Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Police-Community Ad Hoc Committee Forum Focuses On Social Service Providers

By Janine Gates

The Ad Hoc Committee for Police and Community Relations held another community forum Monday night to gather information, this time at First Christian Church in downtown Olympia, to hear from area social service providers.

The committee is tasked by the Olympia City Council to receive information from the community about methods for engaging under-represented and minority groups on police practices, and seek input on a preferred process for engaging the public on implementing police-worn body cameras.

About 20 community members and social service provider representatives and volunteers participated, including Interfaith Works, the YWCA, the Crisis Clinic, Community Youth Services (CYS), United Churches of Olympia, PFLAG, Sidewalk, the Salvation Army, Capital Recovery Center, and others. They discussed and provided examples of ways there are levels of collaboration, not competition, that currently exists among organizations.

All members of the Ad Hoc committee were present, as well as three longtime members of the Olympia Police Department.

The evening’s conversation, as at previous forums, asked two questions: What has been your experience with the Olympia Police Department, and how can the Olympia Police Department better serve you? The conversation was followed by small group discussions.

No one shared any stories of direct difficulties with police, and several shared their organization's positive interactions. Others expressed questions and concerns about the May officer-involved shooting of two young African American men in Olympia.

Watching the videos of police activity and shootings in other cities nationwide, Pavel Mikoloski, who lives in unincorporated Thurston County, said he kept thinking, “Thank God we don’t have that…that doesn’t happen in Olympia…we have great police....” Then he described his thoughts when he saw the video of the officer-involved shooting of a man in Pasco. It really upset him, but then he dismissed it.

“….I thought, that’s Eastern Washington, that’s like a different state, that’s a whole different climate over there….And then when this shooting in Olympia happened…it hit too close to home. I thought, ‘Is this systemic? What is going on?’ I know policing is a very difficult job, don’t get me wrong, but I’m really worried. What’s going on? I need some answers….”

Later, in a conversation on how to improve the condition of downtown, he said Olympia needs to attract a major high tech company.

“There’s room downtown for a major tech revival. If that were to happen, then a lot of these social services would be better funded and we could find a better way to help the homeless situation,” he said.

Jessie of the downtown YWCA said she was new to Olympia and has heard many stories from YWCA clients that she would like the police to hear. She says the level of compassion, empathy, and understanding depends upon the officer. She suggested that the police “ride along” with social service providers in much the same way police encourage community members to ride along with them to see what their work day or night is like.

Scott Hanouser, chief executive officer of Community Youth Services, says the agency has over 20 programs that interact with each other, and provide services to about 4,000 youth per year between the ages of 14 to 24. He said that the agency has a positive relationship with the police department.

A resident of the Fleetwood Apartments near Sylvester Park said that when fights break out in the building or when someone is off their medication, the police are polite. 

“I know if I show them respect, I'll get respect...but respect looks different to different people, she said.

Danny Kadden, executive director of Interfaith Works, which operates the Emergency Overnight Shelter located at First Christian Church, downstairs from the forum’s meeting place, described his organization’s perspectives.

“…On behalf of staff, we are pleased with our interaction with police and have many success stories, however, for every success story, there is a story that we hear about….While I'll add to the praise (such as) the level of responsiveness and the ability to have honest and frank conversations with officers when need be, there are some cases that are troubling…situations that require officers working with severely mentally ill people….I want to work with the department to enhance our capabilities, to enhance training, and preparation for dealing with this populace.”

Kadden described a group of about 30 street folks who met in this same room a few weeks ago to discuss their experiences with police.

“…What they have to say is so important. They have a history of harassment and bad encounters with police. There is so much to talk out. I wish we could replicate that - so much of it interfaces with race…class…trauma….Let’s find a way to talk about the culture of our community, and how different cultures have a hard time communicating, sharing, understanding each other, and I’m also talking about the policing culture….I think we have an opportunity here to grow and mature as a community…to prepare our professionals and those receiving services, who can have some trust that their experiences are valued,” said Kadden. He added that Interfaith Works and the faith community are committed and ready to assist in these efforts.

Committee member Alejandro Rugarcia reported that committee members are meeting with groups or individuals who may not feel comfortable meeting in formal settings. 

Since the forum focusing on Hispanic experiences with police at CEILO in early November, committee members have met with 17 Hispanic individuals who were afraid to speak at or attend the forum, said Rugarcia. He urged those in attendance to reach out to others that the group should hear from but may not feel comfortable attending a forum. He assured the group that the work of the committee will result in positive outcomes.

The committee’s next two, and final, community forums will focus on youth and body cameras, respectively.

To learn more about the Ad Hoc Committee on Police and Community Relations, go to www.olympiawa.gov. Future community forums are scheduled for January 18 and February 11, topics, times, and locations to be determined.

Upcoming: The Black Alliance of Thurston County and the Olympia Police Department will cosponsor a community conversation about race, racial bias, and institutional racism on Thursday, December 10, from 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. at South Sound Manor, 455 North Street, Tumwater. According to the release, the goal is to build trust between communities and to promote fair and impartial policing in Olympia.

To read past stories about the Olympia Police Department, the Ad Hoc Committee on Policing and Community Relations, the May 21 shooting of Andre Thompson and Bryson Chaplin in west Olympia, the Black Alliance of Thurston County, body cameras, and community conversations around race and implicit bias, go to Little Hollywood, www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com and type keywords into the search button.

Above: The Ad Hoc Committee on Police and Community Relations held a forum focusing on the police experiences of the Hispanic community on November 5 at CEILO, Centro Integral Educativo Latino de Olympia, (Integral Hispanic Educational Center of Olympia), a local non-profit organization that promotes community, self-sufficiency and leadership of Latinas/os. The Committee also held a forum on October 10, reaching out to the African American community.