Kent Police Chief Rafael Padilla admits the department’s motto no longer applies with the new planned reduction in the types of crime calls that will receive an officer response.
“We’ve always said, ‘you call for a cop in Kent, you get a cop,’ ” Padilla said. “Now, it’s not always.”
Padilla announced earlier this month at City Council and Public Safety Committee meetings that residents will see a change in police services because of a lack of staff. Officers will no longer respond in person to lower-level crimes such as theft from a vehicle, vandalism, harassing phone calls or identity theft. Residents must report those type of incidents online rather than having the option of an officer responding.
Kent voters rejected a proposition in April by 57 to 43 percent that would have raised utility taxes to 8 percent from 6 percent to bring in about $4.5 million per year to hire 23 officers. With no plans by city leaders to ask voters for more money for police, Padilla, promoted in May by Mayor Dana Ralph to replace Ken Thomas as chief, is making changes.
“It’s been discussed a lot about our staffing challenges,” Padilla said at the council meeting. “For the size of our city, we don’t have enough officers like we should. That said, I want to recognize the council and mayor have been extremely supportive, it’s not a lack of effort or trying, we are growing the department (by a few officers per year) but we are significantly behind.
“My job as chief is to look at the resources we have available and see how we can maximize what we have and deliver the highest level of service.”
Padilla and his command staff will emphasize response to high priority calls.
“We will fully utilize online reporting,” he said about the Kent Police website. “Now you have the option for an officer to respond in person or go to the internet to report crime. We will make it mandatory for certain crimes – no suspects or witnesses, lost cellphones, minor incidents important for you to make a report – but do not need face-to-face time with an officer.”
Many police forces in nearby cities and throughout the nation went to requiring more cases to be filed online years ago, Padilla said.
“Kent is one of the last holdouts where we tried to be the department that delivered the Nordstrom level of service to the community, but our resources are such that we can’t sustain that,” he said.
Emergency calls and in-progress calls will continue to get immediate response but not certain crimes discovered after the fact.
“We are talking about a car broken into overnight and you found out in the morning,” Padilla said.
Kent Police distribute officers each shift to the East Hill, Panther Lake, Valley and West Hill to help with call response. But for emergencies, officers respond to wherever the crime might be.
Other changes include full implementation of a plan started last year that officers won’t respond to business security alarms unless there is verification through an alarm service, video alert or someone seeing there is a problem. About 99 percent of the nearly 3,000 calls per year officers responded to were false alarms, costing the department about five hours per day and $80,000 per year. The change does not apply to residential alarms, bank alarms or alarms at high risk businesses such as gun or jewelry stores or pharmacies.
“But it will apply to most businesses,” Padilla said. “We think this will save significant time in our officers responding to false alarms.”
In another change, officers will complete full reports on calls they do respond to right after the case rather than compiling all of the reports at the end of their shifts.
“Traditionally, we go from call to call without stopping,” Padilla said. “Officers stack six or seven investigations and at end of shift have to work overtime or start another day down several cases. It compels officers to be quick about what they are doing or take shortcuts.”
That change could result in longer wait times for officers to respond to lower-level incidents.
“We think this is a wellness issue for our officers, a service issue and our goal is to do the things that are important really well,” the chief said.
Ralph said at the council meeting she agreed with the service changes.
“We’ve been talking about police department staffing for a long time,” Ralph said. “I can tell you they are doing absolutely the best they can. These new programs are very important to the chief and he has my full support to figure out how we lessen that burden.”
Padilla further explained the move.
“We are making the changes and are hoping for higher overall quality of service,” he said. “And it frees up officers for more time to interact with the community and reduce stress on the officer. It is difficult, but I believe necessary.”