Tacoma Police Chief Don Ramsdell is a fan of body cameras for his officers, and the people they have sworn to protect are too.
And in two to three years, he wants the officers to start using them.
“You see less officer complaints, less uses of force, less issues of assaults against officers, less claims to the city,” Ramsdell said.
The cameras are one of 31 items on a list of proposed changes the city released this week as part of a plan to improve relations between police and residents.
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The proposals came from feedback from five community meetings with 573 attendees last year and a survey as part of Project P.E.A.C.E. (Partnering for Equity and Community Engagement).
The community-relations effort started in August after protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and elsewhere across the country prompted by a series of white police officers killing black people.
From the feedback residents gave, the Tacoma Police Department built its list of goals and presented it Monday night to about 200 people at the Greater Tacoma Convention & Trade Center.
Mayor Marilyn Strickland said Tacoma’s police force is far ahead of other cities, but still has work to do.
“Here’s the plan,” she told the crowd. “Are we serious about implementing it?”
Some of the goals are specific, such the body cameras; many are broad, such as to continue building a diverse police force and expanding community policing efforts.
One part of the plan is to make police policies available to the public by the end of the year and post online information about reported crime, complaint statistics, use of force and response times.
Another is to have eight hours of crisis-intervention training for officers by the end of 2017, to help them better respond to individuals struggling with mental illness.
“The action items put the city of Tacoma Police Department way ahead of other police departments, and this is about the best we’ve gotten from the police department and the city in decades,” said the Rev. Gregory Christopher, a member of the Tacoma Ministerial Alliance, a religious coalition that advocates for the black community. “I am pleased.”
Christopher has been critical of the Police Department’s transparency — including being part of a lawsuit against the department over its use of the Stingray surveillance device —but said said the Project P.E.A.C.E. goals are a good way for the department to start being more open.
Still, waiting two to three years for police to start using body cameras doesn’t makes sense, he said.
“I don’t totally agree with that,” he said. “We need them, and I think we need them now.”
Ramsdell said part of the plan is to follow state legislation in the works that would address public disclosure and privacy concerns about footage taken by body cameras.
He said issues that need to be worked out include how to protect the privacy of people recorded, such as crime victims, and how to handle large public records requests for footage.
“You need to have really good and solid policy as we look at implementation of a program like this,” Ramsdell said. “It has to be very well thought through.”
Tacoma officers don’t now have even dash cameras in their patrol cars, which means the body camera program will have to be developed from the ground up, the chief said. That includes coming up with money to cover the substantial costs of processing and releasing the footage.
Many of the proposed changes are to continue or expand things the Police Department already does.
A big part of the project is residents learning about the department, and getting to know the people behind the badge, organizers said.
Asked their opinion of the Police Department before and after community meetings, many participants had a more positive take after spending time with officers at the events, according to survey results.
“I had the opportunity to meet a lot of the officers, and I am very impressed of the human quality that each one of them have,” said Sara Irish, who was trained to be a facilitator for the community meetings and helped with three of them.
As an immigrant from Mexico, she said one thing she thinks is missing is outreach to non-English-speaking communities.
Some thought the project was missing more than that.
“Instead of really cleaning the sore out, we just put a Band-Aid on it,” said Bishop Michael Doss, another member of the Ministerial Alliance.
He wants to see more black officers at Project P.E.A.C.E. events, and said he thinks more youths need to be involved.
Most people involved with the project seemed to agree that more kids need to be brought on board. Only eight of the almost 200 survey responses were from people between 15 and 21.
Laurel Helgeson, who attended Monday’s presentation, said she thought the city should seek more survey responses.
“They only did 197 in all of Tacoma?” said Helgeson, of Tacoma. “Broaden it.”
More Project P.E.A.C.E. conversations will happen probably in April, said organizer LaMont Green with the city’s Office of Equity and Human Rights. And some will likely happen in schools, he said.
Ramsdell said other youth outreach is in the works. Police and firefighters are talking about a cadet program for middle schoolers to learn about public safety jobs, he said.
River Jones, a 22-year-old who went to one of the community meetings and was at Monday’s presentation, said internships or Project P.E.A.C.E. training might be good ways to get more youths involved.
Jones expected more immediate specifics from the presentation, but said they will come.
“By this time next year there’ll be things taking place,” Jones said. “I see the passion. I see a lot of people who are committed, and they’re returning.”
The next step for Project P.E.A.C.E. is to have residents prioritize the items on the list of proposed changes.
Some attendees broke into smaller groups Monday to do that, and the city plans to send out another survey and get more responses about the goals residents want police to work on first.
“Let’s give the city and the Police Department the benefit of the doubt,” Christopher said about the project’s future. “Let’s roll with it until we see something different.”
Project P.E.A.C.E. goals
The 31 items on the list can be seen at XXXX. Among them are:
▪ Collaborate with high-risk and immigrant communities to identify and understand issues and concerns to determine ways to strengthen transparency, credibility, trust and relationships.
▪ Engage the community and police unions on the use of body cameras, specifically inquiring about what, if any, situations they would not want the cameras used.
▪ Develop an interactive presentation to educate and engage the community on the structure, goals and function of the Tacoma Police Department.
▪ Collaborate with the Citizen Police Advisory Committee and other stakeholders to develop a Community Trauma Response Team.
▪ Engage officers through communication and surveys to share concerns and issues.