Tuesday, March 17, 2015

New body camera bill, new ICP position

In February, 23rd Legislative District Representative and Bainbridge resident Drew Hansen introduced a state police body camera bill that many people, including board members at ICP, found objectionable. The motivations behind HB 1917 were great—get more police officers wearing body cameras, protect the privacy of people filmed in police encounters—but the results were pretty awful. The original bill dramatically limited public access to police recordings, did away with the consent requirement to record, and would have permitted local police departments to have camera programs without any rules or requirements.  

If you don’t succeed, try try again. Instead of digging in his heels when hit with criticism about his bill, Rep. Hansen made some changes. A new bill was put forward as a potential amendment, and may be considered by the House as early as this week. It’s a vast improvement. The new bill:

-guarantees that people involved in police-filmed incidents, oversight agencies, and the general public have access to police cam footage (people directly involved in incidents don’t have to pay for requests; the public may have to pay for costs connected to redaction)

-defines some things that are private, and not available to the public (footage taken in someone’s home, footage of nudity, footage taken of a minor)

-ensures that police departments using body cameras have some basic policies in place (like rules controlling when cameras are turned on or off)

-puts requirements in place that make sweeping, open ended requests for footage near-impossible (requesters need to know something about recordings before they are able to request them—the officer’s name, or the name of someone involved, or a date or case number)

-contains provisions to protect people who bring complaints and/or whistleblowers

-finally, the new bill creates a task force to consider the law’s effects, and sunsets much of the bill in two years. This increases the odds that problems can be identified and remedied.

ICP commends Rep. Hansen for being open to criticism, and flexible in his approach. We support the increased use of police body cameras--and his amended bill.

 The Amended Bill is referred to as striking amendment H2247 and is available here

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

ICP Letter to the House Public Safety Committee in Support of the "Douglas M. Ostling Act"--Statewide Crisis Intervention Training

Dear Representatives Orwell, Hayes, Klippert, and Goodman:

When a police officer encounters a person in mental or behavioral crisis, the outcome can be awful or inspiring. We all know horrible stories about officers killing people with mental illness because the person in crisis acted erratically or failed to obey commands. But we know, from working with officers in Kitsap County, that police with crisis intervention training are better prepared and often de-escalate frightening situations, keeping confused and agitated people safe while protecting those around them.

We also know, from working with police in our county, that CIT-trained officers do more than stabilize scary situations. We are proud to know officers who provide comfort to people tortured by their mental conditions, counsel family members desperate for advice, and take personal interest in finding people assistance. At a time when the news is focused on officer use of force across the country, it’s worth acknowledging that many police officers use their intelligence and their training to help people in need, and resolve incredibly difficult situations every day.

Will a few hours of state mandated CIT training eliminate tragic outcomes when police encounter people suffering from mental illness? It would be foolish to think so. But the new training requirements will make good outcomes more likely.

As importantly, passing SB 5311 sends an important signal—both to the Criminal Justice Training Center and to police agencies across the state—that policing in Washington is about helping people as well as promoting public safety. We support SB 5311 because we support efforts—promoted by CJTC’s Executive Director Sue Rahr--to promote a “guardian” style of policing. SB 5311 will improve police response to mental illness, and, in doing so, it will improve overall police performance and enhance the safety of Washington citizens. The state legislature has the opportunity, with this law, to remind police and the public that policing is a humane, service-oriented profession. We strongly encourage you to support SB 5311 when it comes before the Public Safety Committee tomorrow.


Scott Anderson
Kent Bridwell
Kim Hendrickson
Dennis Tierney
Board Members, Islanders for Collaborative Policing

Information about the Douglas M. Ostling Act/SB 5311 here.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Results of Officer Survey Released

In January and February, ICP surveyed police officers throughout Kitsap County. Our goals were to get a better sense of how often police encounter people with mental and behavioral health issues, to gauge how new mental health initiatives are being received by front line officers, and to find out what new programs and resources officers think are most needed to help people suffering from mental illness.

The results? A vast majority of officers (67%) think a crisis triage center is the thing most needed, right now, to help people suffering from acute mental illness. 71% tell us that their interaction with people with mental/behavioral issues has increased in the last year. And there is overwhelming support for the new, county wide, Crisis Intervention Officer program which kicked off last year.

See the full results here

ICP Opposes Shortsighted Body Cam Bill

A few months ago, President Obama expressed strong support for police body cameras, and asked Congress to fund local camera programs. This week, he took a different approach, talking about the problems that arise when cameras are used and cautioning the public not to expect too much from developments in this area. The Community Police Commission in Seattle has aso modified its thinking on the issue, first supporting a pilot program for Seattle police officers and now advising against the broader adoption of cameras by the SPD ("the issues are complex, the CPC explains, and "there is a need to engage our communities before rushing to a final position").

With these concerns in mind, the Board of ICP opposes House Bill 1917. This bill was written to encourage more police departments to use body cameras by changing the Public Records Act to dramatically limit who gets to see camera footage. If this law passes, police departments would have near-complete discretion over who can, and can't, look at recordings. The right to view would be restricted to those directly involved in an incident and those tenacious enough to obtain access by court order. 

 We agree: a new state law is needed to protect the privacy of those who are recorded in police encounters. But HB 1917 goes too far. We urge our state representatives to vote against this bill and find a better way to balance privacy and accountability interests.

Save the date: ICP forum on police body cameras coming in May
Details to follow.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014: Year in Review

It’s been a horrible year for American policing, with story after story in the national news about officer-involved shootings, police militarization, anti-police demonstrations and officers becoming the targets of violence. We are fortunate to live in a community where police use of force is rare, and police/community relations are respectful. But good policing—like all good government—is not something to take for granted. It requires an ongoing effort by many people, not simply a city manager or a police chief. Islanders for Collaborative Policing was formed, three years ago, to encourage Bainbridge residents to be more involved and informed about local policing. We operate under a few core beliefs:

1) Policing should be a profession grounded in public service and compassion. We favor what Sue Rahr, Director of the Washington Criminal Justice Training Commission, calls a “guardian” style of policing.

2) Policing should involve meaningful collaboration between officers and the community they serve.

3) Police accountability measures are proven methods to continuously improve policing. Citizen oversight is something progressive communities across the country embrace: it helps identify problems early, enhances department professionalism, and builds trust in police operations.

4) Bainbridge Island is a progressive community that desires a department of public safety professionals that are committed to ongoing and continuous improvement.

5) There are costs involved in maintaining the quality of police service we espouse. It is understood that exceptional law enforcement does not come cheaply, and we support adequate funding for officer training, recruitment, evaluation, and oversight—and police salaries that reward performance and encourage extended loyalty.

We’ve been busy, this year, taking action in support of these beliefs. Here’s a quick recap of our 2014 efforts and accomplishments.

Officer orientation/guardian policing. We know, from talking to local officers, that a significant amount of their time is spent in situations involving people with severe and unmanaged mental illness. These interactions often involve people in crisis, and they can be extremely dangerous. Our main focus, in 2014, was to improve police response in these crisis situations. Our goal is to have officers—whenever possible—treat people with mental illness humanely, and to reduce the use of force in crisis situations. To that end we:

… worked closely with police chiefs throughout the county to launch a crisis intervention officer program. The aim of this program is to have at least one highly trained CIO in each law enforcement department in Kitsap County—both to help with on the ground situations and to serve as a community resource. (The thinking, here, is if officers establish relationships with parents and caregivers before a crisis occurs, it will increase the probability of a peaceful outcome when it does.) We assembled caregivers, first responders, government officials and mental health providers throughout the year to help develop aspects of this program, and were especially proud to join in hosting the official CIO program launch in July (together with the Poulsbo and Bremerton police departments).

… have worked to create more resources and options for officers in the field. Police can not respond humanely to people with mental illness unless they have the tools to do so. To that end, we worked with law enforcement to encourage information sharing among first responders. We worked with the BIPD to develop a pamphlet about county mental health resources. We advocated and built support for a new crisis triage center in Kitsap County that will serve as an alternative to jail for some mentally ill offenders. And we made preliminary efforts to create the position of a mental health advocate to help mentally ill defendants in the criminal justice system.

The service or guardian approach, of course, is not restricted to one aspect of police work. We worked with Chief Hamner and the city’s civil service commission, earlier this year, to identify the character traits necessary for guardian policing—compassion, communication skills, community orientation—and to favor candidates who have these desired attributes during the officer hiring process.

Police/Community Collaboration. ICP held quarterly mental health working group meetings, in 2014, to encourage communication between public officials, county law enforcement personnel, mental health professionals, mental health advocates, social service providers, fire department personnel, and school district personnel about mental health issues. These meetings have become important platforms to build support for new initiatives and to promote police/community collaboration. Membership in this group has more than doubled this year.

Accountability Measures. ICP advocated, throughout 2014, for some form of local police oversight, not because we are distrustful of the BIPD, but because we think our community will benefit from our police department receiving citizen input and attention. We have urged the City Council to think about an oversight board as a body that suggests improvements in policing policies and priorities—not simply one that reviews officer complaints. Thanks to ICP’s efforts, an ordinance that would have given the Chief a controlling leadership role on an oversight committee was withdrawn, and City Council affirmed the importance of such a body’s independence. A Council ad-hoc committee was formed, in September, to consider next steps, and what form police oversight on the Island should take.

Looking ahead. It’s been a productive year for ICP but there is still much work to do. High among our goals for 2015 are to see an oversight entity created, a crisis triage center established, and an even more robust crisis intervention officer program in place. We are grateful for the community support our efforts have received—and encourage more of our neighbors to get involved in our efforts.

Best wishes for a happy 2015 from the ICP Board,

Scott Anderson
Kent Bridwell
Kim Hendrickson
Dennis Tierney

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Oversight Update: City Council Steps In

After considering, and rejecting, the second poorly thought out police oversight proposal from the City Manager and Police Chief (see ICP's summary here), Council formed its own ad-hoc committee, at last week's meeting, to get the ball rolling on a police committee that will discuss policing issues, promote police/community communication, and, in the words of one councilmember, serve as an "early warning system." The three members of the ad-hoc committee are Val Tollefson, David Ward, and Roger Townsend.

Many Islanders wrote to Council, in recent days, to stress the importance of an oversight entity that is independent of the police department and transparent in its operations. Thanks to their efforts, and Council's willingness to step up and address the issue, we're finally moving in the right direction.