Veteran Snohomish officer tasked on homelessness, outreach
“Our mission has changed from crime fighter … to guardians of liberty.”
SNOHOMISH — Snohomish’s first community outreach officer, Deputy Rich Niebusch, wasted no time getting reacquainted with his beat after starting in the role March 1.
His dual roles are to assist homeless and in-crisis individuals and serve as a resource to neighborhoods and other groups.
Niebusch is a 25-year veteran in police work, including three years spent in Snohomish, and his depth of experience is layers thick: in addition to policing, he is a doctorate degree-holding professor who’s taught criminal justice internationally, and a global police reform consultant.
He will bring all that experience to bear as the city establishes what its specific needs are for dealing with increasingly prominent issues including homelessness,
drug addiction and mental illness.
Police Chief Keith Rogers had Niebusch attend a Morgantown neighborhood watch, trainings and meetings with several city groups as part of his community engagement focus all in his first week.
The speed of his debut matched the speed of his hire.
“In government, I’ve never seen something move so fast, from concept to fruition in weeks . . . To hire a deputy police officer, it’s (normally) a one-year process, it takes $150,000,” Rogers said.
The community’s need for an officer who could focus on outreach and engagement was clear, Rogers said.
“There was a lot of personal stories shared (from) ‘my daughter found my pills and then she got addicted’ (to) how do we collect these needles safely.
“This job allows the department to invest the necessary time in tackling tougher issues that persist beyond the initial incident, the homelessness and addiction that don’t disappear with a referral or an arrest,” Rogers said.
Extra time to help people with complex problems is one unique aspect of the role. Another benefit is Niebusch’s exposure to the broad array of social services available in the county and his ability to call on embedded social workers through the sheriff’s office for assistance.
“Just today I was dealing with a person in crisis,” and being the community outreach officer “allowed me to access Snohomish County social services network, what we were working on was housing, drug rehabilitation,” Niebusch said in a March 16 interview. “Instead of just saying, ‘hey, I’ll make a phone call for you, and maybe get you housing for tonight, I don’t know,’ I can follow this person through, make sure the referrals are set and get them started.”
As an outreach officer, Niebusch will help the community address issues one on one, but will also be able to speak to the specific requests of groups and to common concerns. He will be the point person for the community and those in crisis, which will make helping both more efficient for them and the department.
The new-to-Snohomish job is already staffed in cities like Everett, and is part of a larger trend in policing, Niebusch said.
“Our mission has changed from crime fighter … to guardians of liberty,” Niebusch said. It’s becoming more of a social services role involving problem solving. “It’s not just about stolen property but community caretaking.”
Both men said Snohomish was the right place for this kind of work to be successful due to the involvement and support of the community and government.
Rogers said that he expects a very satisfied community and some crime reduction over time as the outreach officer engages in the community, but that for him, those are important but not the most prominent wins. “It’s about the one family you’ve impacted, or the one kid that has changed paths … once I get that one, that will be mission accomplished and we’ll buy the banner, but the nice thing I know is it’s not going to be one, it’s going to be many, many dozens.”
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