ARLINGTON — The Arlington Police Department is more than halfway through a dramatic overhaul meant to improve its management and communication and involve the community in policing.
Bruce Stedman, the former fire chief, is running the reorganization as the city’s temporary public safety director. His two-year contract expires in June.
The police department has seen a lot of changes so far — and a lot of progress — but there is more work left to do, he said.
Before the changes started, Arlington had gone through three police chiefs in six years. The most recent chief resigned in May 2014. City leaders haven’t decided what they’ll do with the position, spokeswoman Kristin Banfield said.
Earlier this year, the city eliminated two commander positions — then the second-highest rank — and promoted Jon Ventura to deputy chief. They’ve hired four officers to fill empty positions. Arlington has 23 commissioned police officers with another hire in the works.
The overhaul follows a $35,000 study that found numerous problems in how the department was managed. Officers cited issues with morale and the way promotions were handled.
Police department leaders and the union agree the changes are working.
Past chiefs struggled to manage different personalities within the department, longtime union President Rory Bolter said. The frequent turnover in leadership made it hard for officers to feel like the department had a consistent culture or identity, he said.
“We were kind of in limbo for a while,” Bolter said.
Stedman, in 2014, started a community policing and crime prevention campaign called “All In.” All In has brought people together, including officers, Bolter said. Arlington police have had more resources, from city leaders and business owners, to go after drug houses and build relationships within the community, he said
They’ve also worked to be more competitive for new hires, advertising Arlington as “a smaller community that has a lot of things happening,” said Ventura, a 15-year veteran of the department.
Officers seem “very excited that we’re on an upswing,” he said.
Next week, Arlington will mark a first. Testing for officers who want to become sergeants will include outside evaluators, Ventura said. Candidates will receive feedback on their skills and abilities, not just test scores.
“It’s something they’ve asked for, to get that feedback,” Ventura said.
Other changes include:
Rolling out a new fleet of black-and-white police sport utility vehicles and Chevrolet Caprices.
Using money seized in drug raids to buy new duty firearms.
Adding a second police dog using money from a community fundraiser. The first police dog is approaching retirement.
Paying more attention to the volunteer program and adding an official vehicle for their duties, which include graffiti cleanup.
“All In” was launched in part to promote Block Watch-type community involvement. The movement has been successful, drawing more 911 calls about suspicious activity, Stedman said. He cited a recent example of a neighbor who checked the live web camera at Haller Park, the site of a series of recent safety improvements, and saw a vehicle doing doughnuts in the grass. The driver was caught and fined, Stedman said.
In another case, a business owner in the south end of town saw a man ditch a backpack in the bushes. He called 911. The backpack contained shoplifted goods. The culprit was arrested.
Mike Britt, who owns Britt Sport Cards on Olympic Avenue and is president of the Downtown Arlington Business Association, has been working with officers on community policing. He served on recent officer hiring boards.
It helps to have a voice in who will be patrolling the city, Britt said. It also shows that the department is serious about listening to people, he said.
Britt has seen a decrease in the amount of suspicious activity and drug problems around his shop, he said.
“It’s either hidden really well or we’re having an impact on it,” he said.
In addition, three neighborhood groups have been connected with a police officer they can contact directly for routine quality-of-life questions, such as speeding complaints, Ventura said. More links are planned.
“We share information,” he said. “It’s been a pretty helpful tool.”
Next up is a review of the records department and support staff, Stedman said, and to continue to build “All In.” His job by June is to see the Arlington Police Department ready to draw leadership from its own ranks.
Rikki King: 425-339-3449; email@example.com.