Are VATS troopers a good use of the money?

The in basket: Bill Forhan volunteers as a docent at the naval museum next to the Bremerton ferry terminal on Thursdays and has been watching three or four state troopers he sees most Thursdays at the terminal. They’re there some Tuesdays, too, he said, and “sometimes they have a dog with them.”

They don’t seem to have a lot to do and “it seems like overkill” in providing security at the terminal, he said. “Four of them is probably costing us many hundreds or thousands of dollars” that might be better spent elsewhere, he said.

The out basket: As with most homeland security activities, not everything you might wonder about the Vessel and Terminal Security arm of Washington State Patrol is public information.

Sgt. Craig Johnson, who supervise VATS officers on the east side of the Sound and serves was part-time public information officer, said they won’t discuss staffing levels, when the troopers are likely to be where, or even how many VATS troopers there are altogether.

He says the fact that Bremerton is the headquarters city for the officers on the west side, and that Thursday is training day for their explosive sniffing dogs might explain some of what Bill sees. But he also wouldn’t say that four troopers, with or without a dog or dogs, is unusual for the Bremerton terminal.

Bill says the troopers mostly seem idle between ferry arrivals, and Craig said they definitely are busiest just before and during loading of a ferry. Then, dogs, if any are assigned at that moment, sniff for explosives in waiting vehicles and other officers watch the loading passengers. Between ferries they may have paper work or administrative duties.

I asked for any anecdotal information showing a particular success, conceding as I did that finding nothing is itself a significant measure of deterrence, Craig said only that the dogs have alerted to ammunition and such, showing that “the system works.”

There’s a bit more information on the VATS program onine at www.wsp.wa.gov/crime/vats.htm. It mostly emphasizes how patrolling by bicycle aids their work.

So whether they are overkill or they could be doing something more useful is as unknowable to the public, including me, as details of security staffing at Bangor.

One thought on “Are VATS troopers a good use of the money?

  1. “As with most homeland security activities, not everything you might wonder about the Vessel and Terminal Security arm of Washington State Patrol is public information.”

    Of course not. If it *were* public information, we the taxpayers might be able to make informed judgment about these activities and whether or not they are actually providing value for the money and inconvenience they cost us.

    But they don’t want that – because the first duty of every bureaucracy is to perpetuate it’s existence. (The second is to expand it’s influence.) The discovery that they actually aren’t accomplishing anything would threaten both missions.

    “finding nothing is itself a significant measure of deterrence”

    Horse manure. Finding nothing could also mean there is nothing to be found. The absence of any cases on the court docket does nothing but support that conclusion.

    “Craig said only that the dogs have alerted to ammunition and such, showing that “the system works”.”

    No, given the existence of legal transportation of ammunition, that only show that the trained dogs are actually doing what they’re trained to do. Sgt Johnson would love it if you made the inference that finding ammunition means they’ve found terrorists – but that inference is unsupported by the available evidence (I.E. no supporting evidence is available).

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