A Saturday afternoon forum will give the public an opportunity to share their experiences with the Olympia Police Department and offer suggestions about how the department can do a better job.
The Ad Hoc Committee on Police and Community Relations will hold its first public forum from 1-5 p.m. Saturday at Risen Faith Fellowship Church, 2129 Fourth Ave. E. This will be the first of five community forums slated for the next six months.
Karen Johnson of the Black Alliance of Thurston County will help facilitate an open mic session. The forum will then break into small groups of eight to 10 people each. According to the forum agenda, the groups will answer three questions:
▪ How can the Police Department more effectively reach out to under-represented citizens and groups in the community, such as ethnic or racial minorities, LGBT, homeless, crime victims, and persons arrested or convicted of crimes?
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▪ The vision of the Olympia Police Department is to provide policing services through trust and partnership. What does that look like to you? How can the Police Department better meet your expectations for an ideal department?
▪ How can we help community members feel safe when interacting with the police?
The committee’s mission is to find ways to improve the relationship between Olympia police and the public, specifically with minorities and other under-represented groups. To that end, Risen Faith Church was chosen to host the first forum because of its connection with the local African American community, said committee co-chairwoman Reiko Callner.
The next forum is slated for Dec. 7 at a location to be announced, but likely one with a connection to the local Latino community.
“I’m hoping the ad hoc committee can give people a sense of ownership and empowerment and give direction on a relationship with law enforcement,” Callner said. “This is a work in progress. It is all about giving the community a voice.”
The ad hoc committee was created in response to the May 21 shooting of two shoplifting suspects, Andre Thompson and Bryson Chaplin, by Olympia police officer Ryan Donald. The incident has racial overtones because the suspects were two black men shot by a white police officer.
Thompson and Chaplin were charged with two counts of second-degree assault after Donald said he was attacked with a skateboard when he tried to apprehend the men. Chaplin faces an additional charge of fourth-degree assault for allegedly throwing beer at a supermarket clerk earlier in the evening in the incident that prompted the call to police.
Donald has not been charged with a crime in connection with the shooting. In addition, the Olympia Police Department conducted an internal review and determined that Donald did not violate department policy. Donald is expected to return to work in the next few weeks.
As a result of the shootings, the city’s Police Department has been under intense scrutiny, especially in light of other high-profile police shootings in the United States. Several local residents have called for more police accountability through the establishment of a citizen review board, for example, or revised policies regarding bias and use of force.
The Olympia City Council formed the ad hoc committee and appointed five civic leaders from a range of backgrounds. Aside from engaging minorities, the committee also is seeking input about how to implement the use of police body cameras.
Mayor Stephen Buxbaum helped lead the committee’s formation. He said the committee is not an oversight board but rather a group that can inform the City Council’s perspective and recommend action.
Although the City Council has the authority to enact policies, Buxbaum warned against the council micromanaging the police department, especially when such departments adhere to standard procedures and best practices that are better shaped by state law.
“I’m looking for actionable things. I don’t want more bureaucracy,” Buxbaum told The Olympian’s editorial board this week. “I’m very concerned about adding additional layers to the oversight process.”
Johnson helped form the Black Alliance of Thurston County in August while preparing for a meeting between Olympia Police Chief Ronnie Roberts and local black leaders. The alliance will continue to focus on issues such as institutional racism, implicit and explicit bias, and overall police accountability, she said.
“While May 21 may have been the catalyst for bringing us together, it will not be the impetus for keeping us together,” she told The Olympian, adding that she looks forward to participating in Saturday’s forum. “I’m hoping that we can have some courageous conversations that lead us to a caring community.”