Everett Police Officers Kevin Davis (left) and Mike Bernardi wait for the light to change at the corner of Hewitt and Hoyt avenues on Thursday in downtown. Everett’s mayor and police chief plan to hire 24 additional officers by 2023 to bolster the department’s visible presence in the community. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Everett Police Officers Kevin Davis (left) and Mike Bernardi wait for the light to change at the corner of Hewitt and Hoyt avenues on Thursday in downtown. Everett’s mayor and police chief plan to hire 24 additional officers by 2023 to bolster the department’s visible presence in the community. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Crime is down, but Everett hopes to hire 24 more officers

There’s still a sense residents “don’t feel safe,” the mayor says, and police are busier than ever.

EVERETT — Crime reports are down over the past decade in the city.

Property and violent crime cases handled by the Everett Police Department steadily dropped between 2008 and 2018, according to FBI data.

But people don’t feel safe, say Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin and Police Chief Dan Templeman. Their remedy is a plan to hire 24 more police officers by 2023, if not sooner.

“Our team has done heroic work in reducing crime and really addressing problem areas in this city,” Franklin said. “But if you ask any of our residents, there’s still a sense that they don’t feel safe. Having more police presence in our community is going to be of utmost importance to improve that sense of safety.”

The hiring plan, in anticipation of projected population growth, would increase the Everett police force by 10%, making it the second-largest department in the city behind public works.

A low estimate of the additional hires is more than $1.86 million. It could be higher, depending on their experience.

The total general government budget this year is $148.7 million.

The city has faced a structural deficit in the millions for more than a decade, so adding police could mean cuts elsewhere in the budget.

Everett is in early discussions about the future of its transit agency, to name one service it may cede.

Paring back city services is one option. Seeking a levy increase from voters is another.

“What I’ve heard clearly from our community is that public safety is first and foremost,” Franklin said. “It’s the number one way to ensure we have a high quality of life here, if people feel safe and are safe in their community. So we need to direct our services in that area and look at everything we’re doing and make some tough decisions.”

Since 2008, Everett’s property and violent crime generally declined, according to FBI data.

Property crime, such as arson, burglary and theft, peaked at 7,672 cases in 2010, then dropped to a low of 4,744 in 2018.

Violent crime, which includes aggravated assault, murder, rape and robbery, hit a high of 610 reports in 2009. The decade low was in 2014, when the Everett Police Department handled 364 such reports.

After that, violent crime reports rose every year until dropping in 2018. They were still below the 10-year peak of 2009.

“We do hear a lot from people who live here that they’re not seeing enough police on the streets,” Everett City Council President Judy Tuohy said. “We want to make sure we address those issues.”

Although documented incidents decreased, police officers remain busy. Calls for service have increased and now average about 145,000 per year.

Patrol staffing, meantime, has stayed the same, “which we’ve always been concerned about,” said Sgt. James Collier, a 19-year Everett police veteran and president of the Everett police union.

It takes longer to “clear” a call now, Collier and Templeman said. One reason is that Everett police are expected to de-escalate, when possible, which improves safety but can take more time.

“When you show up an hour later, it may not be a big deal, but it was to them at the time,” Collier said.

During that same decade, Facebook and neighborhood apps became popular. While useful for some, those digital spaces also became hotbeds of complaints about people with shopping carts in parks and RVs parked on a street too long, and have fueled discontent with police response times and a perception that the city is lax about crime.

“Crime rates can say one thing, but if people don’t feel safe going to the grocery store at night or walking their kids to school, we still have a safety concern in our community,” Franklin said. “There’s still something not working.”

The mayor announced plans to budget for the additional officers in her state-of-the-city speech in January.

As of early February, Everett had 201 uniformed officers, with five unfilled positions. That was an improvement from 2014, when a wave of retirements led to 21 vacant positions. Templeman said the department has hired 92 officers in the past five and a half years.

The challenges then were similar to what Franklin and Templeman say exist today: higher demand, more scrutiny of law enforcement and constrained resources.

“With the expectation that we are de-escalating situations and that we are trying to use less force to accomplish our job, it may require that we bring in three or four officers to help resolve a situation and deescalate a situation,” Templeman said. “Where in the past it may have been one, and it may have ended up in a fight.”

Everett improved salary and benefits to lure recruits and officers from other agencies. Back in 2014, a first-year Everett officer earned a base salary of about $61,000. Today it’s $75,260.

In 2017, the city offered a $15,000 signing bonus for lateral hires. It was increased to $20,000 last year.

The recent collective bargaining agreement through 2022 includes annual increases between 4.00% and 4.25%. Everett police officers also can take home their vehicles instead of leaving them at the stations.

Ben Watanabe: bwatanabe@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3037; Twitter @benwatanabe.

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