Bremerton Police Chief Steve Strachan has been staying busy and well caffeinated since taking over the department a few weeks ago.
“There’s kind of this period, this window right now, when people say, ‘Oh, there’s a new chief. Who is this guy? Where does he come from? What does he look like? How do I get a hold of him?’ So, I’ve been drinking an amazing amount of coffee,” Strachan said.
Strachan says that getting the lay of the land as a new chief requires a lot of listening and being careful not to make changes simply for the sake of making changes.
“Having been a chief before and having come into a department as a new chief before, there’s sometimes a bias to say, ‘Okay, well I need to change something or we need to change something just to change it.’ I wouldn’t say I’ve been resisting that, but I’d say that I’ve been very conscious about trying to get around and talk to people and spend some time listening.”
Strachan said former Chief Craig Rogers, who retired in February after 37 years with BPD, left him a solid department and a good foundation for moving forward. And Strachan said that a big part of moving ahead will be developing a business plan for the department with input from residents and business people, something he’s done elsewhere. He said that plan will “sort of set the course for us for what we want to look like in five years.”
Strachan said that in his 26 years as a policemen, he’s noticed that departments are often reactive rather proactive.
“We react to the economy, we react to the media and we react to politics,” he said. “Sometimes that’s because we’re not being very deliberate about what it is we want to look like. It’s the same reason a business sets up a business plan. We should do the same thing. So, to build a plan that is meaningful and achievable and is simple and understandable is something that if you look at my past work is something I feel strongly about. So I intend to do that here, too.”
He has three primary roles as police chief, Strachan said. As a CEO, he sets the plan and puts systems in place to hold people accountable. As a coach, he serves as a mentor who is learning and responding to changes and helping other to do the same. As a cheerleader, he makes sure the department celebrates success internally, but also outside the department as well.
“That doesn’t mean when we do something wrong you don’t acknowledge that you’ve made a mistake as an organization,” he said. “But, the fact is this is a group of people that do a really good job day-in and day-out and I want to make sure we remain focused on that. The cheerleader element is not only something I think is important, but I also really enjoy it.”
As with police departments anywhere, Strachan said that funding levels will continue to be an issue.
“As the economy improves… it’s not bouncing back, (but) it’s slowly improving,” Strachan said. “So, I don’t view this as we’re in a dip and we’re going to go right back up and be staffed like we were always staffed. This is a department that has the staff we have based on the resources available. Would I like more? Sure, of course I would.”
Strachan said he will plan and lead the department while being realistic about resources.
“It doesn’t mean I won’t ask for more people and fight for it,” he said. “But I never thought in my career I’d see cops getting laid off and we’ve seen a lot get laid off.”
The good news is that four new officers are coming out of the academy to replace outgoing or retiring BPD staff, he said.
“As we get some of those (officers) back in we can’t say, ‘Okay, lets do it the way we’ve always done it.’ We have to think about how we deploy our officers and our staff in a way that is going to be thoughtful,” he said.
A big part of that involves what is called “Intelligence Led Policing,” where officers use data to be more proactive rather than simply responding to calls and investigating crimes. Often the data is driven by geography or certain individuals known to law enforcement.
“Intelligence Led Policing is a euphemism for where you need to be and where you need to focus your resources. That’s all it is,” Strachan said. “As a profession we’re going this direction, where we start to leverage the things we do so it reduces crime to a greater extent than by just reacting all the time.”
That effort, to get out ahead of crime before it occurs, is similar, of course, to Strachan’s approach to being the CEO, coach and cheerleader of an organization and profession trying to do more with less.
“That’s where we are right now in this business,” he said. “Getting over (the), ‘Oh, that’s the way we do it because that’s the way it’s always been done.’ We don’t have the resources and frankly the public is expecting more of us. So, we need to get over it and move on.”