Sept. 20 primary ballot, is available from the Kitsap County Prosecutor’s Office, online at www.kitsapgov.com/pros/taxlevy.htm.

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