February 7, 2013 in Washington Voices

Liberty Lake police force grows to 10 officers

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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After many years of having a nine-man police department, Liberty Lake has hired a new officer to bring the city’s ranks to 10. Officer Jeff Jones is experiencing a bit of culture shock. He went from being a deputy in rural Pend Oreille County, often driving 50 miles or more to respond to a call, to an urban environment. He’s learning the lay of the land and getting used to a new style of policing.
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Jeff Jones joined the Liberty Lake Police Department in January, expanding the ranks to 10 officers.

Police Chief Brian Asmus said he’s been trying to expand the department for years but had to wait until the city could afford an additional salary and the $35,000 cost of a police car.

“It’s been six years since we’ve added anybody to the department,” he said.

The population of Liberty Lake has been increasing steadily, and the department had fallen below state and national standards for the number of officers per 1,000 in population, Asmus said. The number of calls for service has also been increasing steadily.

Adding another officer was also key for officer safety, Asmus said. The goal is to have two officers on every shift, but that wasn’t always possible. That meant if the one officer on duty made an arrest, Liberty Lake would be without police coverage while the officer took the suspect to the Spokane County Jail, Asmus said.

And if the single officer was in training or on vacation, that shift would have to be filled by someone working overtime.

Jones’ arrival changes that. Jones, 39, previously worked as a Pend Oreille County sheriff’s deputy for eight years. It’s a largely rural county where it wasn’t unusual to drive 50 or 60 miles to respond to a call. For his first two years on the job Jones was the “resident deputy” in the north end of the county, where he patrolled alone.

If he needed back up on a call he could call on the Border Patrol, Washington State Patrol or deputies working the south end of the county. “It was a unique place to work,” he said.

Jones ended up in Pend Oreille County by chance. He attended a year of college in Texas, then served in the Army for nearly nine years. He was an Airborne Ranger stationed at Fort Lewis for several years, then worked as a recruiter at Texas A&M. After he left the Army, he finished college, earning a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice in Texas. He came to the area after he met and married a “good looking, blond, blue-eyed gal” from Spokane.

He has been friends with Liberty Lake officer Taj Wilkerson for years and heard in 2011 that the department was looking for replacements for two officers that resigned. He was ready for a change.

“I know that he loves working here,” Jones said. “That says something about your agency.”

He applied and went through the interview process, but wasn’t hired. Jones said Asmus called him in 2012 and asked if he was still interested in a position.

Jones said he was attracted to the job in Liberty Lake because the department is able to be proactive. If an officer sees something odd, there is usually time to check it out rather than just rushing from call to call.

“That really keeps the crime level down,” he said. “I think that’s what Liberty Lake is good at, from what I’ve seen so far.”

Jones has been on the job since mid-January and is still in training, riding along with other officers to learn his way around and how the department works. He has also had to get used to a much denser population.

“I was expecting it to be more busy, which it is,” he said. “There’s a lot more traffic, a lot more activity, a lot more things going on.”

One of those things is the radio. In Pend Oreille County there was only one channel to monitor and there wasn’t usually a lot of radio traffic. In Liberty Lake, Jones also has to keep track of channels for Spokane, Spokane County and Spokane Valley.

“At times it is a little overwhelming,” he said.

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