City's community policing needs improvement
July 3, 2008 · Updated 1:32 PM
"Over the last seven years, the Oak Harbor Police Department has developed a strong foundation of community-oriented policing strategies, but there's been some resistance and a lack of top-down communication among the ranks, according to a new report from a national assessment group.Police Chief Tony Barge admits that the department's efforts to implement this modern, alternative policing model have had setbacks, but he points to continual problems with high turn-over and budget shortfalls as much of the cause.It's been nearly a year since the Western Regional Institute for Community Oriented Public Safety's assessment team of six volunteers from across the nation came to Oak Harbor to interview a wide variety of people both inside and outside the police department.WRICOPS is a federally-funded program that aids local law enforcement departments with adopting a community-oriented policing policy.Community-oriented policing, Barge says, is kind of a step back to a time when officers walked a beat and walked shoulder to shoulder with their community.More generally, community policing is a philosophy in which the police and the community works together to find solutions to the underlying causes of crime.Barge invited the WRICOPS assessors to Oak Harbor because he says he wanted a unbiased look at the department and suggestions about improvements.In its conclusion, the WRICOPS report states that there are no outstanding areas of fault or defect in the department. In the community and among police officers, there is a lot of respect for the department, the chief, and how situations are handled.Yet the report does point out a few areas of concern followed up by some recommendations.The concerns include:* Some members of the department, particularly older employees in middle-management positions, are resistant to the community policing ideas.* There's a lack of well-understood goals and long-range plans.* Barge tends to implement orders via memo or e-mail instead of through one-on-one contact. Memos have been subject to misinterpretation.* Each officer does not have a clear idea of how he or she is supposed to be enacting community policing.* The command staff is inconsistent about awarding or recognizing good work among employees.* The department partnering efforts with other law enforcement has been poor.* Some officers are not active within their neighborhood beats. The city has been broken up into many different areas and an officer is assigned to each.The WRICOPS team suggested more training and full-department meetings as the fix to many of these problems. Yet Barge said those suggestions seem to miss the mark on the real underlying difficulties the department faces.He said that it's impossible to get everyone in the department on board with community policing when his personnel is constantly changing. Last year, for example, five of the department's 30 officers quit for better-paying jobs in other cities. He's still down three people after another top officer recently quit.We're getting killed with year after year of transition, he said, pointing up that it takes at least six months of education training before a new hire can take over. It's really disheartening to continually lose quality people.The city's current budget crisis doesn't help. Barge said he's had to cut overtime drastically to meet budget, which means he can't call officers to the office for large department meetings on their time off. It's during these meetings, he says, when he really has a chance to impress the importance of community policing on his staff. What all this means, he says, is that the department is going to have to find creative solutions to the problems the WRICOPS report points out. To start with, he says he's going to work on being a more visible presence in the department and have more personal contact with officers.He also says he wants to work more with the older employees in management positions who have been resistant to community-oriented work. They may not understand how the community-oriented philosophy can fit into their jobs.Copies of the report have been distributed throughout the department. Barge says he plans to hold a series of meetings within the department and the community to discuss the findings and possible solutions.I need to find every possible way to echo my feelings about community-oriented policing, he said. "