PORT ANGELES — The entire Lower Elwha Police Department — from the newest recruit to the chief of police — was sworn in recently after the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribal Council approved new policies and procedures for the department.
“We all take [our oath] at the police academy, but it’s another thing to take it before our friends, families and coworkers,” Chief Sam White said. “I wanted to take today to acknowledge the efforts of our staff in their accomplishments, but also since we’re instituting a new policy, to do our oath under the new policy and to have that moral compass of our oath and live by it.”
On Wednesday, Judge Susan Alexander swore in Officers Thomas Edgington, Alex Hamrick, Jedediah Johnson, Ernie Grimes Jr., Phillip Charles, Daniel Point, Sgt. Jimmy Thompson and White. Another officer is scheduled to start this week.
Point, who is an enrolled tribal member, was recognized as the department’s and the Olympic Peninsula International Footprint Association’s officer of the year.
Tribal Chair Frances Charles thanked the officers during the swearing-in ceremony, acknowledging the sacrifices they make.
“We’re gratified to have them on board with us,” Charles said. “We’re very humbled they chose to work for the tribe.”
Since the tribe hired White to lead the department in March, he has hired almost an entirely new force of officers, save for Point and Thompson.
Among his top goals since becoming chief has been to rebuild the staff back up and to establish new policies and procedures for the department, including regular training.
Before White was hired, the department had been experiencing high turnover. In recent months officers have transferred to other departments.
When White served as chief for the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, he hired three Elwha officers, he said, while others had opportunities at the county and another officer went to Muckleshoot.
“The tribal council upped their wage to be a more competitive employer in the law enforcement realm and we’ve got a pretty good solid crew,” White said. “I’m really happy with the guys I have on staff.”
White still needs to hire another sergeant and — depending on whether an internal candidate is picked for the sergeant position — one or two entry-level officers.
One officer needs to attend the 13-week U.S. Indian Police Academy in New Mexico. Two officers will attend the upcoming class of the Washington State Basic Law Enforcement Equivalency Academy. When they return, another two officers will head to the equivalency academy.
“We managed to get our policy and procedure manual redone and it’s set up in a way that it can be a living document that continually grows and changes with the way the Supreme Court makes decisions, the tribal court make decisions,” he said. “It gives us a way to protect the officers … protect the community and give us a set of rules to live by.”
Previously the department lacked a codified policy approved by the tribal council, he said. The department is preparing for an “aggressive” training schedule over the next two years, White said.
“We’ve got a whole series of training that the policy requires, that the mutual aid [agreements] require,” White said.
White said that training previously wasn’t required under department policy, though it was required by state and federal law.
“This outlines use of force, firearms, [emergency vehicle operator course], sexual harassment, [preventing] biased policing,” he said. “There’s a whole list of trainings you’re required to do annually, every two years, every three years. We have to develop a training plan to match that requirement.”
He thanked the tribal council for its investment in law enforcement, including increasing the wages of officers and opening its justice center in 2016.
“The tribal council has definitely supported the law enforcement branch of the government,” White said. “They continue to support our budget and they continue to help us grow in a vision that allows us to take steps as other things in the tribe develop.”
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].