Several Police Department measures are serving in maintaining an overall 20-plus percent reduction
While showing a slight up tick over the last months of summer, crime in Cheney continues to be lower than this same time last year. And while the increase might be attributable to more people back in the city as vacations end and schools start, Police Chief John Hensley points to measures the department has undertaken in the last year and a half as reasons why overall levels are down – significantly.
"This is common sense policing," he said. "There's not a lot of science that goes into this. It's about thinking about what you want to accomplish and using your resources to do it."
Several of those measures revolve around keeping police officers visible in the community. All patrol cars are now marked, creating a more noticeable presence.
Also, officers do all their reports from the field on their laptops since the latest technology allows them to essentially be their own self-contained police station. Pulling over somewhere to write reports keeps them in the field longer while also increasing their visibility.
"The only time they need to come in is to book somebody," Hensley said.
Scheduling plays into this. Contrary to what some might think, Hensley said 65 percent of the radio calls the department receives occur during the day instead of at night.
That has led to two officers being assigned daytime patrols instead of one, with reserve officers filling in as needed. The department still has three officers on duty at night, with reserves again filling in, but the shift has helped provided better call back up and response times during the day.
Scheduling has also played a role in the department's Community Policing and Problem Solving Philosophy, COPPS. Originally started as sector policing under former chief Jeff Sale, the program faced problems with effectiveness because some sectors were assigned to officers on night shifts, but whose constituents were best contacted during the day.
The department now lines up sector responsibility with officers shifts so an officer working days has responsibility to work with business owners downtown, and can meet with them during their hours. It's also helped increase the department's focus on customer service, Hensley said, by allowing officers to stay on scene until the problem is fixed or a plan put in place.
"When a citizen calls about a problem, they don't want an email," Hensley said. "They want to see a badge."
The department also relies more on its Volunteers in Policing (VIPS) program to take care of daily tasks that used to require officers to come in from the field such as paperwork, taking care of the property and evidence room and doing inventory work. But Hensley said the 8-10 VIPS also get out in the field, doing vacation checks, alerting citizens about potential theft opportunities such as open garage doors and running, unoccupied vehicles as well as assisting with traffic control at major events.
Other steps the department has taken have been closer, weekly coordination with Eastern Washington University's Police Department and the renewal of the school resource officer position with the Cheney School District.
The measures seem to have made a difference. Halfway through the year, department statistics showed uniform crime report (UCR) offenses down in all 11 categories, reflecting an overall decrease of 28.85 percent. Notable among these was an almost 66 percent drop in criminal alcohol offenses, 38.64 percent decrease in assaults, 30.6 percent drop in burglaries, 27.7 percent drop in thefts and a 21.25 percent decline in domestic violence.
Statistics in July and August showed an upward trend in most areas, although thefts dropped further to 29.67 percent in July but have since crept up and held consistent at a 24 decrease in August and September. Overall crime rose slightly to a 26 percent reduction in year-to-date figures in July as compared to 2012, and 22.22 percent similarly in August.
Those figures have remained down so that overall crime in the first nine months of 2013 is 23.42 percent lower than the same time in 2012.
Hensley said they have also been more aggressive in following up with offender registrations, with detectives making house checks to keep track of paroles, probationers and sex offenders. Warrant service is being performed with more diligence, a special enforcement detail is in the works and the department has pursued close relationships with outside agencies such as the U.S. Marshal Service, Target Zero traffic enforcement and the Spokane Violent Gang Enforcement Team, a relationship that saw Cheney officers helping the team net three alleged gang members on federal warrants Oct. 10.
One of the biggest changes Hensley said is in department morale, which was helped by a restructuring of the organizational chart - which unanimous support from the local union - that removed one administrative layer. Hensley said all these measures serve to give officers more of a sense of ownership in the community.
"Everybody out there is the chief of police of Cheney," Hensley said. "Everybody has the ability to deal with the problems they are assigned to or come across. My role is to provide for their needs. In turn, they take pride in their community."
John McCallum can be reached at email@example.com.