Now that the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department has hired another police officer, business owners and citizens might be able to rest a bit easier.
With the recent addition of Officer Steve Shields, who had been serving with the Klickitat County Sheriff's Office, the Police Department is once again able to offer "around the clock" law enforcement coverage.
"We are currently staffed with four officers and the chief," explained Police Chief Bruce Brending. "We are back to providing 24-7 scheduled coverage. There may be times due to training or vacation staffing when that schedule is prohibitive, but it will be very infrequent."
White Salmon Mayor David Poucher said he was relieved to see the department's manpower back to the point where at least one officer can be on duty at all times.
"I really think the whole situation with the shoplifting case got blown way out of proportion, but we're pleased that we're back to 24-7," Poucher said.
The incident Poucher referred to happened on April 3. Staff members of White Salmon's Hi-School Pharmacy confronted a shoplifting suspect, who pushed a security guard and fled. The employees called for police help and went in foot pursuit of the alleged shoplifter. However, because there was no one on duty at the time of the call, a police officer did not respond to Hi-School Pharmacy for about two hours.
The suspect escaped.
Poucher said that with the added manpower, there should not be any more situations like that one.
"And we'll have another officer coming out of the Police Academy fairly soon. I think things are going really well, and we're starting to see some real leadership in the department," Poucher said.
Poucher praised the newest Police Department employee, Steve Shields, and added that he was gratified to see the local Police Department hire an experienced officer from another law enforcement organization.
"Mr. Shields seems like a very, very professional individual," Poucher said. "This is the type of officer I believe we need. We're starting to see more stability. We're getting officers who, instead of fleeing from us, are saying `hey, I want to come to White Salmon.'"
Chief Brending said it won't be long before another officer joins the local police force.
"Our officer in the Police Academy, Tony Warren, is doing well, and is expected to graduate on July 29," Brending explained. "He will then be required to complete a Field Training Officer program, which consists of approximately 10 weeks, and upon completion of that, we will then be at a staff of six."
Brending pointed out that to be in compliance with the interlocal agreement with the city of Bingen, which contracts with White Salmon for law enforcement services, the Police Department is supposed to comprise a staff of at least eight.
"We were originally budgeted in recent years for a staff of nine," Brending said. "Whether we are able to hire any additional officers will depend on the budget and the priorities of the public and council."