Demand citizen oversight for BPD

UPDATE: Partial victory!

While Bellingham turned out to express outrage at the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers, it’s disappointing that Bellingham Police still lacks a permanent citizen community-led oversight body with a lead role in police accountability.

Instead, the Bellingham Police Department displayed the “blue lives matter” insignia — both desecrating the US flag and implying an alliance with reactionary and white nationalist groups – until the morning of May 31st.

While we appreciate Chief Doll’s willingness to listen the community and find a more inclusive way to honor those who have died serving Bellingham, we still need an independent civilian review board for true accountability.

Take action and demand that Black Lives Matter in Bellingham: contact Mayor Seth Fleetwood MayorsOffice@cob.org and/or (360) 778-8100 and Police Chief David Doll at ddoll@cob.org and/or (360) 778-8600 to make your voice heard.

Feel free to use or modify the draft below.

 

Mayor Fleetwood and Chief Doll,

Recent weeks have been filled with devastating news: on top of the COVID-19 pandemic, police continue to kill black people. 

The most recent death to receive national attention is the police killing of George Floyd as an officer knelt on his neck as he lay handcuffed in a Minneapolis street saying “I can’t breathe.” Mr. Floyd’s last words echo the words of Eric Garner in 2014 when he was killed by the NYPD and understandably provoked a community that never saw justice in the 2016 Minnesota police killing of Philando Castile witnessed and recorded by his partner.

While I am heartened by Chief Doll’s facebook post joining the chorus of law enforcement leaders across the US recognizing the excessive and unnecessary force in the death of Mr. Floyd and his swift action in removing the “Thin Blue Line” insignia from police department signage when community members raised fears about its association with white supremacist groups, we are still concerned about accountability regarding Bellingham Police Department use of force occurrences.  

We appreciate the department’s de-escalation training as well as Chief Doll’s reassurances that the Bellingham Police Department reviews officer use of force at multiple levels, all the examples of review you cite are internal.  True transparency and accountability require citizen participation, not only internal review. Body cameras and sharing statistics monthly and a start but without external oversight, these depend entirely upon the honesty and commitment of leaders. As I think we all recognize, not every leader is honest or committed to justice. This is why Bellingham must have a permanent community-led oversight body that is independent of the police department and fully empowered to investigate complaints and serious injury at the hands of police. 

Many people find it difficult to report police misconduct to the police, especially for those of us who are visible minorities or who have witnessed or experienced less than professional conduct from law enforcement in the past. I hope we all recognize that visible minority members of our community – including but not limited to Black people, First Nations people and LGTQ people – have had [our/their] safety and freedom compromised by systems of oppression that discourage them from interacting with law enforcement.   

Moreover, a permanent community-led oversight body could benefit not only an individual reporting potential misconduct, but also the larger community, the police department, and even elected officials. Potential benefits include:

  1. Complainants are given a place to voice concerns outside of the law enforcement agency.
  2. Oversight can help hold the police or sheriff’s department accountable for officer’s actions. 
  3. Oversight agencies can help improve the quality of the department’s internal investigations of alleged misconduct. 
  4. The community at large can be reassured that discipline is being imposed when appropriate, while also increasing the transparency of the disciplinary process. 
  5. When the oversight agency confirms a complainant’s allegation(s), complainants may feel validated. Similarly, when the oversight agency exonerates the officer, the officer may feel vindicated. 
  6. Oversight agencies can help improve community relations by fostering communication between the community and police agency. 
  7. Oversight agencies can help reduce public concern about high profile incidents. 
  8. Oversight agencies can help increase the public’s understanding of law enforcement policies and procedures. 
  9. Oversight agencies can improve department policies and procedures. Policy recommendations can prevent issues by identifying areas of concern and subsequently offering options to improve policing. 
  10. Oversight agencies can assist a jurisdiction in liability management and reduce the likelihood of costly litigation by identifying problems and proposing corrective measures before a lawsuit is filed.  
  11. By establishing an oversight system, public officials are provided the opportunity to demonstrate their desire for increased police accountability and the need to eliminate misconduct. i

Respectfully, I ask that you both uphold the mission of the Bellingham Police Department, “Committed to Community.”  by establishing a permanent community-led oversight body for the Bellingham Police Department with a lead role in police accountability that includes communities who are disproportionally incarcerated.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

[signed] 

Bellingham resident

 

NOTES: 

i https://www.nacole.org/benefits

 

A photograph of the sign outside the downtown Bellingham Police station that says "Bellingham Police Department". To the left of the words on the sign is the BPD crest and to the right is a circle insignia with a black and white American flag with a blue stripe just below the field of stars.
Above picture taken May 24th, 2020.
A photograph of the downtown Bellingham Police Station sign, which has been removed. Only the blue frame of the sign remains.rem
Above photo taken May 31, 2020.

 

Editor’s note: This action was written by Lee Che Leong.  It origniated as a post in our Facebook group. Join us for more action and discussion facebook.com/groups/RivetersCollective.

Jail Tax Results Mapped by Precinct

Jail Ballot Measure Votes: An Open Letter from the RC

Riveters Collective values a fair and compassionate justice system with decisions informed by data and community process. This is the community’s jail and should reflect our values. Acknowledging that Whatcom County’s existing jail requires upgrades at a minimum, we see an opportunity to implement a bold new vision. We expect and will support our elected officials in casting risky votes toward these ends.

 

We express our gratitude to county council members Todd Donovan, Barry Buchanan and Ken Mann for voting against sending an incomplete and costly jail proposal to the November ballot. The work of the Vera Institute of Justice and the Incarceration and Reduction Task Force is not complete, and while we don’t yet know what size our jail should be, in a recent email regarding the size of the proposed jail Vera wrote, “Using the correct population, one would arrive at a number more than 30 percent smaller.” That underscores a need to wait until the work is complete before developing a plan.

 

We are disappointed that county council member Rud Browne moved to put this costly jail on the ballot, and council members Carl Weimer, Barbara Brenner, and Satpal Sidhu voted in favor. The two council members who invested the most time into finding solutions, Donovan and Buchanan, argued forcefully for waiting and stated clearly that this proposal isn’t ready and will fail again in November. Their hard work was ignored in favor of haste.

 

We are disappointed that city councilmembers Michael Lilliquist, Pinky Vargas, Gene Knutson, Terry Bornemann and Roxanne Murphy voted for the Jail Funding Use Agreement (JFUA). This vote was premature; we expect a  thoughtful, data-driven solution for our justice system. As citizens we are certain you have more power than you believe and wish you would have used your positions to urge the county to find a better approach. Given a choice between joining a poorly-researched project which perpetuates the prison industrial complex or declining to join and pursuing our own solution, we are ready to stand alone. At it’s core, the JFUA is a regressive sales tax that takes up 100-percent of our public safety tax capacity for the next 30 years. We also acknowledge that you each struggled with this decision, and we heard your statements as you voted yes — that you believed this was the best deal you could get for Bellingham in order to put some – albeit limited – funds into diversion programs. We thank city councilmembers April Barker and Dan Hammill for clearly expressing our shared values.

 

This year, Riveters Collective will work to defeat the jail ballot measure and will take pride in our work to find a better, more equitable path for justice in our community. We see better solutions on the horizon:

  • Bail reform so that people are not held in jail simply because they cannot pay
  • Fully funding treatment first, before incarceration
  • Diversion from jail, with incarceration as the last resort for those who are a danger to themselves or others; and
  • A new look at less expensive options for a new or renovated jail.

 

We believe that if we agree to put $110 million into a large jail in Ferndale, plus another $30-million for a sheriff’s office, that there will be insufficient funds for treatment, robust and effective diversion, or for re-entry into the community. Those are the very programs that make us safer. The proposed jail size, potential for expansion, distance from the courthouse, and proximity to Border Patrol are concerns. We will push for a serious look at either a smaller, less expensive jail or renovating our downtown jail.

 

Simply put, we believe that spending 100-percent of our public safety tax capacity for the next 30 years on a jail is not an investment in hope, but instead builds a legacy of despair. We stand ready to work with all of our elected officials on an equitable and comprehensive justice system after this ballot measure fails in November. Our goal will be an equitable, fair and less-costly solution that we can all support with pride.

Signed,

The Riveters Collective Board of Directors

 

***Co-sign our letter below.***

Sign our letter:
Receive updates on the "No on the Jail Ballot Measure" campaign.

 

Roxann Kay

Sharon Shewmake

Lisa Van Doren

karen fisher

Maggie Wettergreen

Kathleen Hennessy

Stephen W. Jackson

Jennifer Gruenert

Susan Wood

Bette C Williams

Andronetta Douglass

Jenn Mason

Dena Jensen

Elizabeth Hartsoch

Eowyn Savela

Janet Hosokawa

Sandy Robson

Lisa Citron

Karlee Deatherage

Bert Monroe

Helen E. Moran

Brenda Bentley

Anna Wolff

Elma Burnham

Stephanie Allen

Wendy Courtemanche

Andrew Reding