Vancouver leaders urged to support police during period of adjustment

Crime is up in Vancouver, and police department is struggling to recruit new officers

It has been a few days since Vancouver Police Chief James McElvain gave a presentation on the state of law enforcement in the city.

A few days to reflect on rising crime rates, the potential reduction in the number of police officers, and the challenges of adapting to new protocols and new legislation. 

Enough time for Bart Hansen, a Vancouver City Council member, to request that city leaders, all city leaders, back the blue.

“We need to have the best possible police department that we can,” Hansen said.

The Vancouver Police Department is in need of recruiting new officers in an effort to keep up with the number of officers who are leaving the force. Photo by Andi Schwartz
The Vancouver Police Department is in need of recruiting new officers in an effort to keep up with the number of officers who are leaving the force. Photo by Andi Schwartz

No, that does not mean having blind faith in all matters blue. Citizens who have concerns about policing need to be heard. Action should be taken to improve policing, he said. 

“We need to hold people accountable, whether that is police or society,” Hansen said.

There are ways to accomplish that without demonizing law enforcement. He is not suggesting that anyone in Vancouver is doing that, but nationally — and across the river — there have been a number of cities with leaders who seem to have an anti-police agenda. 

“Through the years, I have supported law enforcement 100 percent. That has not changed,” Hansen said. “It’s not a matter of holding one group accountable over another. It’s about recognizing what a difficult job law enforcement has and making sure we get the proper training and resources for the officers in the field so they can do the best job serving our community.”

Working together along with a show of support for law enforcement will help the department attract the best people to apply for positions, he added.

McElvain said Monday at a workshop in front of the mayor and the City Council that the job has always been difficult, but it is more difficult now than in any of his previous 35 years in law enforcement.

The chief opened his comments by thanking his law enforcement officers, staff, and volunteers for their dedication.

“I’m humbled by their commitment to show up every day despite the ever-present negative dialogue from the mainstream media, social media, special interest groups, as well as political soundbites,” McElway said. “To endure this every day, yet show up and do their best to serve our community is very commendable.”

The political climate, throughout the Northwest, throughout the country, has had an effect on recruitment. The numbers are concerning. Crime is on the rise in Vancouver, and the police department is operating below the number of authorized positions. There are dozens who are eligible to retire this year.

McElvain said the department has averaged about 13 people leaving the force annually over the last few years. Already this year, 10 have left, two more will leave by the end of this month, and the chief has heard from up to a dozen more who say they intend to leave by the end of the year.

Some are retiring. Others, though, are just leaving the force.

“They’re seeking other opportunities, or they have just realized it’s time to go,” McElvain said. “Some of that has to do with the national narrative around policing.”

He added he has not experienced anything like this in his career.

James McElvain, the chief of police for the Vancouver Police Department, gave a report to city council earlier this week on the state of law enforcement. File photo
James McElvain, the chief of police for the Vancouver Police Department, gave a report to city council earlier this week on the state of law enforcement. File photo

McElvain reminded the council that it takes about a year-and-a-half to hire an entry-level officer, from the application process, to background checks, interviews, the academy, and then field training. 

The chief also acknowledged that law enforcement needs to do a better job of recruitment. 

“We’re not great at this. We own it. We have not found that one right thing,” he said. “Everybody in law enforcement is facing that same hurdle.”

When hiring does not keep up with the departures in the department, it can affect the quality of policing.

Calls for service — citizens calling 9-1-1 or 3-1-1, for example — were 76,000, 72,000, and 70,000 the last three years. This year, Vancouver is on pace for 84,000.

If those numbers can be attributed to population growth, McElvain also pointed out that crime rates are going up, too, as in criminal offenses per 1,000 people. Vancouver ballooned to 85 criminal offenses per 1,000 people in 2020. In 2019, it was 79.4. In the previous six years, that number was in the 60s.

In the last year, McElvain said, crime is up 9.6 percent in Vancouver, 9.3 percent in the state. 

“Some people say that if we don’t do something … we’re on route to the 1990s with criminal behavior. I don’t mean to be an alarmist here, but it’s something we need to pay attention to,” McElvain said.

As law enforcement tries to address crime, it is also trying to adapt to new legislation that has changed everything law enforcement has known for decades, McElvain said.

For more than 50 years, it was OK for law enforcement to detain someone based on reasonable suspicion that they committed a crime, about to commit a crime, or just committed a crime, he said. Now, state legislators say law enforcement must have probable cause.

McElvain said police reform is constant. Departments across the country are always coming up with new policies.

This is different, though.

“I have never, ever, ever in my career seen as many policy changes that I’m pushing out to my staff,” McElvain said. “I hear it on a regular basis. It’s fatigue. ‘Please stop.’ ‘This is killing us.’ ‘How do we keep up?’”

So as the Vancouver Police Department adjusts to the new way of policing, the chief asked the community and community leaders to “support our police.”

Council member Hansen is on board.

“We don’t want to repeat the same mistakes that Portland has made,” Hansen said.

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Rhonda Gibson
Rhonda Gibson
1 month ago

Yes, support our police whether they be city, county or state and all first responders. Hopefully they are all honorable if not will be weeded out by their own. Be respectful, follow orders and cooperate. Thank you!

Judy Sue Douglas
Judy Sue Douglas
1 month ago
Reply to  Rhonda Gibson

Always Always Always Run to the Police for Help.
Protect the ones that Protect Us .Always Always Always

David
David
1 month ago
Reply to  Rhonda Gibson

I don’t agree with it I’m sorry if your in a situation and you invited police to come and assist sure all those things you said but if they just show up and have it wrong and they come beating down my door over hear say or mistaken identity or just ignorance I am supposed to follow orders what if it’s another police officer who has had a bad day and wishes me harm am I supposed to then too and just hope his partner doesn’t just turn tree he other way and do nothing I mean come on there needs to be protocols in place that hold all accountable that is irrefutable and i don’t how other than always having bodycam on 100%of the time or what but it hurts me and my sensibility to worry about that for my family or for anyone else trust is not easily attained after it has been lost I for one as a citizen want to see less conflict of interest in our system no more rewards or kickbacks for the police to do there jobs no more privatizing jails and no more county work crews it gives to much motive for police to encroach on our civil liberties and it gives to much motive to our courts to allow it it sends the wrong messages to the public who is growing more aware one horrible event at a time sad it has taken this much blood shed and resentment to get here to this moment in time let us re evaluate ourselves and rise up through all this better people and therefore better society. Of course we need our police and I would like to say to the men and women of law enforcement try hank you you do a job I believe you should be paid more I wouldn’t want to have to subject myself to the kind of life in which would eventually make me jaded or cynical and I’m prayok ng for you to find patience and strength through these times.

Cheryl M
Cheryl M
1 month ago
Reply to  David

Hi David, I would strongly encourage you to go on ride alongs and take time to better understand the real situation. You wrote several statements here that are simply not true – it’s your perception. I believe this is the largest issue most people face when discussing law enforcement “reform” or support. They base their ideology on a lot of misconceptions. They say ignorance is bliss, but ignorance is proving to be extremely dangerous for our law enforcement officers and for the public at large.

Ron
Ron
1 month ago

Are you folks ready to pay for more police? We certainly need them. Time for another tax raise

Last edited 1 month ago by Ron
David
David
1 month ago
Reply to  Ron

As long as it’s not just more money for the same kind of police let’s see the job requirements and what were going to be paying for I’m tired of the un true no more political promises

Cheryl
Cheryl
1 month ago

More Police!! Money is no object! We all need a safe place to live and BLM as well! The majority of criminals in Vancouver appear to be White men, women,and even teens.
Let’s get a handle on it while it’s still attainable.

David
David
1 month ago
Reply to  Cheryl

I sense a bit of racism in your comment is that the case or is it genuine white guilt I mean you perpetuate these problems of racism by identifying people by color or categorizing people with blanket statements like white men women teen I’m sorry for making a conversation about this but please look at yourself first and be more self aware and lead by example crime happens not because of origin ethnicity gender or age it is someone who is in need and not getting the help they need so try they do the worste thing possible they take those matters and handle them theirselves and it is wrong but let’s start to end this ridiculing by leading by example and further our understanding using empathy an compassion not ignorance nor guilt.

Cheryl
Cheryl
1 month ago
Reply to  David

Get over yourself David. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. BTW my skin color is white. Try another avenue if your goal is agitation. David.

Tess
Tess
1 month ago

Can’t thank Blue ENOUGH for protecting our community, showing the integrity to question possible department errors, risking their lives EVERYDAY and flexible enough to adjust to the needs of a polarized society!! Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!!! I can sleep at night knowing that you will be there.
And to our community?: Conduct yourselves as if EVERYTHING you do, affects the quality of our community experience….driving recklessly, shoving your way in line as if your the only one that matters, disregard for the health risks to others, driving intoxicated. Sounds elementary but is clearly prevalent behaviors of today. CARE! GIVE A DAMN! It doesn’t feel so bad after all…

Hermm
Hermm
1 month ago

Let’s not become Potland!
Hire and support police.
Do not allow camping everywhere.
Learn from Portland’s horrible government and keep Vancouver livable.

Thomas Kuhlmann
1 month ago

As a landlord invested in Vancouver for over 20 years, my experience with the Vancouver Police has always been excellent. When my wife or I called for the ‘assistance of an officer’ they have arrived promptly and solved the issue in a very timely and professional manner. Kudos to the Vancouver Police.
That said, I reside in La Center where there is discussion of eliminating our small police force. My experience with La Center police has been underwhelming and I suspect Clark County Sheriffs Department(another good department) can provide and does provide the resources La Center needs.

Vance Carch
Vance Carch
1 month ago

Before you vote for anyone, check to see who is funding them. Our recent election had several city council and school board candidates who received most of their contributions from Seattle Democratic Party and or Portland individuals. It’s public record. If you want more police do your research. Vancouver is very vulnerable and could easily become Portland. Demand future candidates publicly state their support of the police and hold them to it.

Shari S
Shari S
29 days ago

I wonder if the Chief of Police (VPD) stopped to think that, … The MAIN REASON there are so many OFFICERS ON OAID ADMIN LEAVE, STILL!!! Take those officers , put them IN HOUSE ONLY if cases are pending, THAT SHOULD help with the NEEDED OFFICERS IN VAMCOUVER.

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