Vancouver’s city manager has appointed a dozen people to a new community task force on policing, which will help oversee the implementation of changes to the police department’s use-of-force policies, as well as a body-worn camera program.
Task force members will offer guidance on putting in place the recommendations made by the Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit, national law enforcement membership organization. Commonly called PERF, the nonprofit entered into a contract with the city to look into the police department’s policies following four Vancouver police shootings, three of which were fatal, last year.
The yearlong study found that those shootings occurred during a three-year period in which the number of use-of-force incidents by Vancouver police increased by 65 percent.
“We recognize and are committed to making the changes necessary to serve the public safety needs of our community in a more just and equitable manner,” City Manager Eric Holmes said. “There is much work to be done within the VPD and our community to implement the full range of PERF recommendations. This task force will represent the community’s voice in discussions and issues related to use of force policies and help ensure transparency and accountability in the implementation of these recommendations.”
Community tensions ran high following the shootings, which occurred between Feb. 5, 2019, and March 7, 2019. Two of the fatalities involved people of color and the third involved a homeless man previously diagnosed with schizophrenia. The shootings prompted rallies and gatherings demanding changes and an online petition calling for police body-worn cameras.
The task force members are representatives from the Vancouver City Council, city manager’s office and police chief’s Diversity Advisory Team, as well as the mental health field, police labor organizations and groups representing people of color in the city.
A homeless service provider and youth representative have not yet been appointed.
“An important part of making meaningful change is ensuring that we provide our community members and partners a seat at the table as we work through all the recommendations in the PERF report,” Vancouver Police Chief James McElvain said. “The community working in partnership with city and VPD representatives will help us build a better and stronger department. I am grateful to all of the community members who have agreed to give their time to serve on this important task force.”
The official charge of the members is to review and oversee the execution of a total of 84 recommendations made by PERF, and to advise the city on establishing a body-worn camera program for the police department.
That camera program is slated for implementation in 2021 through 2022, the city said. Law enforcement and justice officials met in June to discuss the cameras, and all agreed that now is the time to act, despite issues of cost and public disclosure.
The recommendations identified for immediate action in the 91-page PERF report include restricting the use of police K-9s to “serious criminal offenses,” requiring that lieutenants who conduct reviews of critical incidents consider the event in its entirety and ensuring use-of-force reports are reviewed by each level of the police department’s command, up to the assistant chief.
Southwest Washington League of United Latin American Citizens President Ed Hamilton Rosales said in an email Friday that he believes the report was ineffective and showed how lax the police department has been in the past.
“My hope is that the task force can be more aggressive in its attempt to realign trust between both our communities of color and our police,” Rosales said.
Shareefah Hoover, chair of Vancouver NAACP Legal Redress Committee, said in an email she appreciates her appointment to the task force as a voice among many community members seeking improvements and reforms in local policing. Hoover said she is committed to its core aim of overseeing implementation of the recommendations, and she expects her input to be earnestly considered in helping to make a difference.
“Nearly all of the report’s recommendations have the collective potential to drive sustainable change, but clarifying the Vancouver Police Department’s existing use-of-force policies; expanding the scope and expectation of trainings; improving data collection, especially in the demographics, circumstances and outcomes of police-civilian contacts; and boosting transparency in use-of-force reporting are among the chief concerns in my book,” Hoover said.
Detective Neil Martin — who is assigned to the task force as the Vancouver Police Officers’ Guild representative — previously told The Columbian in an email that the idea of defunding police being advocated by some of the public stands in contrast with the ability to accomplish many of the suggested reforms mentioned in the PERF report. Martin was interviewed separately for a story on the cost of policing and police union contracts.
“Many of reform-based ideas will actually cost money to implement and the ability to implement them will be difficult if not impossible with a reduction in funding,” Martin said.
The detective highlighted one of the immediate recommendations: ensuring police sergeants respond immediately to difficult situations, such as calls involving people with mental illnesses, “in which a use of force might be necessary or when a well-managed response might result in compliance without use of force,” the report said. Sending sergeants to mental health incidents will require staffing additional supervisors, he said, as there are currently five sergeant vacancies at the police department.
It is anticipated that the task force will meet for the first time in September. More information will be available on the city’s website in the coming weeks.
Here are all other task force members:
• Clayton Mosher, Washington State University Vancouver
• Dr. Khalid Kahn, Vancouver Police Department’s Chief’s Diversity Advisory Committee
• Kim Schneiderman, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Southwest Washington
• Eric Holmes, Vancouver city manager
• James McElvain, Vancouver police chief
• Anne McEnerny-Ogle, Vancouver mayor
• Erik Paulsen, Vancouver city councilor
• Sarah Fox, Vancouver city councilor
• Commander Dave King, Vancouver Police Department, representing the department’s Command Guild