Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Olympia Police Present Strategic Plan to City Council

Above: Olympia Police Department Chief Ronnie Roberts greets Kingston, 7, before tonight's presentation by the department on its 2015-2020 strategic plan.  

Ad Hoc Committee Members Present at Tonight's Presentation

By Janine Unsoeld

Ever since the shooting of two young African American men on May 21 by an Olympia police officer stunned the South Sound community, momentum has grown for community conversations around racial issues. 

While the event caused national news to suddenly become local and deeply personal, some in the community live the conversation every day, experiencing prejudice, profiling, and discrimination. For some people of color, it was a question of not if, but when, an act of police violence would occur.

At a community forum last night at Traditions Fair Trade, Raphael Ruiz gave an update on a group he is involved with called Full Circle United. The group, composed of people of color, is actively organizing and fundraising to help Andre Thompson and Bryson Chaplin with their recovery, both physically and emotionally. 

Bryson Chaplin is in a wheelchair.  Ruiz said that doctors are not sure they can remove a bullet that is still lodged in his spine.  Chaplin’s brother, Andre Thompson and his sister Jasmine were in the audience last night, but did not speak.

Contrast that discussion with a city council study session meeting tonight featuring a nearly 45 minute presentation by the Olympia Police Department (OPD) on its 2015-2020 strategic plan, and the meeting could be described as restrained.

Staff went out of their way to avoid any mention of controversial issues but effectively spoke to their goals and priorities, challenges and opportunities.

Several interested citizens, including three members of the city’s new Ad Hoc Committee on Community and Police Relations, listened to Olympia Police Chief Ronnie Roberts and Olympia Police Department staff members.

Roberts was hired in January 2011, and inherited the challenge of high turnover within the department due to the numerous retirements of officers and staff. Since 2011, the department has hired 30 officers, seven sergeants, five corrections officers, four and a half time administrators, and four managers.

Roberts described the 120 day hiring process for officers and said he is largely hiring people from the local community. He said they have hired a railroad engineer, a barista, a military officer, and even a member of a Christian rock band.

“Our department is changing, and we’re future focused,” said Roberts.

Demonstrating the different methods of community engagement, Lt. Paul Lower said that the department attends events such as neighborhood picnics and organized the popular Where’s Melnik? scavenger hunt around Melnik, the K-9 officer. 

The department is also using social media tools and has an active presence on Twitter, Next Door, Instagram, and their website. Lt. Lower also said that they are looking into a video mobile app.

Describing how the department uses its two new school resource officers and getting into the schools in different ways, officers are going to start participating with the handing out of awards to school crossing guards. He said they were also seeking nontraditional venues to speak with the community.

Internally, the department is using technology: 17 different software packages from tracking patrols, investigations, and crime prevention to records management and information sharing.

The days are gone where an officer gets out his or her pad and pencil to write out a ticket. Every officer has a computer in their car and they are essentially unable to work without their computer, said administrative services manager Laura Wohl. Violator information is entered into the computer, and a ticket is printed out in the squad car.

This fall, members of the public will be able to download their own police-generated accident report and send it to their insurance agency, run crime maps for their neighborhood or anywhere in the city, register their bicycle, and report some crimes.

The only time body cameras were mentioned was when Wohl described the possible future use of technology to interact with the community.

“….From body cameras to record public police interactions to access social services you may need, the department will continue to evaluate and implement the tools that can have a positive impact on public safety,” said Wohl.

Jail Manager Chandra Brady gave an informative presentation with statistics on how the department is using jail resources by prioritizing bookings based on charges, which are mostly assault, theft, and driving under the influence. The department is also being more selective about warrant confirmations such as domestic violence, harassment, and driving under the influence.

Above: Kerensa Mabwa outside Olympia City Hall after tonight's Olympia Police Department presentation.

Ad Hoc Committee Members Present

Three members of the city’s new Ad Hoc Committee on Police and Community Relations were present at tonight’s meeting: Curt Pavola, Kerensa Mabwa, and Clinton Petty.

Coming from Chicago, Kerensa Mabwa moved to Olympia ten years ago. Mabwa is currently the community engagement coordinator for Garden Raised Bounty (GRuB), a local non-profit that works with youth and people with low-incomes to create food solutions.

Interviewed after the OPD presentation, Mabwa says she’s excited to be invited into the conversation.

“It’s a big opportunity for people to do some deep listening…this opportunity offers initializing energy….We can benefit by riding the momentum of the conversations that have already begun. I’m curious, and it will be a learning opportunity for me as well to better our community, to learn, respond and communicate in new ways….” said Mabwa.

Above: Clinton Petty after tonight's Olympia Police Department's 2015-2020 strategic plan presentation.

Clinton Petty is a Vietnam veteran and a retired US Army Division Command Sergeant Major. His professional career includes service for the State of Washington. While in state service, Petty was twice awarded the Distinguished Manager award by two governors.

Also interviewed after the OPD presentation, Petty said that things today don’t have to be what they are tomorrow. 

As an ad hoc committee member, Petty says he is interested in hearing from the public.

“….They want to get into what their experiences are…and that’s not bad, we should be trying to get into an understanding of how things can be better. Those experiences don’t have to be what they are tomorrow, and I believe if we take that, and begin to look at it proactively, we don’t have to be another Ferguson, if we do the right thing and put the right process in place. And the other thing is, we should work together….The governor of the state needs to understand that we should be the model. We shouldn’t be waiting for somebody to present it for us…. And you know, we shouldn’t do it in a piecemeal fashion, and then get to a week or a month later, and nothing has changed. I just see that what we do will be a benefit to our children and our grandchildren, and by the way, the police force, the way I look at it, they’re our sons and daughters too, and so often we talk about that as if they’re not….They are our children,” said Perry.

Community Members Take the Lead

Many individuals and organizations have taken the lead in developing opportunities for constructive conversation around racial justice.

Leslie Cushman is a member of the United Churches of Olympia, and attended tonight’s police department presentation and last night’s community forum at Traditions Fair Trade.

With her spouse Jody Smith, she is working alongside their minister Tammy Stampfli and Carol McKinley from the Olympia Unitarian Universalist Congregation to keep their congregations engaged with racial justice issues.

Earlier this summer, United Churches of Olympia hosted a three part film series, Race: The Power of an Illusion, and held discussions that drew over 100 people. The group also helped convene the Michael Brown memorial on the Capital Campus on August 9. 

“I am going to stay involved in this policing issue, and the broader racial justice issue, which includes a broad array of topics, including jails, government services, education, land use, and climate change,” said Cushman.

“We have been fortunate to have partnered with the YWCA on these events….their national mission is to eliminate racism. That is inspiring to me. The approach we are taking is a balance between the need to educate ourselves on white privilege and the need to get directly engaged in the police accountability issues.  We will be involved in observing and providing input to the Ad Hoc committee.  We are very aware that at this point in time, silence is akin to complicity.  We stress the need to be willing to be inconvenienced and uncomfortable in order to tackle these topics, and we have heard loud and clear from people of color in our community that they are afraid.  This speaks volumes.”

For more information about the Olympia Police Department, the May 21 shooting of two African American men by an Olympia police officer and community conversations, go to Little Hollywood, www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.comand type key words into the search engine.