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.

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.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Learning from LEMAP

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

State Legislators: Support State Crisis Training Requirements for Washington Police Officers

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/36/1/47.full.)

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.

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

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Mental Health First Aid Training

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

ICP Supports MIDD

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.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

How to Pick a Chief

Strategic Government Resources is conducting the search for our new police chief. In response to their request for input, ICP makes the following recommendations. We favor chief candidates who:

  1. Have a track record of building trust and good will within their organizations and in their communities. Strong, ethical and objective leadership is essential.
  2. Will embrace a collaborative policing model—that is—one with meaningful citizen involvement (be it through working relationships with local professionals, partnerships with schools and families, or community conversations and forums). 
  3. Accept and appreciate civilian oversight, such as in the form of a civilian complaint board or ombudsman, since these build confidence in policing.
  4. Have experience with the Memphis Model, and/or other best practices for working fairly and effectively with the mentally ill and their families.
  5. Understand the importance of strategic planning, and the importance of aligning department goals with those of the community.
  6. Have experience with proactive and targeted officer recruitment. We need a long-term strategy for attracting high quality officers, whose qualifications match the specific needs of Bainbridge Island.
  7. Understand the importance accurate data and regular data collection, as well as the need to keep local residents apprised of that information.
  8. Have local knowledge and regional contacts, and the demonstrated ability to develop strategic relationships.
  9. Have an understanding of, and preferably experience with, communities similar to Bainbridge Island. We have relatively little crime and expect high standards for our public officials. A different kind of leadership is needed here than in other places.
Link to our letter here.