By Mike De Felice
Special to Kitsap Daily News
PORT ORCHARD – Increased diversity on the police force and creating a presence on Twitter and Facebook all appear to be in the future of the Port Orchard Police Department, according to the department’s five-year strategic plan.
More officer training and publishing statistics related to the use of force and police complaints are also planned for the department. “We can look at where we are but if we don’t know where we are going, we are not going to get there,” said Port Orchard Police Chief Matt Brown of the police department’s new strategic plan.
“The only way to be successful in any organization, especially in law enforcement, is to have a strategy and a plan to get there,” said Brown, who joined the police department in 2019.
Similar to other strategic plans used by businesses and government entities, the plan for the Port Orchard agency provides guidance on the department’s short- and long-term goals, the police chief said.
The 16-page document was produced by a strategic advisory board that includes nine community members from local businesses and service groups, faith-based organizations, the military and community members. Input was also sought from City of Port Orchard staff, elected leaders and regional public safety partners.
Regarding diversity, the plan calls for the department to modify its recruiting practices with the goal of getting a more diverse workforce that represents the community.
Currently, the police department has an all-Caucasian staff of 30, the chief said. Meanwhile, Port Orchard’s racial makeup is nearly 74 percent white, 11.3 percent Hispanic/Latinx, 4.6 percent Black/African American, and 7 percent Asian, according to the census statistics.
To diversify the police department’s racial composition, Brown said the agency intends to modify its approach to recruiting.
“What we need to do is target our recruiting and go to locations that have a diverse group. In the past, what we would do is post the job on the city’s web page and on law enforcement sites. We can’t sit back and wait for them to come to us anymore,” Brown said.
The department will now actively engage in recruiting by attending job fairs at military bases and colleges, he said.
When Brown applied for his first law enforcement job 21 years ago, he responded to an ad in the newspaper. “That is not where people are any more,” he said. “Now you need an app that allows people to apply on their phone.”
The plan also calls for changing the way the police force keeps in touch with the community.
The strategic advisory board recommended the department implement a “robust social media presence” on sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Currently, the police department has a minimal social media footprint that includes only an occasional posting on the city’s Facebook page, Brown said.
“What we need to do is be able to come to people where they are — and they are on social media. We have to be there,” the chief noted.
Another way for the department to regularly interact with the community is to hold quarterly town hall meetings. In the COVID-era, the meetings are to be virtual, with the first one expected to take place within a month, he said.
“The goal is to provide an avenue for people who want to have direct contact with the chief or deputy chief of the department and share things they are concerned about,” Brown said.
Increase transparency, training
The police department has not had in place a process to conduct in-depth analyses on the use of force and complaints, the advisory board noted. The last time crime statistics were released was several years ago, the chief said.
To promote transparency, Brown said, the police department will begin publishing an annual report on crime statistics, complaints received and an accounting of the number of times officers have used force (such as pointing a gun at a person or the use of pepper spray or a Taser) and whether such force was justified.
Training is another area that will be upgraded, he added.
“We have recognized that we must provide far more training … for our officers to be properly equipped to provide quality service,” the report stated.
To get in line with requirements of the Law Enforcement Training and Community Safety Act, the Port Orchard police force will beef up training in patrol tactics, understanding race and policing, and in providing medical care following a critical incident, Brown said.
Increased training will move the department closer toward achieving accreditation with the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. The Port Orchard Police Department is the only law enforcement agency in Kitsap County not currently accredited through WASPC, according to the report.
In Washington state, just 21 percent of law enforcement agencies have reportedly achieved accreditation.
The Port Orchard Police Department also plans to conduct wellness training for officers on an annual basis.
“Peace officers have experiences that can deeply affect them, sometimes to the point of trauma. To maintain a healthy department … we must actively work to improve officer mental health and resiliency,” the plan stated.
As a follow-up to the strategic plan, the police department created a community advisory board, largely made up of the same members who helped formulate the five-year plan.
The advisory board provides a platform for community members to interact directly with the police force about emerging issues and will monitor the department’s progress on its long-term goals, Brown said.