When it comes to law enforcement, Lacey residents have a wide variety of concerns — from local staffing to nationwide problems with officer-involved shootings.
Concerned citizens gathered Tuesday at the Lacey Community Center to discuss these topics and other issues with Lacey Police Chief Dusty Pierpoint and other representatives from his department.
Pierpoint said the meeting was part of a push to generate more feedback from citizens, and there will be more meetings to come.
“This meeting isn’t for us to come in and lecture,” Pierpoint said. “It’s for us to get to know you and for you to get to know us.”
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He told the group that the department has 64 employees, 52 of whom are commissioned police officers. They operate on a $9 million annual budget, not including court costs and the costs of housing inmates.
Like many departments, he said, Lacey officers are facing increased scrutiny in the wake of officer-involved shootings in other parts of the country.
“It’s a tough time for law enforcement,” Pierpoint said. “There are a lot of cops out there who shouldn’t be cops. But there are a lot of good ones, too.”
The discussion quickly turned to national trends, such as the increased use of body and dashboard cameras in law enforcement.
Resident Pecola Colby asked whether the department currently uses any kind of camera. Pierpoint said no, not until the Legislature clears up some issues associated with them.
First, he said, there’s the issue of consent. Washington is a two-party consent state, meaning both the person doing the filming and the subject have to consent to the recording.
State Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in November that police officers don’t need to ask permission before filming suspects. But Pierpoint said he’s worried about victims and witnesses being filmed without consent.
Next comes the issue of access and who can acquire copies of the video footage through public records requests. Pierpoint said he’s not so concerned about releasing footage of suspects and officers, but he does have qualms about releasing video that shows victims and witnesses.
“Quite frankly, that shouldn’t be intended for public consumption,” Pierpoint said.
But eventually, Lacey officers will be filmed, he said. “Cameras are something that the public is going to expect in the future,” Pierpoint said.
Pecola also asked whether whether the department’s racial makeup matches that of the community.
According to a 2013 demographic estimate from the U.S. Census Bureau, 74.6 percent of Lacey residents identify as white, 6.7 percent identify as African American, 10.8 percent as Asian, 2.3 percent as Hawaiian or Pacific islander, and 8.6 percent as Hispanic or Latino.
Pierpoint said the Lacey Police Department has five African American officers, two Asian officers and two Pacific islander officers. The remaining 43 officers are white. There are no Latino or Hispanic officers.
That gives the department a demographic breakdown of 82.7 percent white, 9.6 percent African American, 3.8 percent Asian and 3.8 percent Pacific islander.
“We can definitely do a lot better, especially when it comes to hiring Hispanic and Asian officers,” Pierpoint said.
Hawks Prairie resident John Dresow said he attended the meeting because of recent shootings by police officers elsewhere. He said he had a friend in Florida who was recently shot by police. But he said he doesn’t worry as much about police shootings in Lacey.
“I think Lacey is doing pretty dang good,” Dresow said.
Dresow said he came even though he lives in Thurston County, outside the Lacey boundaries. He said the Lacey City Council is considering annexing his neighborhood.
He asked Pierpoint whether the Police Department will increase staff if city borders are expanded.
Pierpoint said that until the city sees an increase in revenue, a staffing increase at the department is unlikely.
Pierpoint said more people turned out at the meeting than he expected, and people seemed interested in their local department.
“And this is only the first meeting,” Pierpoint said. “Maybe we’ll have even more people next time.”