Change can happen, but it probably won’t be easy.
That was among the messages that members of the city of Olympia’s new Ad Hoc Committee on Police and Community Relations shared during their first meeting Wednesday night at Garfield Elementary School.
The five-member committee was created in the wake of the May 21 shooting in Olympia in which a white police officer wounded two black men following a shoplifting call and alleged assault. The shooting sparked protests on police practices.
The Thurston County prosecutor is expected to make a decision in the next two weeks on whether criminal charges will be filed against the officer or the two men.
The Thurston County sheriff’s report on its investigation into the shooting was released hours before the group’s meeting.
“There’s the elephant right there — it’s a big one,” committee co-chairwoman Reiko Callner said.
The city-appointed group has been enlisted to help gather community input on two fronts: “Methods for engaging under-represented and minority groups on policing practices in order to bridge understanding between Olympia’s law enforcement officers and the public,” and to gather community comments on the implementation of police-worn body cameras.
The group hasn’t determined how it will gather community input, but Mayor Stephen Buxbaum suggested that it could be done through a series of public forums. He encouraged the committee members to be creative and think about how their work can build relationships and change attitudes.
“We’re inventing this work,” Buxbaum said.
The meeting was mostly a chance for the committee members to get to know each other, learn about their responsibilities under the Open Public Meetings Act, and discuss roles and responsibilities and the group’s mission.
But all of the committee members expressed a desire to do more than create a report with recommendations that the city hasn’t yet put in the budget. They said they want to learn more about police practices, and set the groundwork for creation of a police department that truly represents the community and its values.
Some of the members said they believe the idea of community shouldn’t be Olympia-centric, but rather a concept that includes the urban areas of Lacey and Tumwater, too. The three cities may have different demographics, but they share similar policing and community relations issues, the committee members said.
“I want to be part of something coming out of here that’s going to make a difference,” said committee member Clinton Petty. “To make a change.”