The city of 18,000 has seen an increase in drug-related crime, including panhandling, as the heroin epidemic moved north from more urban areas.
At the same time, Bruce Stedman is tasked with fixing a number of internal problems at the police department, which were laid out in a $35,000 report on management and operations.
The report, completed in May, said the department needed to invest more energy in connecting with the community and communicating goals. There also needed to be better long-term planning, internal communication and trust, and a way to prepare police officers and sergeants for advancement.
There was a disconnect between front-line staff and management, and officers with smarts and ambition needed more room to grow, Mayor Barb Tolbert said.
“It's our job to invest in them and help them meet those goals,” she said.
The 24-officer department has been through three police chiefs in the past six years.
Tolbert liked the work Stedman, 55, was doing as fire chief. He had the management skills needed to overhaul the police department and fix problems before a new chief comes in, she said.
The temporary, two-year public safety director position was recommended in the study. After the transition, the police department is expected to be better poised to draw leadership from its own ranks.
In the new role, Stedman will be paid $163,236 a year, up from the fire chief salary of $137,232. Deputy Fire Chief Tom Cooper is serving as acting fire chief.
Stedman is a longtime firefighter but also has law enforcement training and experience from his time in Alhambra, California, he said. He worked as an arson investigator for a few years and maintained his commission to carry a firearm as a peace officer until he moved to Washington.
Arlington's former police chief, Nelson Beazley, resigned in May and later took a job with the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office.
The goal is to make the improvements before the city hires a new police chief, Stedman said. He's focusing on crime prevention and community partnerships.
The department is gathering and analyzing data to look for hot spots and trends, he said. Part of the challenge is making sure officers have the authority to crack down on common complaints that don't always carry felony charges.
The City Council last month approved changes to codes that ban panhandling and illegal camping, two activities often linked to drug use, Stedman said. A proposal to prohibit smoking in city parks, which the council has yet to consider, would allow officers to question people they see loitering in parks, Stedman said.
Haller Park and Twin Rivers Park are believed to be hot spots for drug crimes. Another area is Smokey Point, where the police department is opening a substation at 17306 Smokey Point Drive, Unit 15.* The idea is to give officers a place to work on reports and make calls while staying in their service area. The substation is expected to open public office hours at a later date.
The city is trying to do a better job working with social service organizations, to connect the homeless to mental health services and other resources, Stedman said. One example would be distributing fliers for 211, a non-emergency service that provides referrals for social-service needs such as housing, food and medical care.
Stedman also has been pushing for more Block Watch-type community involvement and launched a new campaign called “All In.” Folks who sign up pledge to keep an eye on their neighborhoods and post stickers in their cars and house windows warning criminals to stay away.
More than 100 people attended a recent “All In” meeting.
“I truly believe in this community,” Stedman said. “This wouldn't work in L.A., but it'll work here.”
Rikki King: 425-339-3449; firstname.lastname@example.org.
*A new two-officer team is set to start Sept 1. The “Pro-Act” team will focus on going after those who cause the most harm in town rather than responding to 911 calls. That will include narcotics investigations.
*A larger drug-prevention focus is planned for the school resource officer, particularly in Arlington's middle schools. A surveillance camera is posted in Haller Park and streams live footage on the city website.
*A new family resource center is expected to open in Arlington in the next few months.
Correction, Aug. 29, 2014: The new substation is at 17306 Smokey Point Drive, Unit 15. An earlier version of this story contained an incorrect address provided by the city.
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