On October 18th, Criminal Justice Degree Schools interviewed retired Washington State Trooper and current Kitsap Sheriff Steve Boyer on his views on law enforcement. He provides his insights as someone with a strong view on what needs to change for local law enforcement agencies to effectively deliver on their missions. He also suggests some great resources for coping with stress as well as thought leaders on the direction of law enforcement.
You have been Kitsap County Sheriff since 1998. Your career has spanned being a State Trooper for 27 years and then as Sheriff for the last 12. How did you get started in law enforcement and how did your law enforcement career progress?
From age 15-21, I worked at a gas station in Bellevue, Washington near I-90. There I got to know some of the state troopers as they stopped by the station. I was also stopped by Highway Patrol in my '67 Fastback a couple times, but the experience with them was always positive. It seemed an honorable profession to me at an otherwise turbulent time. I joined in the early 70's and progressed over time to Lieutenant. I was promoted to Captain but then reconsidered the promotion, as I didn't want to move. I had a long career at 27 years and started considering other options. I was thinking of running for Sheriff and some people suggested I should. There were a lot of issues at the time and I felt it would be a good challenge. I was elected in 1998 and have been Sheriff of Kitsap County since.
How challenging has the downturn made your job?
We were headed for a potential crisis with our budget in this budget cycle. I reached out to citizens after a preliminary 2011 budget would have reduced our force by 16 deputies, 10 correction officers and related support positions. I was very concerned if that happened, it would hurt our department's ability to deliver on its mission as well as the economic development of our area. We would have been looking at increased response times, 100 criminals released from jail, lessened traffic patrol, reduced officer training, etc. And this would have added to lost positions from prior budget cycles. I wanted citizens to know that we would see increased crime. And this would impact economic development in Kitsap County. For example, a bank recently reconsidered plans to add a branch here due to some crime statistics. Given a choice, who would open a new business or would choose to send their kids to school in an area threatened by increased crime? Fortunately, County Officials responsible for budgeting found a solution to defer this problem by working together to freeze salary increases and other reductions. So, we have made cuts, but have thus far have not had to reduce services dramatically.
I want people to know that I am not being alarmist, but doing business as usual has to change. Sheriff and Police Departments don't have stable funding similar to fire. We may need to go to that model as today we are in competition for funding with other departments. That will mean better explaining what we do and how we use the funds. For example, we need better feedback to the community so they understand how our investments perform for them. We have a really cost effective relationship with the Kitsap Mall where we have an office there that we and other agencies use for outreach, for example.
Alternatively, we may need to coordinate better to provide the same level of service. For example in Kitsap County we have five cities with Police Departments and the Sheriff's Office. Do we need six SWAT teams, canine patrols, etc? (the author notes that in his city, effective law enforcement is provided at 75% of the normal cost by they city outsourcing to the King County Sheriff's Office).
This isn't about building empires but rather doing the most with funds allocated.
How do you see law enforcement changing in the next 5+ years?
We will always need the skills we have to enforce the rougher side of the law. But I believe we will need and benefit from new skill sets such as better use of technology. For example, we may need to do more targeted versus random patrol based on better information gathered. That will make for more effective patrol.
A good resource for this topic is www.lexipol.com which is a site published by a 30-year state patrol veteran Gordon Graham who then went into law and risk management. It has some great tips of the day and really covers projected trends in law enforcement.
How stressful is a job as law enforcement officer?
There are approximately 150 officers killed in the line of duty each year. In comparison, over 300 officers commit suicide every year. Why is that? There is a cumulative effect of the difficult things they see. Is there more we can do to help? Definitely. These officers deal with a lot of stressful situations and by better looking for signs of this stress we can make progress. (note: Sheriff Boyer suggests reading Dr Kevin Gilmartin's book, Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement).
What are the principals guiding your departments human resource efforts?
We have three main principals:
1. Find the best people we can
2. In the hiring process, leverage our executive staff discussion of the candidate to rate candidates so we make the best decision possible
3. We develop those hired the best we can with the budget we have. While the requirements for training a deputy is 24 hours per year and we do achieve 100 hours per deputy. We have to find funding to accomplish this. We also outfit with the best equipment we can, e.g., tasers.
We are looking for individual's possessing solid character and we will develop them. But if they fail on character, this is a situation where someone will lose his or her job. We take this very seriously.
Any final thoughts for our readers?
I work with outstanding people whose critical role in our society provides a profound sense of purpose. We are quite fortunate to have them protecting us from harm.