NORTH BEND — Growing a small police department is no easy task, but it is one that North Bend Police Chief Robert Kappelman has managed to accomplish since being hired in 2013.

One of the first things Kappelman was told after being hired was to achieve the next level of community policing. To him, that means building a department that reflects the values of its community, being aware of current trends, issues, and demands on a national level and understanding how those issues may impact local police.

“When I came in and we went through the department,” he said, “there were some things that, to me, were absolute common-sense necessities.”

Those included getting tire deflation devices to end high speed chases or pursuits, automatic external defibrillators in vehicles, and naloxone. Naloxone, being distributed to officers added this month, is the emergency opiate reversal drug used in overdose cases.

“It's important that we continually ask ourselves if what we are doing now is the best thing we can do,” Kappelman said. “We should constantly ask ourselves if what we're doing now is the best approach. The work we've done as a department comes from the people here who make it happen. I am very demanding, but these people are high performers.”

The very first department change was one of the easiest. Kappelman started Coffee with a Cop shortly after stepping into his job in 2013. He heard of the idea, originated in Hawthorne, Calif., which was to have coffee with community member at any cafe.

“There is no agenda, no presentation,” he said. “Just a bunch of cops, people drinking coffee, and talking about sports or business.”

The most benefit he has seen come out of the program have been with citizens who felt that the police were too busy to address their neighborhood issues and never called because “they didn't want to bother us.”

“Coffee with a Cop gave us the opportunity to tell them we are here to be bothered and have been able to solve a lot of community issues based on hosting this,” Kappelman said. “We have also received information that led to drug cases from this.”

Squad car and body cameras

Kappelman moved to the area from Two Rivers, Wis., and a police department not much bigger than North Bend's. In Two Rivers, every squad car had a camera. When he arrived here, not every vehicle had a camera, and the ones that were there rarely functioned. In fact, he said, one barely functioned at all.

“If you're going to be transparent,” Kappelman said, “one of the worst things you can do is make a haphazard attempt at transparency. My feeling, and the feeling of the officers here, is if you're doing the job appropriately, there is no problem with who is watching me, either.”

The department equipped every squad car with a full in-car video system, complete with a camera in the back seat and out the front of the car, along with audio. As Kappelman pulled this together, the company chosen to purchase the equipment extended an offer for free body cameras to go along with each vehicle system.

“Because we were outfitting every vehicle, we got body cameras for no additional cost,” he said. “I knew the value in the mobile video systems, both as an officer and an administrator, because if there is a complaint made against an officer, we just have to review the tape. Being able to watch a tape saves a lot of time in those types of investigations.”

The majority of these systems started in spring of 2015, making the department one of the first in the state to have body cameras before the Department of Justice recommended them.

Dictation of reports

Writing up reports is one of the things cops dislike the most. Kappelman laughed that most people who become cops do so because “we'd make horrible secretaries!”

“Everyone was sitting here and typing their reports, which takes a significant amount of time,” he said. “My job is to give officers the tools they need to do the most efficient work possible.”

In Two Rivers, Kappelman's department had three full-time police clerks who transcribed reports for officers. Because the North Bend Police Department, at the time, only had one clerk, Kappelman hired a dictation agency at $15,000 a year. The change has resulted in a 75 percent reduction in report writing time.

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He said the change has been a “huge benefit” and made sure every squad car had a smartphone with the dictation service on it. After an incident, officers can dictate the report and send it to the dictation agency with a phone app, then receive the typed version on their email within two hours. Officers go through it, clean it up, then cut and paste it into the system.

ALICE and SRO programs

Assisting in school safety has been another of Kappelman's priorities. Since November of 2014, the department helped bring the ALICE program (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) into the North Bend School District, which trains students and staff how to think in the case of an active shooter.

“You're training people to realize that they have options and hiding under a desk is not their only one, and is rarely even the best option,” he said. “I've been very pleased with how the district embraced the program. They train on it, like schools in the Midwest train on tornado drills.”

Kappelman said the best part of the ALICE program is that the knowledge goes with students and teachers after they leave the school, where they can use it in case of a shooter incident at a mall, theater, college or any public venue.

“We think it is so important that we trained five ALICE instructors in our PD, and offer this training to any organization in North Bend, either a work place or service group,” he said. “We will go to their location.”

Kappelman also resuscitated the School Resource Officer Program at the school district, assigning Officer Ed Perry to the position. The SRO program is being paid for by both the school district and the city, putting an officer in schools to handle school-related crime, reintroduce and teach the DARE program to elementary students, and forge relationships with youth. It also has allowed the police department to replace Perry with another officer, since most of Perry's time will be at the school.

“This gives us another cop on the force,” Kappelman said.

Along with hiring another officer, the department is adding a part-time clerk position as well.

Other accomplishments have included adding Chessie the drug detection canine, who replaced the department's patrol dog, which retired for health reasons.

Decreased crime

The Uniform Crime Reporting Statistics released in 2014 showed the department had a 32 percent decrease in violent crime and a 12 percent reduction in property crime.

“We don't have 2015's stats yet,” Kappelman said. “I'm worried about them because I think they will be higher. The criminal element we deal with on a regular basis has gone from being generally uncooperative and non-compliant, to being blatantly defiant.”

He attributed this to being unable to hold criminals accountable at the local level, the jail bed reduction, and the cite-and-release on criminal cases with people who burglarized homes and committed felony thefts.

“It is just incomprehensible to expect any change of behavior if there is no consequence,” he said. “We need increased jail space. It's an issue if we have a jail facility capable of holding more, but staffing won't allow it.”

Kappelman stated that every law enforcement agency is at a critical stage in staffing, and the department can't reduce anymore without cutting services to the people they serve.

He encouraged community members to become aware of crime, report it, and then be unafraid to fill out a report and testify.

“After that, it will take federal funding and legislative work to help out,” he said. “It will take law enforcement agencies to show communities what we're doing, how we're doing it, and how difficult the job is so taxpayers are willing to get behind it so it can be better.

"In the meantime, all I can say, all I can encourage people to do, is get involved.”

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Reporter Jillian Ward can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 236, or by email at jillian.ward@theworldlink.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JE_Wardwriter.