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Paying for it: Seattle cops using their own money to get the job done

Seattle police detective Ron Smith is not surprised to hear of an officer reaching into his own pockets to purchase plane tickets for people who have 'typically hit rock bottom." (AP)

While police detective Scotty Bach was hosting a frank conversation about local car thefts with a West Seattle neighborhood watch group, he mentioned that he has sometimes found the solution to problems in his own pockets.

“Most people that know me know I care for these people and try to help them to get treatment and get them the support they need,” Bach said. “I’ve paid for plane tickets for people to fly to Phoenix to be with their family. Once they meet me, they are typically at rock bottom and they are willing to start over. And I think it does us good for us to get them out of here.”

“We got to be careful doing that, but I call their parents and make sure they got treatment lined up,” he added. “Instead of going to jail, they go to that.”

Related: Seattle police detective speaks candidly about car thefts

The interaction was captured on video and posted on the West Seattle Blog.

Bach hasn’t just purchased a plane ticket, he also frequently buys people food – Dick’s is the most popular choice. In this case, it helps him interact with auto-theft suspects.

This comes as no surprise to Detective Ron Smith, president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild – not just that Bach would do it, but that Seattle officers would open their own wallets on the job. Cops can get a little further with a suspect over burgers and fries. But there’s another reason.

“To do this job, you have to care at some point about your fellow man,” Smith said. “The problem we have with a lot of these folks committing crimes is that they are addicted to drugs. You can arrest your way out of the problem or you can be part of the solution, and in that instance I’m sure (Bach) decided to be part of the solution.”

Smith said he’s purchased food for people in crisis or suspects on multiple occasions.

“When we have people we are working with, we will feed them. We will let them smoke — a lot of people do smoke because you can’t smoke in jail. And you treat them with dignity. When you treat somebody with dignity, you get a lot out of it,” Smith said. “Dick’s just happens to be popular, but I’ve gone to Jack in the Box before and other places.”

In fact, Smith can spout off example after example of Seattle officers dipping into their own pockets while on the job, and off duty – such as officers Ryan Gallagher and Jeremy Wade.

“They were sent to a family disturbance-type call and when they investigated what was going on they found the parents were having problems with their little girls going to bed on time. The reason the girls were so upset is because they didn’t have individual beds,” Smith recalled. “Both officer Gallagher and Wade went to a store and purchased beds, mattresses, blankets, and sheets, took it back to the residence, and put them together and made sure the little girls had beds. Those officers did that without seeking any recognition.”

But it got attention. That ended up growing into a Seattle Police Foundation project that provided 126 beds for kids in need around the city.

Then there’s Sergeants Lauren Truscott and Jessica Taylor at the north precinct. They ended up responding to a call one night that put them in contact with the MORELove Project – a homeless outreach program. The two now spend their free time volunteering with the program, feeding and clothing homeless individuals around Seattle.

Officer Dale Umpleby briefly made headlines when he came across a woman in crisis in Ballard. The woman had no shoes. Umpleby immediately walked into a nearby thrift store and bought her a pair with his own money. It is the second time he purchased shoes for someone while on a call, but this time, it was caught on video and it went viral.

Smith also recalls how now-retired officer Michelle Valor dealt with an incident involving a woman and her child.

“She ran into a woman and her young child in crisis downtown. It turned out they ended up in Seattle … they were kind of stuck here and they were trying to get to a shelter. And she didn’t have a stroller for the little child,” Smith said. “So Officer Valor went to Target on 3rd Avenue, bought a stroller, brought it back and they put it together.”

“She stayed in contact with the woman and one day, on her day off, the woman reached out to her and said, ‘Hey, I have this interview for housing and they won’t let me bring my son along. I’m stuck.’ And she went and babysat the woman’s child while she interviewed and was able to get into housing,” he said.

The examples don’t end there. When Wallingford residents pressured the city to do something about RVs violating parking laws along Northlake Way, police reportedly dipped into their pockets to contribute toward the effort of getting vehicles up and running, new tabs, etc.

For Smith, the open-wallet practice is just so regular and part of the routine that he finds it odd he would even ask about it.

“I find it fascinating that someone thinks it’s strange, but it also shows that perceptions around police officers and law enforcement are skewed – and there are reasons for that,” he said.

“We’re well-paid, we have good benefits, and we see the worst of society every day,” Smith said. “When you go out there, that weighs on people. I believe sometimes you just get tugged at the heart strings and you spontaneously do it.”

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