Lake Stevens police address discipline issues

LAKE STEVENS — The Lake Stevens Police Department is creating a new division to handle allegations of officer misconduct.

The new Office of Professional Standards will conduct internal investigations and make recommendations regarding officer discipline, interim Police Chief Dan Lorentzen said Monday. It will be modeled on similar units at larger, local agencies such as the Everett Police Department and the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office.

The move comes after an outside review determined that the Lake Stevens Police Department’s internal investigation system was “broken,” according to documents obtained by The Herald. The review says that for years, the department was plagued with accountability problems starting at the top.

The city requested the review amid headlines about the former police chief leaving under a cloud last year and a $100,000 civil rights lawsuit settlement in December involving two officers’ bad behavior on duty and off.

“We knew we had areas of concern,” City Administrator Jan Berg said Monday. “It was a good time to show the public we knew we had some issues to work on.”

As the city searches for a new police chief, the work to fix problems already has begun, she said. Lorentzen and others have been going through the report’s findings and making changes.

“We’re not waiting for a new chief to get things back on track,” she said.

Outside help

A review team from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs visited the police department in January. The consultation cost $4,457.

The City Council reviewed the report in May. The Herald in July obtained a copy of the 49-page report, which includes progress notes made by city officials.

Before the changes, the department did not consistently investigate alleged misconduct or review major incidents — such as when officers used potentially fatal force — to determine whether policies were followed.

The former chief allowed officers to circumvent their bosses. There was a “prevailing lack of accountability,” and the problem was “in need of deliberate attention,” the report says.

The situation led to tension and frustration, a mess Lorentzen has been working to clean up, the analysts found. Since late last year, the department lost its longtime chief, drew public scrutiny over the officer misconduct cases and investigated two high-profile homicides.

Clearer policies

That was a lot of change for a police department that had long enjoyed the calm of a sleepy, lakeside suburb.

Not everyone in the department has been happy, Lorentzen said.

“A couple of officers found themselves on the wrong side of an internal (investigation) and wanted it to be a pass and it wasn’t a pass,” the interim chief said.

The department has adopted a new policy model and is changing how it trains officers. Before, they didn’t always have a clear understanding of the rules or the consequences for breaking them, Lorentzen said.

“We have fixed that,” he said. “It’s very clear now.”

“It was a joint effort,” Berg added. “It was important not just to the administration but also to the rank and file and the guild.”

Other changes were recommended, too. Some decisions are pending the hiring of a new chief, which could lead to a re-shuffling of employees within the police department. Other changes depend on the budget.

Since the review was completed, the department created a way to track and respond to complaints from the public. That didn’t happen or it happened sporadically before, documents show. Before, the department only accepted complaints if people were willing to sign their names. That’s no longer the case, Lorentzen said.

The experts also recommended assigning an officer to work on traffic problems, something the city used to do but stopped after budget cuts. The recommendation is being considered.

New chief, new leaf

City officials last week said they are trying to hire a new chief “as soon as possible.” A public meeting with a second round of candidates is planned for 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Aug. 12 at the Lake Stevens School District administration building, 12309 22nd St. NE.

Police officers in Lake Stevens are hopeful that a new chief will help them start a new chapter.

Lorentzen, who declined to apply for the position, noted that all officers cooperated with the review. They’re all excited for what’s next, he said.

The department has the “talent and will” to do better, the report says.

“It will be up to the new chief to harness those resources and provide the citizens of Lake Stevens the level of professional police services they want and expect,” it says.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com

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