BREMERTON — “It will be just a little over 30 years as a sworn officer,” said Steven Strachan, chief of the Bremerton Police Department.
“I can remember so distinctly when I was sworn in as a brand new cop. I was 22 years old and I felt, in my wildest dreams, I would possibly get to be a sergeant, a patrol sergeant, and I thought I would love to be able to do that, to lead a team of officers and to succeed and be a good police officer.
“If you would have told me, when I was 22, that I would get to be a patrol sergeant, and I would get to be a chief of three different police departments, I would get to be a sheriff of a large sheriff’s department and now, to be able to be the director of a statewide organization, I would have never believed you.”
On Nov. 8, the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs announced that Strachan, who’s been Bremerton police chief since 2013, will be taking over as the association’s executive director effective Jan. 1.
Strachan said he wasn’t looking for a new job, though.
“I’ve been very happy here,” he said. “It’s a great community.”
But Strachan has been involved with the association, known as WASPC, as a general member and as a member of the board for several years.
“When it came up that the director was retiring, I had several fellow chiefs and sheriffs call and say, ‘You’d be perfect for that position,’ ” Strachan said. “Then the second part … I was a legislator many years ago in Minnesota. I know how the process works, how decisions get made. Having had the opportunities that I’ve had in the last decade and a half, I have a really intense interest in working to move law enforcement forward.”
Strachan said whenever anyone has asked him what he would do if he could do one more thing in his career, his answer has been: “I’d love to be involved to help move us forward, work with other chiefs and sheriffs to develop policy, making sure policy is really good in providing training and making sure departments are supported.”
As executive director of WASPC, he can do just that, which is why he said, “It’s about the only thing that could take me from here.”
“It’s a way for me to sort of bring together the things I’ve really cared about in my whole career — which is the men and women who do this job, whom I really respect — and making sure we’re doing all we can so that law enforcement officers and departments are working together to make this a better profession.”
WASPC is a statewide organization that comprises associations of police chiefs, sheriffs, corrections officers, FBI, Washington State Patrol and Tribal and university police. Strachan said each state has an organization for law enforcement groups, but Washington’s is one of only three that combines chiefs and sheriffs, and perhaps the only that combines them all.
“We speak with one voice and we work together pretty well,” Strachan said. “It’s a stronger and much more influential organization than most states have for administrators in law enforcement.”
WASPC lobbies in Olympia, audits and accredits departments, and helps recruit new police chiefs. It also operates some state-mandated programs, like the sex offender database, notifying domestic violence victims when the offender is being released, monitoring requests for gun ownership made by felons, and more.
“It’s a much larger organization than it would be otherwise, because it isn’t just an association … It also runs a lot of state programs at the same time,” Strachan said. “It’s about making sure that we’re doing the job right, working together to do it, raising our standards as chiefs and sheriffs.”
Strachan said subjects such as “best practices,” “good policies” and “good supervision” are “boring management stuff.”
“But this is where law enforcement accountability and law enforcement professionalism lives. Everybody’s talking about, ‘We have to hold cops accountable,’ people who are upset about officer-involved shootings or controversies around law enforcement … If you really want to make improvement, the way to do that is to make sure departments are following best practices, that they have good policies and good supervision.
“It’s not terribly exciting, it doesn’t lend itself to a hashtag, but if you want to make substantive law enforcement change, that’s where you do that. To be a part of that is what I’m really interested in doing.”
But Strachan said one thing would have made him much less interested in the WASPC job: relocation.
“This community has been unbelievably welcoming, and it’s one of the reasons why I don’t intend to go anywhere,” Strachan said of Bremerton. “I’ll be going to a different role and a role that’s pretty exciting for me and this profession I’ve worked in for 30 years, but if this was something that required me to move, I’m not sure I would’ve been nearly as interested in it.”
Strachan said he’s really proud of Bremerton as a community, and of the Bremerton Police Department. He said the department’s accomplishments during his tenure belong to the department.
“When you get right down to it, what’s a police department? What’s our purpose?” Strachan said. “Our purpose is to fight crime and fight the fear of crime, and those numbers have been going down in terms of crime rates in the past five years. Seeing those numbers go down has been a great collective accomplishment for the community.
“The other thing I point to is the just outstanding culture we have in this department. I’m here to tell you, this department — and I’ve seen really substantial improvement, not because of me just during the time I’ve been here — our culture is really strong,” Strachan said. “Our officers work really hard. They have humility. And they hold each other accountable for our high standards, and that is sort of the ideal situation.”
Strachan said the future’s “pretty bright” for Bremerton. Run-down areas are being rebuilt, neighborhoods are “rapidly improving across the board.”
“It’s a really good community with a strong department, and that’s what I see in the future for us.”
He has high hopes for WASPC too.
“At WASPC, I think, I see myself as being able to work with chiefs and sheriffs to do those things, to tell our story about what this profession really is, to try to get facts out about what things occur, to raise those standards to make sure the departments are supportive the way they should be, so that the person on the street feels like they can do their job and do it well.
“What I’d like to do is work with other people to improve [national discourse] so that negative view that people sometimes have is, at least, we can improve it to the extent we can.”
Strachan added, “I’ve been really fortunate to work with great people, great departments. This has been a tremendous experience for me.”
— Michelle Beahm is the online editor for Kitsap News Group. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.