All four of Kitsap County’s cities swore in a new police chief in 2013, but one simply headed up north for his new job.
Poulsbo Police Chief Al Townsend, 47, started as the chief of the Port Orchard Police Department when he was 33 years old.
He took over the smaller department in April, in a smaller community, and has high praise for it. Poulsbo has 17 officers, including Townsend. Port Orchard has 23.
I caught up with Townsend on Tuesday to see how he has been fitting in.
How’s it been going?
It’s a great place, a great group of people, a great community. And the nice thing is that it has allowed me a little bit more time than I had in Port Orchard to work on other little projects, regional concepts, mental health, things like that which are coming up.
What’s different from Port Orchard?
It was a little bit of a busier place. The crime rate is a little bit higher and the structure of the department is a little bit different here. We have really good support, the department developed a little bit differently. The administrative duties I used to do in Port Orchard are taken on by some other people here. The deputy chief does a lot of things operationally, which has freed me up to to do other projects.
What are your enforcement issues in Poulsbo?
Biggest enforcement issues are drugs, property crimes and traffic related things. The common small town issues come up. Obviously the heroin issue that came up earlier in 2013 was a big one and the community really rallied behind that. It was kind of a denial thing at first: Poulsbo is a great city, we can’t have this really as a problem in our community, I’m not sure I’m falling for this. But once people got slapped upside of the head, as the mayor would have said, it took a slap to really understand that the problem existed. People rallied behind that. The mayor and her plan to help eradicate it has been pretty successful I think.
That intertwines with other crimes as well?
Probably about 75 percent of property crimes we’re seeing had some intertwining with drug activity, people stealing stuff to buy drugs. We just put a body into Bremerton’s Special Operations Group, we’re rotating them through on a 30-day trial basis so they can get a feel for it and SOG supervisors can see what they like about the different people who might be interested in it. Hopefully there will be one person there for at least three years. They’ve had some really good cases come out so far.
What kind of changes have your made?
A lot of it is just morale issues, making people feel connected to the department. And making some of those decisions decentralized. Let’s empower people to make decisions on their own. And just being here and trying to get out and work with the troops at night. It’s not rocket science, it’s just a different way of doing business than the way they were used to up here. I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from the cops, and the community. And the community really likes their police. One of the things I noticed when I got up here and was walking around and talking to people was that a lot of people knew a police officer by name. In Port Orchard I wouldn’t have saw that. They’re going more call to call down in Port Orchard. We have a little more time between calls here. A little more time to interact with the community, and I think the community really likes that.
You’ve been in law enforcement since 1989, what’s changed?
Tell you one thing for sure, on drug side, never seen heroin like it is today in my 25 years in law enforcement. In the old days, like on TV, heroin was in back alleys, kind of that disgusting drug, nobody had anything to do with. It is everywhere now. And it is cheap. And as the Percocet and some of those tablets are becoming more expensive and they’ve changed the makeup of them, people had to switch from that to something else. Meth is harder to get now that precursor drugs are being more controlled and so it’s put a lot of pressure back onto the heroin thing. And it’s readily available and it’s cheap. It’s kind of become the drug of choice I think. You can buy a hit of it, or whatever you call it, for what a 12-pack of beer costs. For somebody who needs to go that next step, that’s a pretty cheap drug.
Huge changes. When I started you had three-part reports and you filled them out on paper and that is it. Polaroids. We took Polaroids. It’s amazing, now we’re taking photos with phone, uploading into a cloud system. Finger printing systems, you have live scans instead of ink prints.
For a line officer has it made it more difficult?
In a lot of ways it’s a little more difficult. They can get more data, and be more informed, but there is process to follow there. There is so much expectation on cops that they use all these other technologies and skills, and responses to mental illness, and new levels of training, new things have to develop. There are a lot more special interest groups, special responses to different issues that we expect them to know. So, yeah, I think it’s a more difficult job than it was. It seemed like 25 yeas ago it was much simpler to me.