Bremerton Fairness Forum hosts police chiefs to discuss bias and safety

On Saturday, panel members discussed racial bias in policing and how local police departments interact with residents before 911 calls occur.

BREMERTON — As part of a panel on racial bias in policing on Saturday, the Reverend Frankie L. Coleman, Sr., pastor of Sinclair Missionary Baptist Church, shared the fear that “every black parent has” with three area police chiefs on stage with him.

Coleman said he fears his son, or even himself, could be arrested and survive an encounter with law enforcement.

“What assurance can you give me that your department will make sure my son comes home alive?” He asked.

Bremerton Police Chief Tom Wolfe, sharing the stage with Coleman, said law enforcement needed to “do better”.

“You shouldn’t be afraid of us. Your kids shouldn’t be afraid of us,” Wolfe told the crowd.

But Wolfe, along with Port Orchard Police Chief Matt Brown and Bainbridge Island Chief Joe Clark, defended their departments as having made progress in eliminating explicit and implicit bias in their work. Wolfe noted that at the start of his 35 years in the profession, “we had real morons who had no place in law enforcement”, but that today, when “officers of Bremerton and county are the most competent,” he said.

The panel, organized by the Bremerton-based Up From Slavery Initiative, founded in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, was intended to ask such tough questions of law enforcement officials. And there was broad consensus among the panel of chiefs, including former Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best, about engaging with the residents they serve before 911 calls fail. arrive.

“We haven’t always been on the right side of history,” Best told the Bremerton Performing Arts Center crowd. “You can’t ignore it and act like everything has always been perfect.”

Regarding bias, Wolfe told the audience that his department tracks officers’ reports, including the use of force, to find patterns that might reveal explicit or implicit bias. He said Coleman’s story affected him to make sure he told all young officers about such behavior: “If you do that, you’re going to get fired.”

Christopher Poulos, a formerly incarcerated attorney and barrister, told the audience that law enforcement targets were part of the problem. He noted that “stop and frisk” techniques are more common in poorer communities.

“Is there really a lot more crime or is there overly aggressive policing in this area?” Poulos said.

To verify: Kitsap’s segregated past – and its parallels to today

Chiefs said adding specialist staff to deal with people encountered during a mental health crisis has been helpful, but law enforcement lacks the capacity to take on such case management holistically. Additional intervention from specialist mental health responders is required to ensure that law enforcement does not need to be called back, which may not be the case.

“I don’t think the community wants us to be case managers,” Port Orchard Police Chief Matt Brown said. “The problem we have is that we don’t have this next (help) system.”

This story has been clarified to more accurately reflect Poulus’ role in participating in the event.

This article originally appeared on Kitsap Sun: Law enforcement must ‘do better’, leaders say at Bremerton Forum

Melvin B. Baillie