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MLPD report shows ‘successful’ department, chief says

by CHARLES H. FEATHERSTONE
Staff Writer | April 22, 2022 1:00 AM

MOSES LAKE — In 2021, Moses Lake Police Department officers responded to 22,423 calls — 18,773 calls for service and 3,650 traffic stops, according to the MLPD’s 2021 annual report.

That’s nearly one call or contact per person for each of the city’s roughly 25,000 residents.

And for all those calls, the MLPD fielded only 12 complaints, according to Police Chief Kevin Fuhr.

“That’s pretty good,” Fuhr said during an interview on Wednesday about the report, which was released this week and is available online at bit.ly/3v1qPcL.

Fuhr said 2021 was a very successful year for MLPD, with the department now at full staffing with 42 sworn officers and eight civilian employees. Fuhr said 2022 is looking to be a good year as well, with six new corporals sworn in, MLPD looking to reinstate a bike patrol program, institute a new partnership with Renew - formerly Grant Integrated Services, the county’s behavioral health provider - to embed a mental health professional with the department and the effort to remodel or build a new police headquarters building.

But for Fuhr, complaints against police are primary, because they are indicative of how much support a department has — or doesn’t have — within the community.

“If you’ve got a lot of complaints, then you have some issues with the community,” he said.

“Only one was founded, the other 11 were unfounded. And frankly, they were, for the most part, minor complaints,” Fuhr said about the 12 complaints in 2021. “No major use of force issues.”

According to the annual report, which both reviews department activities during the previous year and sets out goals and objectives for the current year, MLPD’s 42 officers used force in their encounters with the public 40 times, or 0.213% of all calls or stops, compared with 31 in 2020.

Under Washington state law enacted last year, use of force is defined as any act that causes temporary or “transient” pain, and includes everything from defensive tactics intended to restrain a suspect to using a taser, raising a firearm, using less lethal weapons such as tasers, pepper spray or large, rubber pellets or even dog bites.

“Those are things that need to be documented,” Fuhr said. “You’re not striking, kicking, hitting, you’re basically taking control of somebody. And that’s use of force.”

According to the report, injuries were reported or claimed in 15 of those 40 incidents ranging from “complaints of pain” to “bite marks or bloody noses.”

“Nobody was seriously injured, nobody was shot. So even if you look at the injuries themselves, nobody had to spend any time in the hospital before going to jail,” Fuhr said.

Fuhr said MLPD officers used more force in 2021 despite making fewer arrests, probably because of restrictions on who could be booked into the Grant County Jail, which was limited to people charged with Class A and Class B felonies — murder, rape, assault with a deadly weapon, auto theft, burglary of a home and stalking in violation of a restraining order.

“(What) we do need to note is that the people that we were booking are the more violent people,” Fuhr said. “We didn’t arrest as many, but the people that we arrested were the most hardened, the more violent offenses.”

While he’s glad the MLPD is now fully staffed, Fuhr said the department has become big enough and its organization complex enough that it was time to recreate the position of corporal to help MLPD’s six sergeants — four overseeing patrol, an administrative sergeant and an investigative sergeant — run the department.

“Sergeants have different roles and they are constantly evaluating staff,” Fuhr said. “They’re having to take care of administrative duties for their crews.”

However, Fuhr said, because of their workload, sergeants were either spending too much time on supervising and unable to do their administrative work, or focusing so much time on administration that they were left unable to supervise. The six corporals will help with both, and be able to take over when a sergeant goes on vacation, Fuhr said.

“It'll just give us a second layer of supervision on each of the crews (to) kind of spread out the duties a little bit,” he said.

Fuhr said he was also looking forward to having the new community crisis first responder embedded with the MLPD in 2022. The position, which is being paid for by a grant to Renew and will be on-call to provide assistance countywide. The first responder will be based with MLPD because Moses Lake has the most need, due in part to its population.

“We have the largest population of people that have mental health issues,” he said. “This is something we’ve needed for a long time because we’re dealing with a pretty large population of folks that suffer from mental health crises.”

Being able to help those facing mental health challenges is important, he said.

“It’s just another tool to be able to help those people in crisis to be able to get the services they need,” Fuhr added.

The MLPD has also bought several new police patrol bicycles to allow a pair of officers to get out of their cars and patrol a neighborhood. Being on a bike gives an officer the ability to go places a car can’t go and see things in a way a vehicle driver won’t see, Fuhr said.

It also gives officers on patrol the advantage of silence and a little bit of speed, he added. Additionally, it helps with the department’s ability to be out and about downtown during festivals and summer holidays like July 4th and Labor Day.

“People won’t hear the officers coming, they won’t see the officers coming, all you’ll see is a couple of guys on bikes, especially at night, with little headlights,” Fuhr said.

As for the city’s five red light cameras, Fuhr said as annoying as they are, everyone — including police officers in patrol cars not responding to a call — has to pay a ticket if they go through a red light.

“My daughter’s paid three of them,” Fuhr said. “I’ve been there too.”

According to the report, 11,303 citations were seen in 2021 by red light cameras throughout the city. Nearly a third of those citations issued came from the cameras tracking the southbound portion of S. Pioneer Way in the school zone near Hunter Place.

“There are five locations in this city were you need to have your foot on the brake or hovering over the brake at any given moment, ready to stop,” Fuhr said.

Finally, Fuhr said what gratifies him the most is developing the MLPD’s next generation of leaders who will be able to take over the department once the current generation of leadership, like Fuhr himself, retire.

“It’s exciting. The people that we are promoting right now are just fantastic people who I think will make phenomenal leaders as we move into the next phase of this job,” he said.

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at cfeatherstone@columbiabasinherald.com

photo

Charles H. Featherstone

Moses Lake Police Chief Kevin Fuhr in his office on Wednesday taking a call from the Moses Lake Regional Tactical Response Team, which was responding to a report of a wanted felon in a house not far from George.

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