OPD Cutting Services… Asking for more Money… Again…

A few weeks ago, OPD Chief Ronnie Roberts announced he’s cutting the Downtown Walking Patrol due to budget crisis.

I have some beef with this.

First, Chief Roberts has been in his job for a few (5?) years now. He’s never not used budget crisis messaging. Every year, every meeting I sat in with him, he spoke about the limitations of his police force due to lack of budget. It was always, for instance, his go-to excuse to push back against more community policing.

Community policing = officers having a relationship with the community they serve by practicing active engagement rather than just passively patrolling and reacting to calls. The idea being if you have relationships on an individual level you create community, and connected communities have lower crime and recidivism. What Chief Roberts employs is a method that only has his officers engaging actual people when there is a call, meaning something has happened – a crime, suspicious behavior, an injury, or worse. Under this model, officers only interact with people in stressful circumstances and typically in a negative state. Most of their time is spent in their cars, disconnected from people and places.

How do you combat the perception of an adversarial relationship with The Police if the people’s only exposure to them is negative or tense?

In his Broken-Windows Policing philosophy the Downtown Walking patrol is inefficient and useless,  a waste of resources. He has made it clear over the years that he’s not a fan of it, so it being the first thing on the chopping block is no great surprise.

A few years ago, Chief Roberts started selling us the Public Safety Tax Initiative. He wanted to raise our taxes in order to provide more services – primarily they campaigned that with this new money they would reinstitute the downtown walking patrol AND fund an expansion of the Downtown Ambassador Program (full disclosure, I founded and ran that program for three years). Olympia very rarely says no to new taxes for police, fire, or schools – so as expected it passed. Downtown businesses were VERY happy because the Walking Patrol was a great community resource for them and they wanted it back badly. They also wanted to see the Ambassador Program expanded to focus on the other side of things that OPD couldn’t. It was seemingly the start of something really great for the neighborhood.

After campaigning all summer and pushing the Walking Patrol and Ambassador Program to the voters hard and heavy, what actually happened is that Chief Roberts decided that we needed to pilot the OPD Walking Patrol – a program that had been around for years before being cut and was incredibly popular and worked well the way it was. The pilot program consisted of ONE officer, part time. You don’t have to know much about policing to know that one part time officer can’t really be effective, they work in pairs for many very good reasons. Chief Roberts also never provided any of the initiative’s funds to the Ambassador Program, so the expansion they promised voters never happened there either.

So when I read that Ronnie is cutting the walking patrol again, and then I see this Olympian editorial hinting at a tax hike for the police…

Olympia needs its night foot patrols

…I can’t help but think we’ve been here before. Deja vu all over again?

Why aren’t we asking Chief Roberts why after so many years on the job he can’t get his budget under control? Why aren’t we asking City Manager Steve Hall why he can’t seem to control his departments? OPD isn’t the only city department with issues.

Should we really just keep throwing money at OPD just to see it absorbed into their bad budget? Does adding money to a poorly managed budget make any sense? Or should we have a community audit of OPD’s broken budget, and try to find out what’s wrong with it and why Ronnie can’t seem to fix it?

OPD is not providing the kind of service that the people of Olympia are calling for. “We don’t have the money” is the common excuse from City Hall. That’s a lie. They just don’t want to do it. Maybe because of their conservative, old-school mentality, or maybe because it’s just too hard and the status quo is easy. After all, every time they run out of money we bail them out. They squander it, cut services, and promise us it’ll be better this time… just give a little more…

…also let’s acknowledge the irony of a Republican police chief doing the kind of taxing and spending that his ilk would berate a Democrat for…

I’m not saying we absolutely shouldn’t vote to increase our taxes again to provide OPD with more funds, but let’s not do it blindly. Let’s demand accountability and transparency, and an actual plan from Ronnie to shore up our budget and ensure we’re not doing this again in 4 more years, and again and again and again…

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