Poulsbo dissolves police advisory board

For 23 years, Poulsbo’s Community Police Advisory Board aimed to be an informational pipeline between officers and the community. That pipeline is now closed in favor of email and social media.

POULSBO — For 23 years, Poulsbo’s Community Police Advisory Board aimed to be an informational pipeline between officers and the community.

That pipeline is now closed.

The City Council voted to dissolve the advisory board on Jan. 7. The dissolution was brought forth by Police Chief Alan Townsend, who said that as time and technology changes, so must the police department.

Instead of relying on a nine-member board — currently, only seven spots are filled — the chief would like to engage modern methods of communicating with the public, such as email and social media.

“As we can see by the number of people here tonight, night meetings don’t garner that much attendance,” Townsend said at the City Council meeting.

Poulsbo’s police advisory board was formed in 1991. Its purpose was to provide the police department with an avenue of communication with the community, gain insight into residents’ concerns, and relate information about police services. It was helmed by a mix of city residents, including high school students and business representatives.

But in two decades, technology has changed how people communicate and exchange information. And the advisory board became more and more difficult to organize, city officials said.

“We’ve really multiplied the ways we do outreach,” Mayor Becky Erickson said. “We’ve just had a hard time getting times for this (board) to meet.”

Councilwoman Connie Lord, who serves on the council’s Public Safety Committee, said her concern was resident communication with the police department. She supported the engagement of new methods of communication.

“I don’t know why (the board) was established, but it sort of morphed into a community sounding board for a while,” Lord said. “With all the new technologies, I think it’s time.”

Townsend added to the sentiment.

“One of my things is, let’s not have a meeting just to have a meeting,” he said. “It clearly became something where they were getting together and talking about what they were doing over the weekend and who was skateboarding down the sidewalk of one of the member’s houses. It got a little bit ridiculous in some ways.”

Jennifer Wiegand is one member of the board who is sad to see it dissolved.

“I enjoyed the meetings. I liked being involved with the community,” she said. “We felt we had some value.”

Wiegand said she has not attended a board meeting since Townsend joined the force, mainly because no meetings were scheduled.

When Townsend’s predecessor, Dennis Swiney, was chief, “The purpose was that people in our neighborhoods would know that we were a liaison between the public and the police chief,” Wiegand said. “Some people are uncomfortable talking with the police department or have other reasons not to come forward. And I had a number of people come to me for that.”

Wiegand said the board would relay information such as skateboarders rolling dangerously down the roads near North Kitsap High School.

“There were parties on the Wilderness Trail, typically on a half day. There was noise and screaming going on out there. There were fires built. We would find beer cans and drug paraphernalia out there,” she said. “Those are concerns I would bring to the chief.”

When Townsend came to Poulsbo’s police department, Wiegand said, he told the board that he felt other forums would be better for community communication, such as the council’s Public Safety Committee.

“He did email us a year into his job about why we thought it was beneficial and a positive board,” Wiegand said. “He felt that there was another forum that would be more beneficial.”

“I recognize that each chief is going to want to reorganize things in their own way, and that is understandable,” she said.

Outside of the board, the chief has engaged Poulsbo’s residents through his computer.

Townsend communicates with more than 100 people through email notifications, as well as with 700 people through Twitter. The chief feels that the newer forms of communication offer a wider audience and gets information from supporters and critics alike.

“Instead of reaching out to seven board members, we now reach out to about 800 people, adding new persons every day,” Townsend said.

“In addition to those new ways, we also have multiple neighborhood meetings, where we gather neighborhoods together and talk about their concerns. We are still doing one-on-one conversations with people, but we are also using new methods to reach out to people.”