Turning A Corner on Crime: Bremerton Police Captain Reflects

Blogger’s Note: Today is the first installment in an occasional series examining how far Bremerton has come in reducing its state-high violent crime rate. Our guest blogger is Bremerton Police Captain Tom Wolfe, who’s seen the city then and now. The initial installment can be read here.

“I started working in Bremerton as a police officer in the summer of 1988. I worked a lot on foot downtown in the beginning, and spent the next eleven years working some form of night shift, with three of those assigned to the gang unit when gangs hit their high water mark.

Two years ago, as I stood at First Street and Washington Avenue at 9:45 p.m. on a pleasant summer night, it hit me just how far we have come.  I could visualize the brawls that spilled out of the numerous bars. I still remember hearing and seeing all available Bremerton, (Kitsap) County and (Washington) State units gathering to quell the mini-riots. I remember a sailor slumped against the wall of the old Popeye’s Tavern after having just been shot. The guy in the trench coat with the shotgun running down Front Street. Knife fights. Cat fights. You name it.

That vision was interrupted by a little girl and her parents walking by eating ice-cream cones. All the bumps and bruises and trips to the ER suddenly seemed worth it. We had fought to keep the peace on the streets and now they are peaceful, at least most nights. The police department formed a gang unit in the early 90’s to combat violent gang issues. We took officers and took aim at the biggest problem in the city, untying them from responding to 911 calls. And it worked.

Bremerton has some factors working against it, but the one thing it has had as long as I have been here is men and women who think outside of the box and are creative problem solvers. We have never had the equipment other departments have, or the number of officers. Instead we have had more calls and higher crime rates than those well-to-do agencies, so we have adapted and overcome.  I remember listening to a commander from another agency bemoaning his lack of budget and manpower issues. When I showed him our budget, manpower and call volume his jaw dropped: “How do you guys do it?” he asked.

In 2005, when Chief Craig Rogers took over, we still had the dubious distinction of being number one most violent city in Washington per capita, three years running in at least the top three.  Rogers’ focused policing program, working to put extra officers on the street and untie them from going 911 call to 911 call, has paid big dividends. Our violent crime rate has dropped significantly.

The other program that has impacted the city the most is the landlord notification program. We have, above all, been willing to try new things — i.e. the red light cameras. Like them or hate them, you have to look at the reason we put them there, to make our streets safer.  The accident rates have dropped and we have not experienced a fatality at our worst intersections since they went in.

With the drug culture shifting from crack cocaine to meth we have taken on new drug issues.  The city remains largely rental-oriented and that creates unique problems as well. But I look at where we were 23 years ago and what we have been able to accomplish and I can honestly say we are turning the corner. We have made so many positive impacts and changes that we can show results for. I think the next ten years will tell the tale for certain. And we will be here pushing the city around the corner, dragging it if need be.”

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