In my last Mayor’s Corner article, I talked about the city’s transportation initiatives and street projects and the challenges we face with funding them. Ranking right at the top of this list of residents’ priorities, next to transportation, is police services and public safety.
Since inception, Covington has contracted police services with the King County Sheriff’s Office. As a small city, this is the most feasible option for us to provide the best police service we can within our budget. One of the best parts of our contract is that not only do we have a dedicated force of 17 Covington officers that serve our city, we have access to even more resources in case we need them like SWAT, the bomb squad, Guardian One (helicopter), additional officers for major events, task forces, etc.
Our 2019 budget for police services is about $4,558,775, or 36.7 percent of the city’s total General Fund expenditures, which is primarily funded by property tax, sales tax and utility tax. We have added four additional officers in the past five years, rising from 13 in 2013 to 17 in 2019, while our costs have continued to increase as well.
Now, having 17 officers might sound like a good number, but in reality, it only allows us to have two or maybe three officers on duty at any given time in the city. Looking at it that way, it is clear that we need more officers. While Covington continues to have a low violent crime rate, like most of the region’s cities right now we are experiencing an increase in retail theft and property crimes. And, as we continue to grow in population, we need to continue to grow our police force.
While we work to deal with funding challenges to address this, I am very proud of the work that our current officers have been doing despite the need for additional staff. They have been developing creative ways to addressing prevalent problems, being more proactive and being community-minded.
Directly in response to the increase in retail theft, our police department hosted its own retail loss prevention summit and has recently implemented retail theft emphasis patrols.
The summit invited loss prevention officers from all of Covington’s major retailers to meet with the department and learn about ways to work more collaboratively with officers.
For the emphasis patrols, officers identify specific problem areas to target during emphasis shifts and some of the retail stores are collaborating by adding additional loss prevention officers during those shifts. Successes so far have seen arrests of several subjects for shoplifting and trespassing, as well as drug-related arrests in our retail core.
Our department also recently joined in promoting the #9pmRoutine on the city’s social media pages as a public service announcement of sorts to remind residents to be proactive in reducing thefts of opportunity. We know that nearly 25 percent of all burglaries in Covington are a result of non-forced entry, meaning the building/door/access was not secured when the theft occurred. If a simple reminder to secure your valuables, doors or vehicles can prevent someone from being a victim, then it is worth the effort.
Our officers also work proactively to build relationships with residents outside of conducting police business. They don’t want responding to a 911 call to be the first and only way residents interact with police officers.
Annually, our police department coordinates outreach through National Night Out and each year the amount of Covington neighborhoods participating grows. Every one of our officers along with fire department personnel, city council members and city staff visit each neighborhood to interact with residents, their families and their neighbors.
This year, we also started Coffee (and Cookies) with a Cop, an informal meet and greet for members of the community to get to know more of our officers. The first one was held this summer, and we plan to hold additional ones throughout the year. Our officers also get out into the community whenever they have the chance at city events like Covington Days and KidsFest. This year, police and fire also hosted an informal BBQ at Polaris Apartments to provide some positive interaction with kids and families there.
Our police department also does amazing work with Covington youth through programs like Badges and Barbells, Police Explorers, and Shop With a Cop.
The Badges and Barbells program pairs middle school students up with law enforcement officers in a non-threatening environment – working out. Our police chief developed this program at a local high school and brought it to Covington’s Cedar Heights Middle School. He was able to secure funding for workout equipment from several sources including the county, the fire authority, the rotary club, the First Responders Service Foundation, and from teachers, the student body, and the PTA of the school. The program also provides a week-long Badges and Barbells summer camp with great participation.
Our dedicated School Resource Officer (SRO) also advises the local police explorers unit covering Covington and Maple Valley and she has developed an incredible rapport with the youth. Being an explorer allows youth involved to gain experiences through the perspective of an officer and it is a great orientation for youth thinking of pursuing a law enforcement career.
One other program that our police department has been hosting in Covington for several years and is coming up soon is the King County Sheriff’s Shop with a Cop program at the Covington WalMart. This program takes place in December and allows disadvantaged kids who otherwise wouldn’t get a gift, to go Christmas shopping with a police officer which is a great opportunity for kids and cops to interact in a positive and non-traditional way. This program is made possible by donations from citizens and community groups and officers involved all donate their time to participate.
Looking back at this list, our officers are involved in A LOT! Not only do they have their work cut out for them in the regular course of their shifts, our officers are very giving of their time and efforts to be involved in our community.