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Consultant hired to review Bainbridge police

CORRECTION FOR CLARIFICATION: A Seattle consultant was hired to review how the Bainbridge Island Police Department processes complaints of alleged officer misconduct.

The consultant will conduct a review of all policies, procedures, contracts and agreements related to the intake, classification, investigation and resolution of grievances stemming both within the department and complaints originating outside the BIPD.

“You need to look at the whole system at how complaints are handled whether, externally or internally, and how they are processed and dealt with,” said Councilor Bob Scales. “Police wield authority and power out in the field, and when things go wrong or incidents like shootings occur, the community has a lot of questions and concerns on how the department handles and addresses complaints.”

Consultant Sam Pailca, of Sam Pailca LLC, will review the policies and compile a report providing a list of strengths, weaknesses and recommendations to the city by the end of August. Both Interim City Manager Brenda Bauer and Police Chief Jon Fehlman said that Pailca will not be charged with evaluating individual instances or complaints.

Fehlman said he will not limit Pailca’s access to employees, including officers, but expects her to work most closely with the personnel who complete investigations – including himself, Cmdr. Sue Shultz and lieutenants. He said he expects Pailca to both demonstrate where the department has good systems in place and areas for improvement.

Pailca will identify areas for further review or revision and compare Bainbridge practices with best practices in internal investigation, discipline and accountability against other comparably sized departments.

Scales, who helped initiate the review, said it could act as a first step in an effort to better train and equip the department.

“Nationally, one of the biggest issues for most cities is police litigation and concerns revolving around high-profile incidents with the police,” said Scales.

The review was triggered last spring when the council was working on the governance manual and city restructure, and expressed an interest in examining police complaint procedures.

The review was then set aside as during the budget crisis.

Scales worked with Pailca in Seattle, where she served as a director overseeing internal investigations  for the Seattle Police in the office of accountability. Pailca currently works in the Microsoft compliance department, but consults for police departments that are overhauling or examining their complaint review process.

“Over the last 10 to 15 years there have been a lot of changes to police oversight and a lot of different models on how complaints are processed and how civilians can get involved in overview process,” said Scales.

Scales said he did not know of any other similar review conducted on the BIPD policies in the past.

Fehlman said he welcomes the opportunity as a chance to provide a better service to officers and the community.

“There is always room for improvement and I want to be responsive to our community,” said Fehlman. “I’m not getting a whole lot of complaints coming across my desk, but I hear some things from the past and my concern is that these issues can grow legs if they aren’t correctly addressed or dealt with and we don’t look and investigate.”

Fehlman said he is working on improving the police department perception in the community, and in doing so he has made himself available individually to community members to talk and discuss concerns.

“You live and die by community relations and perceptions in the community and that’s an area I always want us working and improving on.”

Councilor Debbi Lester said she more interested in a review that would go into more depth beyond complaint operations, but felt like this report would help target other areas the council may want to look into.

The consultant will be billed at $175 per hour for an estimate of 50 hours at a cost estimate not to exceed $5,250 unless otherwise approved by the city.

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