Last night at a council study session, consultant Michael Pendleton presented his report on the Bainbridge Island Police Department. Pendleton was hired last January to do a study of the department, find areas needing improvement and make recommendations for changes.
Pendleton emphasized that he did not do a Department of Justice-style investigation though some in the community requested it. Instead, he interviewed every member of the department, members of city leadership and members of the community. He also reviewed relevant documents and records.
This is a quick summary of his report. For the detail, read the report itself, which I’ve posted at the end of this article.
Pendleton presented six findings and conclusions:
1. Police personnel say the department has a “lower than desired” organizational health, effectiveness rating and working climate.
2. There is a low “unity of command” due to poor upper leadership, poor first line supervision and poor communication within the department.
3. Bainbridge Island citizens are split in their support for the police, with most citizens either feeling either neutral or positive, and a significant minority having negative views.
4. There are longstanding unresolved allegations of retaliation or police misconduct, including incidents as serious as sexual assault.
5. City leaders have been aware of department problems for a long time, without effectively responding.
6. The department has significant strengths that have been masked by the chronic problems.
Among the more troubling revelations in his report:
Police officers say there is discord between officers and their first line supervisors who are poor at communication, demonstrate lack of leadership, motivation, performance and productivity, and are “self-oriented backstabbers.”
Officers say police lieutenants “blow off assignments” and engage in favoritism. Because of the risk of retaliation, officers do not believe the Lieutenants should be in the same police guild as the rank and file. Currently, lieutenants hold positions as President and Vice President of the police guild.
The police station is demoralizing and too far from city hall. It is ant-infested, with rotting walls and gerbil holes. It also is not secure.
From those interviewed in city leadership came the feedback that the guild undermines management. Specific mention was made of the guild’s no-confidence vote in the previous police chief, which was led by police lieutenants. Other leaders mentioned specific incidents of perceived intimidation, such as an incident when officers attended a council meeting in a “mass uniformed presence,” and the press coverage of an officer following council person after a meeting.
There is a “climate of rule-breaking with no consequence.”
Both in his presentation and in the report, Mr. Pendleton called out an incident that occurred during his work for the city. A lieutenant sent an email that was ”perceived as a threat not to participate fully or candidly in the interviews for this study.” Pendleton said that before he could address the email, the City Manager did so. Pendleton did not disclose how that was done.
Other reported findings were that Internal Affairs investigations are handled poorly. In some instances complainants were told to deal with the offending officer directly. Accountability measures, like performance reviews and responding to complaints are inadequate.
The policing philosophy is “more of a ‘SWAT’ philosophy than a community policing philosophy.” Some officers are “known to escalate rather de-escalate situations.”
There is a lack of trust in the police among community members and women, in particular, fear the police. On the other hand, the community itself came in for some criticism by citizens interviewed by Pendleton: this is a “liberal, anti-authority community” and an “unforgiving public.” People are opinionated and quick to “lawyer up.”
Direction for the department was seen by some as established by a “vocal minority” in the community.
Pendleton also found strengths in the department. In general officers are skilled and dedicated to the job. Most officers have a positive relationship with the community.
Pendleton made the following recommendations:
1. The Chief (with approval by the City Manager) is to lead a collaborative process to develop and implement a leadership strategy.
2. Fully develop and implement police accountability systems, including both Internal Affairs and performance evaluation components.
3. Create a Police Commission made up of island citizens.
4. Create an organizational development plan.
5. Immediately begin planning to relocate the department to a location within or near city hall.
City manager Doug Schulze told the council that he would have a response and an action plan to present to the council within a month.
The report is illuminating and I highly recommend that you read it if you are interested in police matters on the island: