Law enforcement must ‘do better’, leaders say at Bremerton forum
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 use of force, to find patterns that may 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 Poulous, executive director of the Washington Statewide Re-entry Council, 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?” Poulus said.
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Chiefs explained that 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.”