From the Issaquah Black Lives Matter demonstration, Friday, June 12. Photo by William Shaw

From the Issaquah Black Lives Matter demonstration, Friday, June 12. Photo by William Shaw

Issaquah starts conversations on action plan for police accountability, equity

While contrasting, passionate ideas were expressed by the speakers at the June 29 meeting, Mayor Mary Lou Pauly said it left her optimistic that they were all closer than they think on public safety.

Should Issaquah change how it pictures public safety? Are dollars going to police officers better spent elsewhere?

These are the kinds of questions the city and its council are going to grapple with in the coming months under the direction of a city action plan, in the wake of local protests that have called for a defunding of the police and an end to police brutality.

Issaquah City Council held a special meeting Monday, June 29 to get public feedback and review a plan of action that examines local police policy and ways to combat racism. The Issaquah Police Accountability, Equity and Human Services Action Plan created by city administrators creates goals for the short term, by Aug. 31, medium term, by end of 2020, and long term by 2021.

The short term goals include:

  • A review and modifications of Issaquah Police Department use of force policy, compared to #8CANTWAIT.
  • A monthly report available to the public that will include “information on calls for service, types of calls responded, uses of force and other indicators.”
  • A city council equity training and further training opportunities.

The medium term goals include:

  • A police department budget and operations review to be presented as part of the budget process in late September this year.
  • Police department use of force review and reporting which would be shared regularly with the public.
  • A review of the police department’s informal and formal complaint process.
  • A review of department training programs.
  • A review of how the department collects data.
  • An evaluation with Issaquah School District on public resource officers.
  • An opportunity for city council to get more firsthand knowledge on department operations
  • Develop a citywide equity training.
  • Broaden scope of Human Services Commission.
  • Review Human Services staffing and resources for the upcoming budget.

The long term goals include:

  • A review of police department recruitment and the role of the Civil Service Commission.
  • A review of department policies for discipline and termination.
  • Considering the creation of a police review board or commission.
  • Creation of police department data dashboard
  • Review of police department local fines and fees and asset seizure policies
  • Developing a “Racial Equity Toolkit” that helps with decision making, and then reviewing citywide policies and procedures with that toolkit.

The city has two planned events so far to receive resident feedback on the plan, which will be discussed for final endorsement at an Aug. 10 special meeting. The two events include one hosted by a local Equity and Inclusion Forum and the other a general community meeting.

Police Chief Behrbaum also gave a review of police policies and use of force in Issaquah during the meeting. He said the police department ultimately wants to help residents, and was interested in further conversations.

At the June 29 meeting, council received public comment on the plan from Issaquah residents, business owners, retired police officers and property managers both for and against examining the role and finances of the Issaquah Police Department. Council President Victoria Hunt said the emailed and written testimony sent to council was just as varying in opinion.

In closing comments, Mayor Mary Lou Pauly said rarely do they get speakers with the amount of passion and emotion covered that night, with such a wide spectrum of opinions. She said it’s a difficult subject to talk about, but she’s optimistic that the community is “closer than we think we are” on public safety. She said the way Issaquah is having this discussion on racism and public safety could be a model for others.

“We are launching this process tonight, that itself could be a model for having these types of conversations in your city when it’s so emotional and passionate,” Mayor Pauly said.

Some commenters were worried about what defunding of police means in Issaquah, which has ranged in definition from reallocating funds and limiting the scope of police work, to total abolition of police in the United States.

Councilmember Barbara de Michele explained that she saw it not as defunding, but as the acceleration of a process that has been happening for a while now. A process of supporting police by making sure that there are other types of responders available for social services, homelessness and other things police have been asked to respond to. Councilmember Stacy Goodman said it does not appear to her that anyone in the city was considering fully abolishing the police department, and that it was unfortunate the word “defund” was causing confusion. Councilmember Zach Hall noted that while defund might not mean abolition for everyone, there were people in Issaquah who are calling for abolition and their perspective needs to be acknowledged in this process.

A couple commenters who support defunding police were worried that the city was not doing enough with it’s action plan, and critiqued the use of the #8CANTWAIT campaign, which are eight police actions police departments can take that are intended to lower use of force incidents. One of the short term goals of the city is to make sure the department aligns with those eight policies.The #8CANTWAIT campaign has acknowledged on it’s website that these eight policies are short term goals, and their end goal is abolition, which commenters noted at the June 29 meeting.

Councilmember Lindsey Walsh said at the meeting she wanted to make sure the city wasn’t just jumping onto the first solution trend to come out of this, such as the #8CANTWAIT campaign, and that she had some cautions about following that campaign. City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said that the city is using the #8CANTWAIT as a model, and that is the extent of it’s alignment to those policies. Police Chief Scott Behrbaum also said they have sent the Issaquah police policy guide to #8CANTWAIT for their review.

Some commenters against any defunding of police did not consider policing to have a systemic problem and said what has happened with police brutality in other cities is “not Issaquah.”

Mayor Pauly shared at the meeting the conversations she’d been having with Issaquah residents that shared their stories of discrimination within the city. Instead of just sharing their stories, she addressed the stark differences between her experiences in Issaquah and theirs.

“It is not the responsibility of communities of color to teach us how not to be racist. It is our personal responsibility. We have failed some people in our community for too long, we need to own that, and we need to commit to be better,” she said.

The full draft of the action plan is available here. Community members can get in touch with the city council on this issue by emailing citycouncil@issaquahwa.gov.


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