The top priority of the Lakewood Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC) is to “develop a shopping cart ordinance.”
That was the consensus by the Lakewood City Council at its meeting this past March 17 (click here, then again on April 7 and scroll to p.008) in an effort to provide direction for the PSAC which has been struggling lately in that regard.
Shopping carts won out over “police recruitment assistance, homeless and mental health issues, abandoned homes and foreclosures before such homes are damaged and vandalized, and structure fires.”
Saving lives didn’t make the list.
Addressing the matter of abandoned shopping carts is as simple as the innovative ‘SCORE’ (Shopping Cart Observation Report Eyesores – my own terminology) program, one which does not require an ordinance, much less the matter making the top of the list for study, research, rumination and whatever else might be required by the City Council of the Public Safety Advisory Committee for the latter to draft an ordinance under whose purview it would hardly seem even to belong.
But shopping carts are priority number one of the PSAC’s new study to-do list.
A memo from Lakewood Police Department’s (LPD) Assist. Chief Michael Zaro to the City Council and cc’d Chief Bret Farrar dated March 10, 2014 as found on pp.053ff in the March 17, 2014 packet reads: “Discussion at a recent meeting of the PSAC indicated some members perceived a lack of direction for the committee. With that in mind, the purpose of this memo is to provide several topics for the Council to consider as areas of study.”
As directed by the City Council.
You might think a review of the LPD’s Use of Force Policy (UFP) would be a matter of study for a committee that concerns itself with public safety.
Shortly before midnight one year ago this coming June 18, twenty-eight-year-old Patrick O’Meara was shot dead by Lakewood Police in a felony theft arrest attempt at a residence in Tillicum. O’Meara was thought to have been holding a weapon which turned out later to be a cap pistol – a toy gun.
A June 24 update by Lt. Chris Lawler stated that “despite repeated attempts to order O’Meara to drop the weapon, he refused and forced officers to fire their weapons.”
A subsequent thee-month investigation exonerated Lakewood Police with a ruling of“justifiable homicide.”
Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said, “This appears to be another sad example of ‘suicide by cop.’”
Follow-up newspaper articles emanating from the LPD about the incident indicated no attempt by officers at the scene to withdraw to a position that was tactically more secure, a de-escalation step that might have offered the officers the vantage point of greater distance in order to consider or deploy a greater variety of options.
A 2012 investigation of police departments’ UFPs from across the county conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) – in which the ACLU petitioned the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) – resulted in the ACLU’s recommendation that such policies have a preamble or mission statement the purpose of which “is to communicate both to the community and to police officers that the preservation of human life is at all times a central tenet of the policy agency.”
That emphasis is not to be found in Lakewood’s UFP.
Secondly, the ACLU further recommended, in keeping with life-over-force preambles, that UFPs should emphasize de-escalation measures by which to bring situations safely under control for all concerned.
While “less lethal force” considerations merit mention in Lakewood’s 16-page UFP (1.3.4), the entire section is prefaced with the recognition that “officers are expected to make split-second decisions and that the amount of time available to evaluate and respond to changing circumstances may impact an officer’s decision.”
But the ACLU cautioned officers that “their conduct immediately connected to the use of force may be a factor which can influence the level of force necessary.”
Thirdly, the ACLU’s report stipulated UFPs should declare, emphasize, underline and otherwise make clear to officers “that the use of deadly force is an extreme measure to be employed only in the most limited and extraordinary of circumstances.”
Lakewood’s UFP does not have such a statement.
And it won’t.
None of the ACLU findings will find their way into LPD written protocol.
Under “unfinished business” (click here, then again on April 7 and scroll to p.066) at the PSAC meeting of December 4 of this last year, following discussion of Lakewood’s UFP by committee members who had each received a copy, Chairman Bryan Thomas “asked if there were any questions, comments or concerns regarding this issue. No one had anything to add. Alan Hart motioned that the committee go on record as supporting the LPD UFP as is. All ayes, motion approved.”
The details of whatever discussion took place were not reported.
Since, per the PSAC’s website, “the Committee uses citizen input to help provide guidance to the City Council in the development and monitoring of Public Safety policies,” saving lives – and specifically how the UFP policy in Lakewood might address saving lives – was evidently not provided as guidance to the City Council.
It didn’t make the list.
Shopping carts did.
An email from City Attorney Heidi Wachter dated October 21, 2013 promised a “proper consideration” – a review – of Lakewood’s UFP.
“We are obligated to employ a process that respects those on staff with the expertise to propose policy and those on our Boards, Commissions and Council who have been appointed and elected to authorize policy.”
Assuming that would include the PSAC, indeed Chairman Bryan Thomas stated at the Tillicum Woodbrook Neighborhood Association (TWNA) the night of this past December 5that Lakewood’s UFP was in fact undergoing further review.
But the decision to end the matter had evidently been made by the PSAC the night before.
Since the PSAC minutes of the December 4, 2013 meeting were not included in the City Council packet until just this past Friday, April 4, the ongoing review that apparently had already ended was brought up again at the March 6 meeting of the TWNA. Thomas again said indeed it was continuing apace.
But evidently not.
Even the Seattle Police Department recently underwent a “sweeping set of policy changes that describe when the use of force is appropriate,” replicating a near exact version of the ACLU’s recommendations.
Among the new requirements for Seattle police officers: “If circumstances allow, attempt to de-escalate tense situations to reduce the need for force. When using force is unavoidable, the policy cautions officers to use only the force necessary to make the arrest, and says that their conduct before force was used may be considered by the department in determining whether force was appropriate.”
But Lakewood’s UFP does not – and evidently now will not – include such emphasis as that or reasons to give due diligence to the matter as this:
“The findings of the Justice Department’s investigation (of Seattle’s UFP) echoed concerns that officers escalate to force too quickly.”
There may be some measure of integrity at stake here.
When Thomas and Simpson spoke at the TWNA candidate forum September 5, 2013 one of the questions they addressed concerned Lakewood’s UFP. Here’s how they answered:
Simpson said, “I think the LPD must be transparent with regard to its policies on the use of deadly force. Trust is vital in maintaining a healthy relationship between the citizens and their police officers.”
And Thomas: “I believe in complete transparency in City government and to me that does not mean just makings facts available for those who have the time to study the facts. It means that we in City government need to make sure citizens understand the facts and what we believe the long term implications are.”
Transparency. Trust. Study. Making sure we citizens understand.
When the highlights of the Lakewood Police Department’s year-end report are couched in such terms as those which follow, trust, transparency, and a no-stone-unturned approach to truth – given what has transpired with regard’s the promised inquiry into the LPD’s UFP matter – are suspect.
“Officer use of force (90 in 2013) represented an 18 percent drop from the prior year. There were no complaints of excessive force, and taser use fell almost 70 percent. Officers used force on a sliver of a percent – 0.15 – of its contacts, and 3 percent of physical arrests required use of force.”
Deadly, in one instance.
Meanwhile “police received 39 citizen letters of praise and 27 department awards.”
In the same April 7 packet to the Lakewood City Council another advisory board – the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board (PRAB) – was complimented by the Council for its “presentation and its thoroughness of research regarding smoking” in Lakewood’s 12 parks. However, the Council did not like the conclusion PRAB’s research had drawn and the Council “asked the PRAB to reconsider its recommendation to Council.”
Back to the drawing board.
The Lakewood City Council should do the same with the Public Safety Advisory Committee’s do-nothing – or at least undocumented – response with regards the Lakewood Police Department’s Use of Force Policy.
Without demonstrating due diligence, emphasis on demonstrating – especially in matters of life and death – trust and transparency i.e. integrity, which alone gives meaning to all of what we say we believe in as is reflected in a steadfast keeping of commitments, is as rusty and unsightly as an abandoned, weed-infested, crumpled shopping cart.