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'Growing pains' hit Lake Stevens police

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By Rikki King
Herald Writer
LAKE STEVENS -- Police officers in Lake Stevens voiced enough complaints and concerns about the department's leadership and culture that the city in 2011 paid a consultant $4,188 to investigate.
The Herald obtained the consultant's report under state public records laws. The consultant was not hired because of allegations about misbehavior involving two Lake Stevens officers.
The 2011 consultation dealt with other problems.
The consultant, a retired Kent police captain, interviewed 17 police employees. Most of them aired grievances about day-to-day disagreements and internal squabbles, records show.
The consultant's main finding was that some officers felt there was a "clique" within the department that created favoritism and discord, according to the report.
City leaders say they've addressed the problems. They're seeking new leadership for the department and are trying to look forward, City Administrator Jan Berg said Tuesday.
"We're moving full-steam ahead," she said.
The Herald last week reported that the department also has investigated two officers at least seven times in recent years for allegations of bad behavior. One of them reportedly is on his "last chance" with the city. One of the incidents led to Lake Stevens paying a Marysville family $100,000 to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit.
The two officers involved in those internal investigations, James Wellington and Steve Warbis, didn't get much ink in the 2011 consultation. Officers had other complaints.
Much of the troubles at the department began after a 2009 annexation, Berg said. The city roughly doubled in size and tripled in population.
The city added officers and created specialty police units, said Dan Lorentzen, the police commander who in recent months has been acting as interim chief.
The transition was painful, Lorentzen said. There was a culture clash between the police officers who had long patrolled Lake Stevens as a small bedroom community and those hired as the city became the fifth largest in the county.
Around that time, the economy soured, Lorentzen said. Additional hires were canceled. That bred discontent for officers, including concerns about diminished opportunities for advancement and specialty assignments.
"A lot of that stuff got shelved," he said.
The city hired the consultant at the request of former police Chief Randy Celori, Berg said.
Morale at the police department was low, she said.
"We had rapid growth, and with any growth, there's going to be growing pains," she said. "We were just trying to identify any issues or problems so that we could correct any problems."
After the consultation, Celori re-assigned sergeants, she said. The city also increased supervision for some police units.
"Not because they were doing bad but just to get them the support," Berg said.
In November, Celori left the department in lieu of termination himself. City officials have refused to disclose why Celori was going to be fired. Both sides signed an agreement prohibiting them from talking about the reasons for Celori's departure and severance pay.
City officials are finalizing the timeline for hiring a new chief, Berg said. Searches for new police chiefs at similar-sized departments tend to take a few months.
Lake Stevens also has asked the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs to evaluate the police department's operations and management structure and make suggestions. The team was in town last week, Berg said. Internal discipline procedures will be part of that review.
The department also is working on adopting a modernized policy manual, Lorentzen said.
After news broke about the lawsuit in December, Lorentzen said he told officers the department "can't apologize for bad behavior."
"We're changing," he said.
Rikki King: 425-339-3449;
Story tags » Lake StevensPolice

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