There’s a new sheriff in town — or chief, rather.
Scott Engle was appointed by the city as the Puyallup Police Department’s police chief this month.
“This is a tremendous opportunity and a great blessing,” Engle said.
The position for chief of the Puyallup Police Department opened after former police chief Bryan Jeter retired at the end of 2017.
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Engle, former public information officer with the department, served as the department’s interim chief as the city collected applications for the chief position. There were 25 applicants, internal and external.
The decision to appoint Engle was made official March 9 after a presentation to a panel and a 35-minute interview.
“Scott Engle is a highly talented chief of police who is well respected, thoughtful and often in demand,” Puyallup City Manager Kevin Yamamoto said. “Even though he’s part of the police department command, he is often on the front line. Scott cares deeply for the Puyallup community and he cares deeply for the Puyallup Police Department."
Engle grew up in Sumner and is a Sumner High School graduate. He attended the University of Puget Sound and earned his bachelor’s degree in history and minors in politics and government after graduating in 1996.
“I thought I was going to be a history teacher,” Engle said.
In his last semester of college in the mid-'90s, Engle worked for three years in the Legislature for a state senator who represented Puyallup.
Also in college, Engle interned for the Pierce County Sheriff's Department, working in the criminal investigations division. Even after his internship, he continued to volunteer there.
“(I) kind of knew that this was something (that) I might be interested in,’” Engle said.
Engle landed his first job in law enforcement with the Sumner Police Department in 1998, and was on Sumner City Council at the time. He started at Puyallup PD in 2001 and has been with the department ever since.
Now, he lives right down the street from the Puyallup Public Safety Building with his wife, Liz, and two children, 6-year-old Emma and 8-year-old Andy. He’s a member of Puyallup Kiwanis and serves on the Kiwanis Foundation. He attends Bethany Baptist Church in Puyallup and serves as vice president for the Mt. Rainier Federal Credit Union’s board of directors.
Having lived in Puyallup for 17 years, Engle has seen how Puyallup has changed over the years.
“I think a lot of the challenges that we’re facing as a nation right here, you can see them on the streets of Puyallup,” Engle said. “Mental health, opioid addiction — those are very visible for us and they’re challenges for us as a department because we didn't have that issues when I first came here. Puyallup has grown, (and) growth in and of itself brings challenges.”
As chief, Engle wants to continue to make progress on the department’s new public safety building, increase hiring and retention rates and focus on issues like homelessness and residential safety in the community.
Staffing and retention
A staffing study is being conducted to determine how the department is utilizing its resources. The study could result in creation of new officer positions.
“We’re sitting at four vacancies right now,” Engle said. “That’s a lot of for us and the challenges of hiring in law enforcement right now are definitely being felt here in Puyallup.”
There are currently 80 staff members with Puyallup PD, including 13 corrections officers and 10 support staff.
Public Safety Building
A contractor is currently working on design of the new public safety building for Puyallup, located on the lot at 600 39th Ave. S. in South Hill. The design should be ready by summer, Engle said. The design may or may not include a jail and court system.
Street safety and homelessness
Engle wants community members and visitors to feel safe on Puyallup streets and in Puyallup parks, he said. The department plans to continue to assess crash data throughout the city as well as citizen complaints on traffic and speeding through neighborhoods.
And for Puyallup’s homeless population, more resources are coming.
The department is currently working on contracting with Comprehensive Life Resources’ Positive Interactions, a “homeless outreach response service for the homeless individuals who are impacting the businesses.” The program has been implemented in Tacoma.
“We’re super excited about that,” Engle said. “They’ll have a life skills coach and a social worker that will go out and work with our community outreach officer and make contact with people out on the road….They can come out and spend time to actually have a discussion with people.”
At the end of the day, homelessness isn’t a law enforcement problem, Engle said, and the department is ill-equipped to address the root cause of homelessness. But individuals must still be held accountable if they break the law.
“You have to follow the rules, you have to respect the law, you have to respect private property, you cannot steal from people, and if you do, then there’s accountability in that, and that's through enforcement,” he said.
The city is also exploring a “community court,” which helps individuals through methods such as mental health counseling or overcoming substance abuse.
“I would much rather get people turned around in life than get them incarcerated behind bars. The goal should be to help people get turned around,” Engle said.
Puyallup Police Association president John Berg has known Engle since he came to Puyallup PD and said he’s shown strong leadership for the department already.
“(Engle’s) an extremely hard worker. He very much values the community and the mission of the police department and cares about the community and wanting to do right by them,” Berg said. “Everybody knows him, everybody knows his passion for the city and the police department and in the end he wants great things for the department and the city.”