Tuesday, October 29, 2013

ICP Hosts Poulsbo PD's Dave Shurick: What's a Crisis Intervention Officer?

On October 28, ICP's mental health working group hosted Poulsbo Officer Dave Shurick, who explained his work as a crisis intervention officer.

A few highlights from the meeting:

-Local NAMI representatives are eager to work with the BIPD to create and support a crisis intervention officer position. They invited BIPD officers--and members of the interested public--to participate in the 12-week family to family class being held in Silverdale February 1-April 19 (Contact Jeanette for details at jcrerecich@yahoo.com).

-Bainbridge Chief Hamner welcomes input about the creation of a crisis intervention officer and BIPD mental health efforts. His email is mhamner@bainbridgewa.gov and direct line 206 780 4686.

-Officer Shurick stressed the importance of identifying himself as a crisis intervention officer when interacting with people in psychological distress. "My badge disappears," he said, and people open up, at least to some extent. He also stressed the importance of follow up conversations with people who he's dealt with in crisis. "People want you to come talk to them when they are normal." Officer Shurick sees great value in building ongoing, positive relationships with people with mental health issues.

-Both Officer Shurick and Poulsbo officer Lee Wheeler feel there is a pressing need for better information sharing, among first responders, about people with mental and behavioral problems. This will increase the safety of those suffering from disorders--and the safety of officers. 

-Finally, Officer Shurick and Chief Hamner reminded us about the importance of appropriate expectations. Local police efforts in places like Bainbridge and Poulsbo will not eliminate violent outcomes or behavior, or get all people with illness into treatment. But it was clear from Officer Shurick's presentation there is a lot more we can do in Kitsap County to improve the current situation.

Link to Officer Shurick's power point presentation here.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

ICP Endorses...All of Them

Islanders for Collaborative Policing decided to try something new this year, namely, endorse candidates running for City Council positions. We submitted three questions to each of the six candidates: do you think Bainbridge Island should have a civilian police commission? What will you do, as a councilperson, to make sure the commission, if established, is effective? Should the Bainbridge Police Department do more to improve its response to people with mental and behavioral problems?

The ICP board decided to make a police commission and mental/behavioral response its litmus test, this time around, because of the high importance we place in these two issues. The aim of our organization is to improve the relationship between Bainbridge residents and the BIPD. We think that a civilian board that makes the complaint process more accountable and accessible is key to building trust in our officers. We also think a more focused and collaborative approach to mental health issues will, over time, build community goodwill--and make our officers safer in crisis situations.

The results: six out of six candidates support a police commissionSix out of six candidates thinks that it’s their job, as a councilperson, is to make sure the commission is effective, either through understanding best practices (Tollefson), ensuring the commission’s access to information (McComb), ensuring its independence (Buetow, Tollefson), or establishing benchmarks and expectations (Townsend, Haugan). And six out of six candidates think the police should do more to improve their response to people suffering from mental and behavioral health issues, and that city council should help in this effort. One will engage in community awareness and education (Roth), three will fund and/or emphasize officer training in this area (Haugan, Townsend, Tollefson), one will encourage creative policy goals (McComb), and one will ask the new police commission to issue recommendations (Buetow).

Congratulations to all six candidates for taking these issues seriously, providing thoughtful answers to our questions, and understanding that part of their role, as councilmembers, is to ensure the quality of police services.

ICP hopes that this across the board endorsement moves a police commission and mental health initiatives forward. We also hope it sends a larger message about respect and acceptance. There are real political differences on our Island, and real differences in the candidate’s goals and opinions. But the effort, by some, to cast a set of candidates as outside the pale—too extreme, too right-of-center, too different from “us”—is counterproductive and offensive.  We are grateful to all six candidates for running for office and are impressed with each of their responses. We don’t care what political party they affiliate with. All six strike us as “quality” residents with opinions and values that deserve our respect, and we look forward to working with all members of the new City Council.

Friday, October 18, 2013

(Around) 100 days in: Chief Hamner updates Council on Police Reform Efforts

On October 16, Chief Hamner reported to City Council on BIPD reform efforts, and his personal goals for the department. The written report is full of confounding detail--what one would expect following dozens and dozens of LEMAP and Pendleton report recommendations--but his verbal presentation was short and clear. The Chief wants friendly, service-orientated policing, he wants better mental health response (related article here), and he's putting a high premium on officer training and evaluation. He also wants to report quarterly, to Council, about BIPD operations. He's amenable to a civilian police commission that plays a role in the complaint process, but only after officers are trained in new policies and procedures.

What the chief did not say to council, but did tell the Civil Service Commission last week, is that he likes Criminal Justice Training Commission executive director Sue Rahr's distinction between "warrior" cops and "guardians," and the CJTC's new interest in producing the latter. The possibility was raised, with the Commission, that we could actually seek out "guardian" types during the officer interview process.

On Summer of 2012, an ICP citizen's committee recommended seven steps to improve BIPD/community relations: (1) a public commitment, by the BIPD, to a more collaborative, community-oriented style of policing, (2) clear department goals and objectives in a strategic plan, (3) crisis intervention training and the establishment of crisis intervention personnel, (4) regular reporting to city council on policing issues, (5) civilian oversight, (6) improved youth/officer relations and (7) more bike and foot patrol.

Glad that we're all in agreement.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

ICP to New Bainbridge Chief Hamner: Welcome Aboard

Awfully glad you're here. Here's our May introductory letter and wish list for you to consider. 

Why the Pendleton Report Matters: Another Call for Citizen Oversight and Improved Complaint Procedures

Michael Pendleton’s report on the Bainbridge Island Police Department was released on August 7, giving the public yet another take on the agency and the problems that afflict it. There’s been a split in media reaction. Some publications have stressed its importance (“worth the money,” Bainbridge Review, “pulls no punches,” Bainbridge Notebook), while others, like Inside Bainbridge and the Kitsap Sun, have noted its similarities to previous studies. Most coverage has focused on the dysfunctional lieutenant/patrol officer relations noted in the Report, and the resentment some officers feel toward their supervisors. 

This aspect of the Pendleton Report is important, and we hope and expect that our new Chief will ameliorate strained personnel relations in the Department. But by emphasizing this part of the Report, the press neglects an opportunity to consider more important content. It doesn’t matter to most Bainbridge residents if lieutenants at the BIPD communicate poorly about scheduling. Nor does it matter, to most people, if patrol officers ignore instructions from their lieutenants. What matters to Bainbridge residents, and what matters to Islanders for Collaborative Policing, is what happens outside the four walls of the police department: the kind of interaction officers have with residents, how they respond to crime, how people are treated who are experiencing crisis. The Pendleton Report makes two recommendations that speak directly to police/community relations: the improvement of police complaint procedures, and the establishment of a citizen commission that would have a “formal role” in the complaint and discipline process.

Some history, here, is in order. Several years ago, police accountability expert Sam Pailca was hired, by the Bainbridge Island City Council, to assess police complaint policy and procedures. Her findings were unequivocal: the BIPD, she found, has inadequate mechanisms to accept complaints, has practices in place to deter complaints, and, once complaints are taken, have processes in place that deter fair resolution. “The complaint handling system itself,” she reports, “evidences an overall lack of maturity and sophistication.” Among her many recommendations: new and customer-service oriented methods for accepting complaints, better complaint classification and reporting procedures, and new ways of investigating complaints that reduce the chance of conflicting interests (i.e., don’t have members of the same guild investigate each other). 

The City’s reaction was to apply a few minor tweaks, such as creating an online complaint form, and to consider the matter resolved. According to former Interim Public Safety Director Larry Dickerson (in August of last year), “we have already implemented all suggestions recommended by the 2011 Pailca report” and “citizens have myriad options for lodging complaints.” (Memorandum to former Interim City Manager Morgan Smith about ICP recommendations.)

The Pendleton Report is important because it tells us, conclusively, that necessary changes have not been made. Dr. Pendleton’s interviews with Bainbridge residents, and particularly city councilmembers, show an alarming level of concern that officers have gotten away with bad behavior. He notes that “there are long-standing unresolved allegations of incidents of police misconduct and retaliation” and that these allegations have "significant impacts" on police perception. The way to address these concerns, and promote proper conduct in the future, is to improve complaint procedures. It’s worth noting (although Dr. Pendleton does not do so), that this is also the best way to exonerate officers subject to false accusations. A good complaint process equally protects both police and citizens.

Further, and equally important, the Pendleton Report recommends that a citizen police commission be established and authorized to play a formal role in the complaint/discipline process. We think this kind of citizen involvement is critical to building public trust in the BIPD, as it will create an outside check to what has historically been a purely internal process. The challenge, for city government, will be to get the form of this commission right: close enough to city government to meaningfully participate in the complaint process, but distant enough to maintain an independent perspective.  The participation of amateurs is important, but so is the involvement of people with professional experience in police investigations. We know, from the history of the city Civil Service Commission, how checks on government are weakened when amateurs are pressured by city officials. (The CSC, for example, repeatedly authorized the hiring of an officer without state certification, in violation of state law, because police leaders asked it to do so.)

Finally, we appreciate Dr. Pendleton’s suggestion that this citizen commission accept input about policing issues, not just complaints about particular officers. The commission should welcome all citizen concerns, and provide the BIPD, frequently, with community feedback. We are less impressed, however, with his recommendation that the commission assist the BIPD with a public outreach program. The credibility of this body depends on its neutrality and independence, which may be compromised if it helps with public relations.

ICP welcomes Dr. Pendleton’s report, and its emphasis on police accountability and citizen involvement. We urge the media, and city officials, to support his recommendations.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Policing and Mental Health: Let's Try Something Different

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.

Update: Kitsap Sun article on Kitsap agencies' interest in information sharing--and crisis intervention officers--here.