Pasco businesses will see changes this year in how the Pasco Police Department both responds to and helps the business community.
This month, the department launches a Business Watch program, intended to support and open communication lines between businesses and police officers.
The new program is a component of the city’s strategic plan, which the city council approved, in part, to address the growing size of the city and projected future growth.
Pasco has grown more than 5% in the past three years to 81,280 residents, according to the most recent state calculations.
Pasco police begin implementing a district policing program this month, dividing the city into two separate districts: one in west Pasco and one in east Pasco.
Each district will have an assigned lieutenant, who will serve as a single point of contact for business owners in that district.
District 1 stretches from Highway 395 east to the Snake River. District 2 is everything west of Highway 395, with Airport Road serving as a dividing line, said Lt. Chad Pettijohn, who will serve as the District 1 lieutenant. Lt. Matthew Decker is the District 2 contact.
“Pasco is a rapidly growing city, and it has been for many years, and we’re at that phase where we’re looking at that horizon,” Pettijohn said.
As a part of district policing, the department is kicking off Business Watch, which is intended to strengthen the relationship between the police and local businesses, as well as provide educational opportunities for businesses and a forum for business owners to ask questions.
The program is not a response to an increase in crimes against businesses, Pettijohn said. And while 2023 crime statistics have yet to be finalized, he said that Pasco saw about the same or possibly a bit less crime against businesses last year.
Instead, the program is meant to be a proactive way to address the city’s growth, as well as educate business owners about how to make their employees and businesses safer. It’s also a way for businesses to bring their concerns directly to the department.
“The problems affecting businesses? We most likely haven’t heard a lot of them,” Pettijohn said. “They will likely have similar concerns so our goal and aim here is to address that through information sharing.”
The lieutenants spoke at the Pasco Chamber of Commerce’s Jan. 8 luncheon.
“As a former business owner, I know from (chamber members), whether it is going to result in anything or not, they want a response,” said Colin Hastings, executive director of the Pasco chamber. “It’s a step in the right direction.”
Going forward, Business Watch meetings will be specific to each district, and Pettijohn hopes they can take place at local businesses. The first District 1 meeting is 1-2 p.m. Feb. 6 at Moose Lodge, 2617 W. Sylvester St., Pasco. The District 2 meeting is 1-2 p.m. Feb. 20 at the HAPO Center, 6600 Burden Blvd., Pasco.
It hasn’t been decided whether there will be monthly or quarterly meetings, but the department plans to be responsive to what business owners want or need.
The officers who patrol the district will attend the meetings, so communication about problems and possible solutions can be worked out in real time, or at least heard by an officer who understands and knows the neighborhood.
Pettijohn said he hopes the business-focused program will help build trust between local businesses and the department, ultimately reduce crimes against businesses and improve their quality of life overall.
“I would hope that the businesses will learn to come to myself or their district resource officer and say, ‘Hey, I need help with this specific problem,’ even outside of the meeting context,” he said.
The Business Watch program also will provide businesses with training sessions on everything from active threats to crime prevention.
There are certain steps businesses can take to help prevent crimes, from lighting design to security camera adjustments, and the department wants to help businesses understand how to best make those changes, if necessary.
Even knowing when and why to call the police can be tricky for business owners and employees, and the police department plans to provide training on what information they might need to aid in the prosecution for thefts, as well as what can hinder an investigation.
Currently, one of business owners’ top concerns is vagrancy, Hastings said.
State and case law make solving the vagrancy problem challenging, but Pettijohn said the department will address through the program what businesses can and can’t do when it comes to reporting trespassing, as well as what officers can do.
Pettijohn emphasized that the department is focused on responding to vagrancy calls in a holistic way.
Last month, for example, Pasco police responded to a trespassing call from a local business. The officer, who could have taken the trespasser to jail, spoke to the person to see where they needed to be, Pettijohn said. It turned out the person had left a Spokane rehabilitation facility.
Pettijohn said the officer walked the person over to the Greyhound bus station and got them back on a bus to Spokane, after the facility confirmed it would take the person back.
Arresting people is not always the answer, Pettijohn said, as it’s often instead about solving the problem with communication.
“(For) homelessness specifically, the solution is not policing,” Pettijohn said.
The Business Watch program, while still in its early stages, is all about breaking down the barriers between the department and local businesses.
Pettijohn hopes the district meetings will lead to more organic meetups, like a recent coffee chat set up between responding officers and a business’ loss prevention staff.
These types of conversations are vital for both officers and businesses to understand one another’s policies and sometimes, even find the disconnect, Pettijohn said.
Businesses can sign up for news and alerts about the new Business Watch Program by contacting Pettijohn at 509-544-3613 or Decker at 509-544-3076.
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