New Olympia Police Chief's first statement

Olympia Police Department: Embracing change


I’ve been a member of the Olympia Police Department (OPD) for many years. My interest in law enforcement and public service came at a young age. I began serving with OPD as a volunteer Police Explorer when I was 15 years old. I was fortunate in that I progressed through the ranks, having had the opportunity to serve in many specialty assignments, to lead the organization as the Interim Police Chief since October 2021; and now to have the honor of serving as Olympia’s permanent Police Chief.

Like others across the country, OPD shared the public’s anger and outrage that rose out of the murder of George Floyd in May 2020. While OPD has prided itself for years on being more transparent, forward leaning and sensitive to our community’s values than many other police Departments, the scrutiny police departments faced in 2020 taught us that we too still had important work to do.

Undertaking this work with the necessary commitment requires a level of humility and openness about where the organization is and where we need it to be. I am proud of how OPD and its employees have embraced this work and the changes it brings.  Here is some of what is underway:

A Civilian Police Auditor
In November 2020, the Olympia City Council contracted with the law firm Ogden Murphy Wallace, P.L.L. C. to provide police auditor services to the City of Olympia. The Police Auditor provides expert, neutral, third-party civilian review of OPD’s work, including:

  • investigations of complaints made against the Police Department or its employees to ensure we are meeting our own professional standards and industry best practices.
  • uses of force, complaints and internal investigations.
  • responses to public demonstrations and crowd management when events result in physical injury, extensive property damage, or if the City Manager deems it is appropriate for review. 

The Police Auditor also reviews and recommends revisions to Police Department policies, procedures and training related to complaints, use of force and the internal investigative process based on audit findings. The Department uses the Police Auditor’s recommendations to further adjust policies and procedures and ensure we are aligned with industry best practices and community expectations.

Finally, the Police Auditor submits a written mid-year and annual report to the City Council, with a copy to the City Manager and Police Chief. These reports are also available to the public through the Olympia Police Department’s Accountability and Transparency web page. I’m appreciative of the added transparency the Auditor’s work has brought to critical contacts that OPD has with members of the community. It will only serve to make the Department better and strengthen the community’s trust and confidence in us. 

Crowd Management Policy
The nation-wide protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer also reverberated in Olympia. We experienced more than 70 demonstrations over the months following, resulting in large-scale property damage and injuries to both participants and police officers.

The Department’s response to these events drew criticism from many in our community. As a result, in early 2021 the Department crafted written Guidelines for Demonstrations and Crowd Management, which direct our management of crowds on the ground.

The City Council also commissioned an independent review of our response by our Police Auditor, which resulted in recommendations that add needed clarity and consistency to the Department’s approach. One of the recommendations following that review was to institutionalize the approaches in our Guidelines by adopting a formal comprehensive crowd management policy.

The policy will provide clear guidance to officers and supervisors regarding public safety strategies that balance peoples’ right to exercise free speech and the safety and security of the community. The Police Department is working now to develop this policy and is committed to ensuring that it is informed by the information received from the City’s Reimagining Public Safety process.

Body-worn Cameras
To increase transparency and public trust, enhance accountability and capture opportunities to learn; OPD will be incorporating body-worn cameras and in-car video systems into its work.  The Department will use recommendations from the Police Auditor, along with feedback from the community, to develop a camera policy that is equitable, inclusive and addresses the needs and concerns of our community.  We anticipate body-worn cameras will be in place in the summer of 2022, with in-car video being implemented in 2023.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Our Department is committed to employing a diverse workforce and to providing our officers and staff with proper training. Diversity, implicit bias, procedural justice and anti-racism training are important parts of our curriculum, and the Department is committed to ongoing training in these areas. Our hiring managers work closely with the Civil Service Commission and our Human Resources Department to ensure our hiring practices are fair, equitable and without bias.  We are committed to employing a workforce that is reflective of our community.

Reimaging Public Safety in Olympia
In July 2021, the City launched an inclusive, community-led process to evaluate and make recommendations on the City’s public safety system. It is led by a Community Work group made of nine community members who represent a cross-section of Olympia’s demographics, expertise and experiences. They are dedicated to listening carefully to community members through focus groups, public meetings and an online survey. This work will culminate this summer with a recommendation to the City Council.

The Reimagining Public Safety work recognizes the interconnectedness of the City’s justice system and is considering all its parts, from OPD and the Municipal Jail, to our City Prosecution, Defense work and Municipal Court. OPD supports and is listening closely to this process, and the recommendations will inform our policies and practices.

State-Level Police Reform Legislation
In the last three years we have seen several pieces of key legislation regarding police reform.  The Law Enforcement Training and Community Safety Act (also known as I-940) required officers to complete de-escalation and mental health training; required independent investigation of incidents involving a law enforcement officer’s use of deadly force; and established a requirement that law enforcement render first aid in certain situations.  Many of these requirements were already standard procedure and policy for our Department.  All of our patrol officers have completed more than the required, available training.

In 2021, several other pieces of legislation passed.  Changes in the law regarding police pursuits, uses of force, de-escalation and the creation of a State Office of Independent Investigation required some changes in wording to our policies.  Again, many of these new requirements had already been part of our culture and operating procedures here in our Department.

While all the efforts listed above bring positive and evolutionary improvements to how we police in Olympia, it is important for our community to know that these efforts are also in keeping with OPD’s history and culture of embracing change.  We understand that to be the excellent Department we strive to be and serve our community as it deserves and expects, we must always be forward leaning, serve with humility and be ready to adapt to the newest and best practices in law enforcement.

I’ve dedicated my life to public service and the law enforcement profession.  I’m honored to be OPD’s next Chief and will continue with the same dedication and devotion to ensure that your police department is one you can trust and be proud of.

Article courtesy of  City of Olympia. Read the original blog here.


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