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Starting from Scratch

When a Seattle suburb incorporated, the new government faced an unusual do you form a police department?

March 01, 2003  |  by Shelly Domash

The Federal Way

The Federal Way PD, although relatively new, employs a variety of units to cover the city. The traffic enforcement division, whose motor officers are pictured above, is just one small part of the agency’s crime-fighting force.

According to Piel, one of the most difficult undertakings in the infancy of the Federal Way PD was trying to develop an identity, something that took a few years to accomplish. He says that identity came recently with the hiring of a new police chief, Anne Kirkpatrick, who "really sewed it up for our department."

Today the department has 116 sworn members and 41 civilians. Fifty-six of the sworn officers have been with the department since the day Federal Way PD cars first hit the streets.

Some of the original officers left for simple reasons, like the inability to deal with the large amount of rainfall in the region or the department not meeting their expectations.  Others went on to better jobs. For example, parlaying the experience they acquired on the job in Federal Way, three lieutenants left to become chiefs in other agencies.

For most departing officers, pay wasn't an issue. In 1998 a top step officer made $49,776, a salary that has increased to $61,896 today. And many of Federal Way's officers come in at even higher steps because of prior law enforcement experience.

Creating a new department is not only difficult internally. Gaining the respect of fellow officers in other agencies can also be a challenge and it is not something that happens overnight.

Through the dedication and persistence of its officers, the Federal Way PD is now one of the nation's leading suburban agencies. "Our bomb squad is nationally recognized now," says Piel. "Our [tactical] officers participate in a multicity SWAT team."

In addition to the bomb disposal unit, the department also has a K-9 unit, bicycle patrols, school resource officers in its five high schools, a traffic enforcement division with six motor officers, a special response team, a special investigations unit, highway emphasis patrol, and criminal intelligence.

Not only is the Federal Way PD recognized among its peers. It's also effective. And it has been from the start.

Crime in the city has dropped since the Federal Way PD was created. "It went down far beyond the nation's drop in crime and the citizens noticed it right way," says Piel. And the statistics back him up. Total index crimes were reduced for each quarter for the first nine quarters of the department's creation.

Today, Federal Way has a new chief, a full complement of dedicated officers, and a deep sense of its mission. "Our current chief's philosophy is we are going to kick crime out of the city. We are not going to abuse people's rights, but if you are a criminal, you better leave because we will put you in jail," says Piel.

Of course, a successful police agency is not made of just its officers' dedication and dilligence. It needs the support of local government and the public.

Wilson says the city's support has been a great help to the department. "Given the challenges of the economic times that are present, Federal Way is one of the few cities in the state of Washington that actually had its bond rating increased. [Local officials] have been very supportive of law enforcement and our police department in meeting our needs to provide service," he explains.

Creating the department brought numerous problems, but it also brought a great deal of personal satisfaction for the first group of officers who helped design the new agency.

"Not many officers can look back at their career and say, 'I started that police department. I wrote some of the policies.' You don't have that with departments that have been around for 100 years or so. I wanted to be a founding member of the police department because I wanted to see where it goes," Piel says.

Wilson agrees. "I am proud of this agency and all the officers. It is probably the best time of my entire career."

And after giving birth to a successful new law enforcement agency, what is the best advice for anyone considering the same path?

According to Piel, it's setting a goal. "Prepare to be CALEA accredited very early on because that organization helped us greatly in establishing our operating standards. And because we had that in mind, our departmental goals were set right from the start. Once you have met that standard you know your policy and procedures are the best they can be."

Wilson agrees and adds, "The most important thing is to maintain your relationship with the people, officers, city staff, and the community. If you maintain those positive relationships, that helps you move forward."

Members of the Federal Way bike patrol keep an eye on the many bicycle paths and other hard-to-reach areas throughout the suburban town.

Circling Sharks

From the day the first Federal Way Police Department vehicle hit the streets, local attorneys were lined up to see if they could feed off the fresh meat of the new agency. Fortunately, Federal Way was prepared for the onslaught.

Lt. Robert Piel says local attorneys were out to "see if we would pay out." But they discovered that the new city would fight. "If we are right, we stand strong and will not give anything to anybody, especially the citizen's money that we cherish. If we are wrong we will admit it, and if we are right, we are right and it will be a fight."

For the first 18 months the department had between $18 and 20 million in claims against it. "There was a perception among the Washington State Bar that there were inexperienced people running our department, but that was not the case. We prevailed in all of the cases. We had some real critical ones involving organized crime, government employees, and others that we were successful in challenging," says Deputy Chief Brian Wilson.

In one case involving a State Employee, the department's members counter sued in federal court and damages were awarded to them. "Our reputation is we do quality work, we are very organized and prepared and don't attempt a frivolous lawsuit against the department or the city," Wilson adds.

A Closer Look

Federal Way Police Department
Federal Way, Washington

Chief: Anne Kirkpatrick
Size: 116 sworn officers
Pay: $61,896 for top step officer
Retirement: Fully vested at 20 years
Uniform Allowance: Fully provided
Average Temp. Feb.: 49/37
Average Temp. Aug.: 75/56
Annual Rainfall: 39 inches
Patrol: Single officer units
Cars: Ford Crown Victoria
Service Weapons: Glock (issued),other makes permitted on approval of                                rangemaster

Shelly Feuer Domash is a Long Island-based freelance writer and a frequent contributor to POLICE.

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