The Arlington Police Department recognized officers who excelled during the last year during their annual awards ceremony on Jan. 11.
“Once a year we get the whole department together and try to cover the highlights, including the good, the bad and the ugly,” said Arlington Police Chief Jonathan Ventura.
“As part of that it is important to recognize employees that excelled,” he said.
The Police Employee of the Year for 2018 was officer Ken Thomas and law enforcement embedded social worker Britney Sutton.
Thomas and Sutton partnered on the embedded social worker program which began early in 2018 for Arlington.
The program seeks to reach homeless individuals who are dealing with addiction issues and attempt to support them rather than trying arrest them as a first response.
“With the embedded social worker program receiving national attention” it was pretty clear who would get the award this year, said Ventura.
“Jurisdictions from across the country, and even outside the country, have contacted us about how we got this program started,” he said.
The nominations for the award came from peers in the department, he said.
Ventura said that Arlington and nearly all police departments across the country have looked toward arrests as the first solution to problems that arise because of addiction.
“The root of the problem is a social issue, and police are not social workers,” said Ventura.
The first year of the program went well, said Ventura, with many homeless individuals getting into programs which help them beat addiction.
“Our guys have shown that they are out there making a difference,” he said. “Those two had a phenomenal year."
Ventura is hopeful that social workers will be more integrated with problems traditionally thought of as “police work.”
“This problem was put in front of the police and we’re problem solvers so we’ve been trying,” said Ventura, who added there are likely better ways to approach homelessness.
“Quite frankly I think this is the future of law enforcement,” he said. “We need to put a lot more money into programs like this, because it has shown so much potential."
Other awards include the Chief’s Traffic Enforcement Award given to officer Stephanie Ambrose and the Chief’s DUI Award given to officer Alex Donchez.
Those awards recognized officers who increased public safety on the streets of Arlington.
“Taking a drunk off the road can be one of the most impactful things we can do, potentially saving a life,” said Ventura.
Officer Shelly Hamel was recognized for her involvement in an incident which saved the life of a citizen and officers Mike McQuoid and Mike Knight were recognized for Valor.
“We were assisting another agency in an incident where shots were fired,” said Ventura. “Our officers were able to subdue the subject in a non-lethal way."
Over the last few years the department has attempted to become more community focused and respond to the needs of the public.
“And every agency says they are trying to be community-oriented policing,” said Ventura. He pointed out the Arlington department’s conversations with neighborhoods and businesses, as well as their Conversations with Cops program.
School Resource Officer Justin Olson received the Chief’s Community Engagement Award for continuing that effort.
“He was inspired by Conversations with Cops and he decided to replicate that within the schools,” said Ventura.
The full list of award winners is available at the city of Arlington’s website at www.arlingtonwa.gov.