Study: Washougal Police Department not at ‘peak efficiency’

Consultant says police department adequately staffed but needs to shift schedules, reallocate positions

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Washougal Police Officer Treavor Claudson flies a drone earlier this year. (Contributed photo courtesy Washougal Police Department)

The Washougal Police Department (WPD) is adequately staffed, but not operating at peak efficiency and could benefit from a series of schedule shifts and position reallocations, according to the results of a recently completed study.

The city of Washougal commissioned the Portland, Maine-based consulting firm BerryDunn earlier this year to analyze its police department’s staffing levels and needs; review the department’s diversity, hiring, recruiting, attrition rates, serious crimes and crime clearance rates; and examine the patrol work schedule in relation to service needs and demands.

Michele Weinzetl, a law enforcement consultant for BerryDunn, presented the study to Washougal City Council members during a Dec. 4 workshop.

“I really appreciate having our staffing at the police department analyzed, using really good constructive data and intelligent data, not just numbers,” Washougal Councilwoman Molly Coston said. “I’ve known a number of police chiefs in Washougal, and it always seems like they just want more and more and more staff. It’s really nice to see some of these data-driven points. It means that, obviously, (Washougal Police Chief Wendi Steinbronn has) been doing a great job of verifying what we need and where we need (police officers).”

WPD Captain Zane Freschette told The Post-Record this week that the department has already implemented some of the consultants’ suggestions and has “a few more changes on the horizon.”

“For example, we plan to have a stronger social media presence and recruitment program in 2024,” Freschette said. “In January, we’ll dive deeper into BerryDunn’s analysis and make more comprehensive decisions on any other changes we may consider. BerryDunn was great to work with. They put together a nice package of feedback for our department.”

The firm found the WPD to be a “full-service, community oriented police agency that has worked hard to respond to increasing service demands, despite staffing challenges.”

“(Our) analysis of the WPD suggests that leaders are consciously engaged in running the department in a progressive and positive manner, and that those within the organization, from command to line staff, take great pride in providing service to the public,” the consultants stated in their report to the Council. “The WPD is engaging in many best practices, and Chief Steinbronn and the administrative team should be commended for their leadership and the professionalism of the organization.”

The study also identified “opportunities for improvement” in the areas of staffing, patrol schedule, technology, investigations and case management.

According to the report, the WPD should:

• Assign its K-9 unit to a patrol officer; adjust its patrol schedule, which “is not effectively or efficiently meeting staffing and personnel distribution needs for the department,” to “maximize efficiency and distribution of personnel;” and incorporate “solvability factors,” such as whether there is a known suspect, a vehicle description, witness and physical evidence, in its decision-making;

• Adjust its investigations schedule, which is “not optimized and does not provide for persistent investigator coverage during normal business hours,” maintain two full-time investigators, reallocate its sergeant position and maximize the use of its records management system to track and monitor case investigations;

• Convert its detective sergeant position into an administrative sergeant position, and fill its vacant school resource officer position; and

• Develop a formal retention plan “that leverages the talent and experience of the personnel within WPD” to address its “recently elevated attrition rates.”

The WPD has an authorized staffing level of 22 officers and is currently working to fill open positions in its record and patrol divisions.

“(We’re going to) prepare for upcoming growth and recruit, develop and retain a qualified workforce,” Steinbronn said during the Dec. 4 workshop. “I feel like I’ve been getting us up to full staffing every year only to have to start all over again within the first quarter of the next year. We obviously have a very strong community partnership. I think that’s the number one thing that the officers feel (they do well) — they give good community service. We want to foster and strengthen that, and maybe add some new community engagement programs. And obviously, we want to take care of our officers and provide them with high-quality training after the academy.”