After one year as Snoqualmie and North Bend’s Police Chief, Perry Phipps is looking at 2018 to be a big year for his department. Hiring on more officers and creating roles for the 2016 voter-approved detective positions are some of the changes to the department Phipps hopes to achieve in his second year.
Phipps was previously the chief of police in Visalia, Calif., before moving to Snoqualmie. He has more than 30 years of experience in law enforcement.
Over the past year, Phipps has been learning about the community and the police department with the help of his officers.
“The first year I didn’t want to come in and make a lot of changes. I wanted to come in and take the whole first year and evaluate the people, the personnel, the organization,” he said. “The first year there wasn’t a whole lot of change, just getting to know the (officers) and developing trust. We have good people here who really have their heart in this community.”
It has been a learning experience for Phipps as he adjusted to a new setting as well as to some differences in rules, processes, and resources. One of the biggest differences between his last post and Snoqualmie was the size of the department. The Visalia Police Department had more than 200 employees, a significant difference compared to the Snoqualmie department.
“Going from one larger agency to a smaller agency and how it functions has been an eye-opener for me. We had allocated 174 police officers down there, with dispatch and records we had probably over 220 employees,” he said. “In a way it’s a lot more difficult in a smaller agency because if I had a couple officers out sick, injured, or leave the agency, it was no big deal… When you have the responsibilities of two communities, North Bend and Snoqualmie, with 26 officers and you lose two of them, it really impacts what you can do as far as trying to maintain that level of service in the community.”
As his first year comes to a close, Phipps said he has been planning some changes and improvements for the upcoming year, the first of which is completing the process of creating two detective positions in the department and hiring officers to backfill the roles left by the detectives, which are planned to be hired from within.
The addition of two detectives to the department via a levy increase was approved by voters in November 2016. Phipps said the detectives will be in place this year, once the patrol positions are fully staffed.
“My initial idea with the detectives was to make sure we get the personnel in place before we start the process of selecting our detectives, but I’m also very aware of, we gotta get this done, voters voted on this in November of last year and there has been frustration on my side that it has taken so long,” he said.
“It didn’t make sense if we are already down two to three people to take two more out of patrol to put them in detective roles. The whole idea is not only making us more efficient in how we investigate crimes and the way we do business, taking reports and so forth, we are also changing the way we patrol. We want them to get out there and be more visible and have quicker response times.”
By leaving the investigative work to the detectives, patrol officers will be able to spend more of their time in the two cities rather than dedicating time to investigations. This should improve their response times and will allow officers more time to engage with the community, Phipps said.
The department has only one position still open, he said, and is currently in the process of filling that role. Newly hired officers will start at the Snoqualmie department after completing the state Police Academy training. If everything goes well, Phipps hopes to have people named to those positions by late April.
Phipps also hopes to increase the frequency of community outreach and engagement. Having more Coffee with a Cop events, for example, is one of the ways he wants to build relationships between the officers and the community.
“It’s just as important for us to be accessible and have the ability to interact and talk to people one on one in an environment that is not threatening, we should have a welcoming disposition and not an enforcement disposition,” he said.
Continuing education, for himself and the other officers, is another aspect Phipps is looking to continue in 2018. He wants to keep developing the culture of a “learning organization.”
His hope is that when an officer goes out for additional training, he or she will be able to bring back that knowledge and teach it to colleagues, as well.
“Just because we do something today doesn’t mean that it can’t change tomorrow,” he said. “We are continually looking at how do we do these things, why do we do these things, and is there a better way?”
Phipps is working on other changes as well, but is focused on getting the highest priority tasks done first. With these changes, he feels the police department will be giving the people of Snoqualmie and North Bend better service than they have had before.
“The biggest thing I’m looking forward to is I’m excited about the detectives being in position to start really doing some investigative work… The bottom line is we have patrol officers doing it all, and I think when you have someone focused solely on investigative tasks that you are better because of it,” he said. “The citizens will get better service because we will hopefully be quicker on response, and the investigative techniques will be better and more thorough because we have people dedicated to that.”