By Hannah Saunders
BJ Myers has been working toward his goals of increasing community engagement and advancing criminal investigative strategies since he became Woodinville’s police chief last July. Prior to serving as chief, Myers was working as a patrol supervisor for the Woodinville Police Department (WPD).
Myers has spent 14 years contracted under the King County Sheriff’s Office, where he’s worked as a patrol officer for Seattle’s Metro Transit Police and spent four years in a special assault unit that focused on major investigations such as child abuse, sex crimes, and felony-level domestic violence cases.
“I will be frank—I’m sure this is typical of anybody that comes into a new job—is all of a sudden, you become surprised by the things that are coming your way that you didn’t expect,” Myers said. “Some of the things that we’ve had to work on over the last couple of months have been a response to changing laws regarding police powers and authority. It’s taken some work just to kind of wrap our heads around what our new types of responses will be.”
Over the summer, Gov. Inslee put new laws into effect surrounding how the police force is used in certain situations. House Bill 1310 establishes new use-of-force techniques for police officers, while House Bill 1054 restricts the use of strategies such as neck restraints and suspect pursuits.
“There’s significant changes to how police can use force,” Myers said. “That’s affected how we respond to crisis calls and how we investigate crimes that are in progress when we don’t have a suspect positively identified.”
According to Myers, officers are no longer allowed to arrest or detain a suspect based on a provided physical description, but rather must compile sufficient evidence, some of which consists of placing the suspect at a scene of a crime.
“We’ve been having to let people walk away from crime scenes where they might have committed a crime, and then we have to on the back end, figure out who they were and find other evidence that ties them to that crime,” Myers said. “So, kind of the burden of crime fighting has shifted a little bit in a small department like this, from being pretty heavy on the patrol response side, and now more of that is pushing back to the detectives.”
The WPD remains understaffed, like many other police departments across the state. Myers mentioned how staffing has been a challenge and that they are down two positions. But the department has not lost any employees in the past several months. Currently, the WPD has eight patrol officers, one detective, one school resource officer and two patrol supervisors.
“We’re going to be looking at ways next year to increase our numbers of hours available for detectives, and I think that was something that was kind of a hope of mine coming into this job,” Myers said. “But these law changes have certainly made that much more of a need.”
Myers said if the department were able to hire one or two more detectives, it would allow for more resources within the department to engage in crime prevention within Woodinville’s business district.
“So much of our crime in Woodinville is happening at retailers or businesses that are closed—and it’s something that happens in the middle of the night,” Myers said. “One of the ways that we can work together on that is to make sure that businesses have good training for their staff members on how to treat crimes that are happening and when to call the police and what kinds of information to give us about that.”
The police chief wants businesses to be set up for success by encouraging them to communicate amongst each other about crimes and making sure all have solid security system designs in place. He even mentioned coordinating business block watches.
In addition to property crimes, a new dominant trend that has been out of the norm yet occurring in Woodinville over the last year and a half is the theft of catalytic converters that can be stolen in merely a matter of minutes and can sell for up to a few thousand dollars due to the precious metals. Toyota Priuses have been a particularly large vehicle target in the area.
“I think that we have lots of ways that we need to continue to be working with the community to figure out how we do this job better, how we take care of people better, but in the midst of that we’re thankful to still be here, too,” Myers said. “I guess I just felt like I don’t want to take that for granted—see that we’re aware—that we’re fortunate to be working here in Woodinville and appreciate this community.”