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