Greater enforcement of Battle Ground’s parking code led to an increase of infractions and towed abandoned vehicles last year, according to the city police department’s annual report.
During Battle Ground City Council’s Feb. 21 meeting, Police Chief Mike Fort presented the council with a report on 2022, which focused on staff reorganizations, planned increases and the crime statistics for last year.
Personal and property crimes increased by about 16% from 2021 to 2022, according to Fort’s presentation.
Personal crimes were up by about 32% in 2022 compared to 2021, with about 248 reported, according to the presentation. The greatest increases were in the arenas of harassment, sex crimes and driving under the influence reports.
Fort said that while the increase to DUI cases could be explained by more aggressive enforcement, he couldn’t determine a rhyme or reason for the increase in sex crimes. There were 27 of those for both juveniles and adults reported last year, which was an increase from the 15 cases reported in 2021.
Fort noted that even with the changes to police pursuit laws in 2021, if a driver is suspected of driving under the influence then they can be pursued.
He said BGPD officers haven’t participated in Target Zero enforcements as much as they have in the past since officers are working their other regular duties more frequently.
“They just don’t have the bandwidth to work that (enforcement) too,” Fort said.
Property crimes increased by a smaller amount of 8.5% for 615 reports in 2022. Residential and commercial burglaries experienced some of the biggest increases, while reported thefts were down 11.5% compared to 2021.
“Auto theft is pretty stagnant, which is good, because a year ago it was way up,” Fort said.
Battle Ground Mayor Philip Johnson questioned whether the decrease in reported thefts is a result of fewer crimes or the approach store management now takes. Johnson said he has been told by managers it is “easier to just watch it walk out the door.”
“I don’t think theft is down,” he said. “I think the reporting of theft is down and/or people have just said, ‘yeah, forget it, because it ain’t worth it.’”
Fort doesn’t believe business practices have changed. He acknowledged different businesses have various approaches when they deal with theft.
“I really don’t think that it’s different reporting over the last few years. It’s the same unreporting versus reporting,” Fort said.
Some of BGPD’s largest increases centered around enforcing the city’s parking laws. Last year, parking enforcement was up by 390% compared to 2021 and abandoned vehicle impounds increased by 268%, according to Fort’s presentation.
Fort said much of those enforcement efforts took place during officers’ extra duty time. Most of that activity is expected to be picked up by the parking enforcement officer, one of a handful of hires expected for 2024.
The department has two lateral-transfer officers who are expected to be hired early this year, with one entry-level position expected to join the department in April. Those hires will bring BGPD’s sworn staff to 28, which is what’s authorized through city budgeting, Fort said.
“We are getting full to capacity primarily because a lot of people want to come work here,” Fort said.
Last year, BGPD hired a second lieutenant, Jason Perdue, who oversees enforcement operations. Before Perdue was hired, most of the department’s activities were under the direction of Lt. Kim Armstrong, who now has taken on administrative duties.
“The scope of responsibilities for the one lieutenant was just overwhelming, so we needed to divide that by quite a bit,” Fort said.
The department also increased the responsibilities for police support manager Katrina Green, who now oversees fleet management and quartermaster duties, Fort said. One of the position’s new responsibilities is to coordinate with the city’s public works department on vehicle acquisitions.
Fort said the current staff responsibility layout is fluid since the structure is new for the department’s operations. That means duties can be moved around or shifted.
Armstrong will retire from the police department this year. Fort said BGPD hopes to have that vacancy filled a few weeks before Armstrong leaves. The lieutenant who fills the position will likely come from outside of the department.
Fort said having the hiring capacity above current staffing levels builds momentum for hiring pursuits.
“When we have 28 people sworn, sitting in their seats, it doesn’t mean they’re all fully functioning. … Sometimes they’re in various stages of training, academies, coaching,” Fort said.
The department has also remodeled its detective unit space at its station to include room for more people like the parking enforcement officer, Fort said. The change goes hand in hand with potentially building out the detective unit to a “community relations” unit, which would include detectives, school resource officers, the parking enforcement officer and the city’s Prevent Together drug prevention coordinator.
A goal for 2023 is to evaluate the need for a dedicated community relations officer. The position could potentially lead a neighborhood watch program, a citizens’ police academy, the Police Activities League and “Coffee with a Cop” events, according to the presentation.
Fort said the position could double as the officer in charge of training for the department. He added any developments on the implementation of the position would come after the department addresses its other staffing needs.