Wednesday, May 8, 2013
The King County Sheriff’s Office has recently launched a pilot program in Shoreline to improve police interactions with people with mental health and behavioral problems. At the centerpiece of the program called RADAR (Risk, Awareness, De-escalation and Referral) is a police database that stores information about people with severe mental disorders who are at risk at hurting themselves or others.
Inclusion in the database is entirely voluntary which eliminates many HIPAA concerns. Database information is not shared with other agencies.
The goal of collecting information, according to Scott Strathy, the King County Captain who runs the program, is to reduce the use of force in crisis situations. The expectation here is that the more officers know about people in their communities with mental health/behavioral issues, the less likely they will use force when encountered with threatening situations. Officers able to access health issues, emotional triggers, and on call family and friends have tools to de-escalate threatening situations. RADAR will help officers meet at-risk residents and their families before crisis situations occur, and give them the opportunity to connect people with local service providers.
Would this kind of program work on Bainbridge? It’s worth investigation. Police reponse to mental disorders, to be successful, must involve community partnerships as well as specialized training. This kind of initiative would give the BIPD a unique opportunity to work with community members proactively to prevent tragic outcomes--and raise community awareness about mental health issues.
Seattle Times coverage of the Shoreline program here.
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Friday, March 15, 2013
The LEMAP (Loaned Executive Management Assistance Program) report about the Bainbridge Island Police Department was made public in early March. This document, prepared by a team within the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, is the fifth outside examination of the BIPD and/or BIPD’s leaders within the last eighteen months. It’s also the most comprehensive. The public has caught partial views of the Department through reports on its complaint procedures, background check procedures, and investigations of allegations against Chief Jon Fehlman and Commander Sue Schulz. The LEMAP report is an across the board analysis of department management and operations. What does it tell us that we didn’t know already?
In some ways, not much. Many of the problems identified by LEMAP have already been identified in previous reports, the Guild’s no confidence statement, or in the Ostling v Bainbridge Island case. BIPD has inconsistent training requirements, inconsistent complaint procedures, a lack of clear rules in some areas, disconnect between rules and practice in others, low morale, and internal strife. There are new details to be sure—missing internal investigation files, officers hiding out to avoid calls, a case management system described as “primitive”--but the overall message is depressingly familiar. The source of these problems, as identified by LEMAP, is not news either. BIPD’s current culture is product of former Chief Fehlman who, according to the report, “rearranged and revoked numerous areas of responsibility which ultimately created confusion, cynicism, apathy and inconsistency within the agency.”
There is quite a bit that the LEMAP report can teach us, though, if we think about what it implies about our local governing system. It is clear from this report (and others before it) that we have a police department that, for years, has been largely ineffective at self-policing. And the checks built into our political system to ensure responsibility and accountability at the BIPD have not been working. Examples:
Legal oversight. The city attorney’s job is to keep the city out of legal trouble. Despite the presence of full time council, and the city’s insurance company dispensing guidance about risk management, the Department engages in activity that puts the city at high and unnecessary risk. We know, from the LEMAP report, that BIPD engages in high risk practices (like use of force) without an accountability system in place, and some procedures are out of sync with best practices. Amazingly, officer training is still an identified problem even after the city was hit with a 1 million dollar judgment for its failure to train.
Fiduciary Responsibility. We have a City Council that has fiduciary responsibility for all aspects of the city’s operations. But it has failed to use this responsibility to monitor police spending. We know, from LEMAP, that the BIPD, in recent years, “operated in a fiscal silo” and “would routinely accelerate the burn rate of line item in surplus at the end of each year.” The Department is “plagued” with high amounts of overtime, seemingly without repercussion. The take home car policy is “very generous” and lacks meaningful limitations. An expensive Lexipol system, purchased in 2010, has gone unused for several years.
Managerial oversight. Under a council/manager form of government, the city manager is responsible for employee levels, performance, and oversight. We learn from LEMAP that evaluations of officers are not consistent (I am told, by a source in the BIPD, that Lieutenants were told to fudge evaluations to please the former city manager, which may explain why they are not done on a regular basis), shifts are understaffed, and the relationship of lieutenants to patrol officers is problematic. While our current city manager, Doug Schulze, shows encouraging signs of vigilance, oversight in principle does not mean oversight in practice.
So what to do? Hiring a terrific new Chief would be great, but can we trust it will be sufficient? The LEMAP report proves—if additional proof be needed—that even good police departments cannot police themselves and our current system of outside checks is not working. The solution: an independent civilian authority to monitor the police department, at least in some of its operations. This authority may take the form of an ombudsman, as it does in Spokane. It may take the form of a citizens’ group, as it does in Seattle. It may take the form of a review board, as it does in many cities, to review and monitor citizen complaints. Whatever form civilian oversight takes, it needs a few basic features: independence from the police department. Independence from city government. The ability to accept and track complaints. The authority to make and publicize honest and transparent findings that may be critical of the Department, along with policy recommendations.
Our police department is, as the LEMAP report says, in a period of “extreme transition.” We would be wise to take advantage of the situation, implement effective oversight and put some safeguards in place.
Link to LEMAP report here.
Sunday, February 24, 2013
Letter to State Legislators in support of SB 5532/HB 1559:
Crisis Training Requirement for Washington Police Officers
Mental illness is not unusual. It is a fact of life for many Americans. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, around one in four adults experiences some sort of diagnosable mental disorder each year. Approximately one in seventeen lives with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression, or bipolar disorder. Mental illness is the leading cause of disability in our country (http://www.nimh.nih.gov/
health/publications/the- numbers-count-mental- disorders-in-america/index. shtml).
Police encounter the mentally ill, and people exhibiting symptoms of mental illness, on a regular basis. These encounters, when handled well, show the best in police practices: compassion, strategic sense, the capacity to balance public safety with individual well being. When handled poorly, the interactions are tragic: a mentally impaired woodcarver shot dead in Seattle, a mentally disabled man beaten to death in Spokane, a fellow Islander, Doug Ostling, killed in his apartment during what should have been a routine welfare check. It is estimated that 375 to 500 people are killed, each year, by police, and around half suffer from mental health problems.
Crisis intervention training for police officers does not guarantee that all police encounters with the mentally impaired will end well. But it does give the police more tools to use in these situations. Studies show that CIT training gives officers improved rapport-building skills and de-escalation abilities, and enhances communication between officers and family members. CIT trained officers seem more adept, than their non trained peers, at identifying signs of illness, and are more proactive in referring people for treatment. Interestingly, studies show that officers with training find people in the mental health system more helpful than their non-trained peers, suggesting that officers with specialized training are bette at navigating the medical system. (A 2008 article summarizing these findings is here: http://jaapl.org/content/36/1/
You have the ability, as overseers of the Criminal Justice Training Commission (CJTC), to influence the kind of training that police officers receive. SB 5532/HB 1559 requires that every new full time law enforcement officer in Washington State receives at least eight hours of CIT training and two hours of annual in service retrianing. It also sets aside funds to train current officers in CIT. While our hope is for a higher requirement, we welcome this effort to enact a basic standard. Islanders for Collaborative Policing joins the CJTC and the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs in urging the passage of this bill, and thanks you, in advance, for giving it your prompt attention.
The Reverend Dennis Tierney
Board Members, Islanders for Collaborative Policing
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Dear Councilmember Hytopoulos:
I recently received an email, from a Bainbridge resident, stating that members of city council received a complaint about one of our officers and that this complaint was never investigated.
You sent me an email, on February 13, stating that there have been many complaints made about our officers and many are of a serious nature.
My confusion: when I look at the complaints that have been filed against officers since 2004, there are 20 of them. Three have been sustained or acted upon, and they seem to be of a relatively minor nature: two "conduct unbecoming," one "unsatisfactory performance". (Apologies if this information is outdated; I'm working from the data Althea Paulson obtained and published in June of last year.)
There are complaints that councilmembers receive or have knowledge of that are not forwarded on to the Police Department (or other agencies) for investigation.
Some members of the public--and at least one sitting councilmember (you) do not think we have an adequate complaint intake/investigation system.
We should be working together, with haste, to improve our complaint system, both to hold officers accountable for their behavior and to build trust in our Department. Some of the flaws in our current system are addressed in the Pailca Report, which gives us a good place to begin. Islanders for Collaborative Policing called for a new intake procedure for complaints in its August 2012 citizen recommendations, and our Board is committed to putting some form of civilian oversight in place.
I would invite you--and all Councilmembers--to familiarize yourselves with the Police Ombudsman's office in Spokane. This Ombudsman was created by the Spokane City Council, in 2008, to provide independent civilian oversight of police misconduct complaints. Voters approved a measure to increase the office's authority last week. This might not be the right form of civilian oversight for Bainbridge, but it does seem like a good starting point for a Council conversation. The current Ombudsman is most willing to come to Bainbridge to discuss his office and experience. Would you be willing to work with ICP to invite him to a study session?
I am ccing this to Larry Dickerson and Guild President Bob Day. I very much hope they can be a part of this conversation.
Sam Pailcas' October 2011 report on BIPD Complaint Procedures
Bainbridge Island Police Department, in conjunction with Kitsap Mental Health Services, is offering a two-day, 12 hour class on March 21 and 22 on how to help someone experiencing a mental health crisis or symptoms of mental illness. The location is Bainbridge Fire Station #23 (Phelps Road) and the cost is $30. To register or get more information, call 360 415 5801.
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
Islanders for Collaborative Policing Statement in Support of a County Tax
January 22, 2013
Islanders for Collaborative Policing strongly supports a new county tax to improve services for the mentally ill and chemically dependent. We also support a City Council resolution, considered on January 23, expressing Bainbridge approval for this measure.
The Mentally Illness and Drug Dependency (MIDD) tax will benefit the mentally impaired and their families. But the new tax will also benefit our police officers, and improve the quality of local policing. Mental illness and chemical dependency create complicated crisis situations, and yet we, as a community, expect our officers to handle these situations with few resources, limited information, and, until recently (and at least for some of our officers) woefully inadequate training. MIDD revenues will strengthen the local system of mental health services, and, in doing so, reduce the occurrence of crisis situations. (Police involvement usually indicates that no treatment is taking place, or that treatment is failing.) When crisis situations occur, MIDD funding will give officers a better mental health system to work with and more resources in the field. MIDD revenues, we hope, will also be used to fund crisis intervention training. Increased funding for officer training in the city’s 2013 budget is a good start. MIDD funds will, potentially, expand training opportunities and insure consistency of service throughout the county. It is well worth thinking about how officers in neighboring jurisdictions are trained since they frequently assist Bainbridge officers.
One final thought. Islanders for Collaborative Policing thinks police accountability and scrutiny are important. But support of our officers is important, too. We approve of the MIDD tax because it reflects our commitment to our officers, and our desire to help them perform their job in a safe, humane, and effective way. Mental impairment is a community issue, not just a policing issue. We are happy to pay a one tenth of a one percent tax to encourage a more holistic effort.
Related link: Kitsap Judges speak out in support of a Kitsap MIDD tax.
Related link: Kitsap Judges speak out in support of a Kitsap MIDD tax.