Washington City Spending $2.2M on Police Department Report Takers

July 8, 2024
Tacoma community service officers take reports and provide traffic control and perimeter security at crime scenes, among other duties.

TACOMA, Washington -- The newest members of the Tacoma Police Department don't look like traditional police. They wear distinctive uniforms — think: fluorescent-yellow shirts — and drive white trucks emblazoned with the city's logo.

They're also unarmed and don't have the authority to make arrests.

So, who are these city workers? The sides of their trucks bear the job title: community service officer (CSO).

The Police Department announced in a news release that two of the city's first CSOs "hit the street" Thursday, June 27.

What do community service officers do?

Community service officers are akin to the Police Department's customer-service arm. They take reports and provide traffic control and perimeter security at crime scenes, among other duties.

Such officers are employed in other cities across the United States, including Seattle and Tucson.

Tacoma's Police Department is authorized to have 10 CSOs, deputy chief Paul Junger told The News Tribune. The idea is that they'll help provide faster responses to lower-priority calls: ones that are routine with no suspects at the scene.

That way, traditional police officers will have greater bandwidth to respond to emergencies, Junger explained. Community service officers won't supplant the department's need for additional patrol officers, he added. They'll work under a sergeant's supervision.

The department hopes the program increases its ability to serve residents.

"Not everything requires a law enforcement or a paramedic response," Junger said. "We want to be able to provide the right care — at the right time — to the right call."

The News Tribune in a follow-up inquiry asked the Police Department where the idea for the program came from, and whether it was modeled on another city's, but did not receive a response.

How much do community service officers make?

Community service officers get paid anywhere from $62,961.60 to $76,523.20 per year, according to the city's job posting.

The Police Department was awarded $963,000 in federal grant money to launch the program, spokesperson Shelbie Boyd told The News Tribune. That's expected to pay for two community service officers, a lieutenant and a sergeant for two years.

The city's general fund will cover the rest of the expenses and funding for community service officers, she said.

In 2024, the CSO program budget saw $2.2 million in support from the city's general fund, city spokesperson Linda Robson told The News Tribune via email. That's in addition to the federal-grant money.

"This is for both the program operation estimated to be roughly $1.9M annually going forward," she continued, "and one-time start-up expenses this year, like equipment, uniforms, costs for the hiring and screening process as we launch the program, etc."

Next year, she added, the city anticipates more federal-grant funds to be available for the CSO program. Additional details about funding totals and sources will be nailed down as the city prepares and considers a proposed biennial budget for 2025-26.

Who qualifies to be a community service officer?

Candidates must be at least 18 and have a high-school diploma or equivalent, according to the city's job posting. Preferred qualifications include folks with law-enforcement or clerical training. Contenders will have to clear a background check.

Community service officers will be expected to work outdoors at times and with the public. They could be "exposed to hazards, such as toxic chemicals, traffic hazards, communicable diseases and possible verbal and/or physical harm from hostile, unstable and / or disoriented individuals," according to the posting.

Other tasks might include having to "crawl, climb, walk for long periods, stand, sit, talk, hear and see, twist, balance, kneel, bend, stoop, crouch, reach, lift, carry, drag, push/pull; occasionally carry or lift heavy objects," the city's listing says. They will work weekends, with Tuesdays and Wednesdays as their tentative days off.

Junger said CSOs can help relieve patrol officers from taking property to the property room or recovering stolen cars. They may also free up front-line officers' schedules from tending to certain traffic-related matters.

Some days, community service officers will be in the field, he said. Others will be spent sitting behind a desk at a substation: "The day in the life of a CSO will vary."

Allen McKenzie, chair of the Community's Police Advisory Committee, told The News Tribune that his reaction to the program is largely positive. The way he sees it, having more boots on the street is a good thing.

"Community members have felt frustrated with the lack of quick response time to lower-priority calls — or a complete lack of response, in some cases — to those types of calls," McKenzie said. "... The more responses we get to whether it's property crime or something else, the more the community is going to feel safe and the department is responsive."

Looking ahead, McKenzie wants to see the Police Department be fully staffed with uniformed officers, in addition to having each of the 10 CSO positions filled. The new program likely won't be a cure-all, but he looks forward to watching it progress and grow.

Not all police work needs "to be done with a gun," he added.

"I hope that the CSOs that are on the streets now — and ones that are in the pipeline — were selected for their empathy, their people skills, as well as their ability to get the job done," he said. "Because it's super important that the department put its best foot forward with the community to keep building that trust."


(c)2024 The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.)

Visit The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.) at www.TheNewsTribune.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Sponsored Recommendations

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Officer, create an account today!