Battle Ground police chief shares aspirations of more community-focused department

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The Battle Ground Police Department is eyeing an increase to its force size and plans to focus more on community engagement efforts through enforcement and outreach in 2022.

During Battle Ground City Council’s first meeting of 2022 on Jan. 3, police chief Mike Fort presented a “broad overview of the state of the police department.” Fort, who has overseen the department during the entirety of the pandemic, became the police chief in early 2020 following the retirement of former chief Bob Richardson.

The police department currently has 24 sworn officers and four non-sworn staff, with 12 patrol officers. According to Fort’s presentation, the department is looking to fill a lateral transfer position on Jan. 10 and has another vacancy it hopes to fill as well.

“We want to be fully staffed and we strive to be, and over the years it’s been difficult, and it still is, around the nation,” Fort said.

During the height of the pandemic the department had a single records employee and one for property, Fort said. To alleviate that change, Fort said there had been cross-training at the department to be able to cover both positions adequately.

Fort said the department is anticipating a promotional testing opportunity this spring for sergeant and lieutenant positions.

The addition of another lieutenant position would allow for greater community outreach, something that “fortunately or unfortunately” was not an option during prior months of the pandemic and the resulting restrictions.

Fort said the additional lieutenant position could bolster neighborhood watch and citizen academy efforts. He said it would provide more opportunity to build specialty assignments in traffic and parking enforcement arenas as well as investigations.

More community involvement is something the department heard “loud and clear” during its past outreach efforts.

In the past year, the department added another traffic enforcement officer, another school resource officer, and a K-9 officer and handler, Fort said. The team of officer Clint Faser and K-9 Charlie responded to 27 deployments including six in Battle Ground proper and 17 in Clark County, while the others spread across nearby cities.

“Battle Ground has significantly excellent officers,” Fort said.

He mentioned Sgt. Jason Perdue specifically, who he said was recruited at the Criminal Justice Training Center to create a curriculum for regional patrol tactics training. Fort said Perdue is one of only four master trainers in the state.

The department’s front office has since opened back up to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day but Wednesday, with fingerprinting available by appointment on Wednesdays. The department has also instituted an online reporting system for low-level property crimes.

Regarding enforcement, Fort said traffic stops were up 31% in 2021 compared to 2020, and parking infractions were up 66% in the same timeframe. He said the emphasis on those types of enforcement activities came from citizen feedback, something he said is a focus of the agency.

“We’re hearing from neighbors and citizens that want more traffic enforcement,” Fort said. “I’m really proud of our officers who are stepping up to respond.”

Fort said personal crimes were up by about 15% in 2021 compared to 2020. He said that was because of a 47% increase in driving over the influence crimes the department responded to.

“Businesses are open, things are open again. People are driving more than they were a year ago,” Fort said.

On property crimes, Fort said the city was down about 1% overall last year compared to 2020, with the biggest increase in auto thefts at about a 24% increase in 2021 over 2020.

“Auto thefts are up high right now for really a lot of reasons,” Fort said.

He noted the theft of vehicle parts, like catalytic converters, are in their own category of crime.

Along with a focus on efforts that started in 2021, Fort said one of the police department’s goals include the exploration of a neighborhood crime prevention unit this year. The program would oversee a neighborhood watch, graffiti, traffic and neighbor complaints, while also supporting a citizens police academy and the “Coffee with a Cop” initiatives.

Fort added another focus is addressing teenager’s driving behaviors in the city.

“A lot of this driving behavior has limited consequences simply because … we can’t catch them,” Fort said.

He said an educational component would help inform young drivers of what they could face if they are reckless behind the wheel.

Overall, Fort said the city has not seen a major epidemic of crime that would cause alarm.

“Altogether we have a pretty safe city,” Fort said.

The chief noted the climate among staff members at the police department is good.

“I feel a sense of community and family and organization inside of this department. (It’s) a good place to work,” Fort said.

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