The Vancouver Police Department on Tuesday opened to the public its own records division after 20 years of contracting out the service to the Clark County Sheriff’s Office.
The impact on users — cops, records requesters and others — should be minimal, minus the fact that they’ll go directly to the source for records questions.
Vancouver police Chief James McElvain said he expected the two agencies might be fielding each other’s wrong number calls for a bit while people adjust.
Over the past several weeks, the department has gradually phased out more duties from the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, which had managed the Vancouver Police Department’s records, gradually over several weeks, and the transition is 100 percent complete.
The city spent a little more than $1 million to set up its new records unit, including remodeling work at the West Precinct and hiring a consultant, according to the police department’s budget office.
Want Vancouver police records? The Vancouver Police Department’s Records Division, in the department’s West Precinct offices at 2800 N.E. Stapleton Road, is open to the public from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday excluding holidays. Records staff can be contacted at 360-487-7398 or email@example.com. Records requests also can be made through the department’s website, www.cityofvancouver.us/police.
The Vancouver Police Department expected to pay to $1.7 million to the sheriff’s office in 2017 to handle its records. Now that it’s running its own records unit, department officials expect a slight savings overall in this year’s budget.
The department moved to set up its own records unit following a review of its old contract with the county and the sheriff’s office’s decision to abandon a records management system it once shared with the Vancouver police.
The sheriff’s office and police department started using the software, called RegJIN, in spring 2015, which would allow the agencies to share case information with 40 other agencies in the metro area.
Around the end of 2015, the police department audited the records contract, McElvain said. Then, in April, the sheriff’s office, citing multiple problems with the software, announced it would opt out of RegJIN.
There was no way to expect the sheriff’s office to manage two records systems, McElvain said. Furthermore, the audit showed the department might be able to save money if it handled its own records.
So without any policies, institutional knowledge or infrastructure in place, the department planned to go out on its own.
“If you would have asked me back in late March, early April, my confidence level that we could make this happen — had some sleepless nights along the way,” McElvain said.
Working with a consultant from Florida, the department was able to reverse-engineer what they needed, McElvain said, and create the timetable to do it.
The consultant, PRI Management Group, typically works with agencies trying to fix records department problems, he said, so Vancouver had an advantage in that they were starting from scratch.
“It was an opportunity that, as we set ours up, we would employ the best systems that we could,” McElvain said. “They were measuring everything that needed to be done, how long it would take and, essentially, that helped us define what our staffing would look like.”
He said he’d “love to be able to say it’s a very direct, straightforward, clean process, but until you actually do it, you really don’t know. So it was kind of a best guess.”
The department hired a manager for the division, then supervisors and employees, with enough time for several weeks of training at the end of 2016.
Katrina West, the records division manager, was a records supervisor with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon before Vancouver hired her in June.
The division increased its share of the records load, including transferring warrants and handling police reports, through December, and it opened to the public Tuesday, West said.
The division operates all day every day and has 19 people, she said. Three staffers handle public records requests specifically.
West said the division expects to process about 31,000 reports annually, along with roughly 3,700 public records requests.
West said the department plans to start handling concealed pistol licenses and firearms dealer licenses starting later this year.
From a user perspective, McElvain and West said, they didn’t expect people would see a huge difference in the product now that the department will handle its own records.
If anything, some users, such as police officers, might find the new arrangement a bit more efficient.
“I’ve received a lot of, ‘Oh, it’s going to be nice when I can turn this paper in right down the hall,'” West said.