The three shortlisted candidates for the vacant position of Olympia police chief vowed on Tuesday to embrace diversity and fight against racism should they be selected to lead the city’s police force.
In a virtual town hall meeting, the three candidates—Syracuse, New York Police Chief Kenton Buckner; Detroit, Michigan Deputy Chief for Support Operations Mark Bliss; and former Inkster, Michigan Police Chief William Riley III—made their case for Olympia’s top cop position.
The candidates laid out plans to work closely with the community to promote diversity and inclusion.
Buckner committed to “look, listen, and learn” from the Olympia community about the city’s history and values, ensure that stakeholders have a seat at the table, and begin a “healing process” aimed at learning from the past.
Riley said he would “sit down and have an honest conversation about what is going on… what is the direction” of Olympia by speaking with community stakeholders and having “the right personnel in the right place in order to effect industry change.”
Bliss said the police force would be “welcoming” under his leadership, teaming up with the LGBTQIA+ community included in his plans. He also echoed Riley’s proposal to place “the right people in the right spots” during the recruitment process.
Asked what they would do to ensure that the Olympia police department becomes an anti-racist organization, the three candidates stressed that “everything starts at the top.”
Buckner vowed to clearly outline behaviors that would not be tolerated, provide avenues for complaints against officers, investigate accusations, and offer appropriate training from outside instructors.
“Officers have to understand that when they're right, I'm going to support them. When they're wrong, there's going to be accountability. I'm going to do both with the same amount of energy, even when it's unpopular,” Buckner said.
Riley underscored that “the key is to be firm and to be fair across the board,” vouching for educating officers about implicit bias and providing training to community leaders.
“These are some of the things that you need to be looking at… to encourage you that if you see something that is unsettling to you, I have an open door, we have an open door. We will make sure that Internal Affairs looks into this matter,” Riley said, adding that issues that Internal Affairs should not be handling would be passed to outside agencies.
Bliss said he has “zero tolerance” for racism. He proposed a “strong policy” that will also cover officers’ social media accounts.
Whom do you pose with?
“Who do you take pictures with, who do you hang out with, what do you say?” the Detroit Deputy Chief Bliss asked, alluding to an incident in which an Olympia officer posed with a group of armed men who allegedly displayed a right-wing hand gesture (see related story). “Yes, I understand that you have certain rights to say what you feel, but not as a law enforcement officer, not as a pillar of the community.”
Bliss also pushed for training for officers, investigations into accusations against police, and a program to expose the police department to other cultures.
After the town hall meeting, Olympia City Manager Jay Burney encouraged the public to submit feedback about the candidates through the Engage Olympia website to aid the city in the decision-making.
Burney said he hopes to make his final decision on Olympia’s next police chief by the end of this week or early next week.
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