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Watchdog group on Bainbridge police releases survey results
An unscientific online survey shows widespread distrust with the Bainbridge Police Department.
Islanders for Collaborative Policing, headed by Kim Hendrickson, ran the survey to "take the community's temperature on policing issues."
"We've identified a significant trust gap," Hendrickson said. "Now we have something to base some action on. It's a pretty striking indication that something is wrong — which is the first step in taking action."
Hendrickson said that she doesn't want to "overstate the accuracy" of the survey, and noted that it wasn't scientific and was meant instead to gauge public perceptions of the police.
"I don't pretend to have the answers; that is not what I am setting myself up to do," Hendrickson said. "I want to have a conversation where these questions are batted around."
The survey will be one of the topics at the Islanders for Collaborative Policing meeting from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Friday, March 30 at the Bainbridge Public Library. Hedrickson said all are welcome.
"Cops are welcome, this is about relationships," Hendrickson said. "It's not about anti-police or criticism, it's about how we build a relationship."
The survey ran from March 15 through March 29 and covered various aspects of policing on the island.
Most of those surveyed didn't entirely have a negative impression of the Bainbridge Island Police Department; 47 percent said they did not have a positive impression, while roughly 30 percent had a neutral or mixed impression, and roughly 23 percent had a positive impression.
Respondents' trust of Bainbridge police was also split; 48 percent said they did not trust the department, while approximately 31 percent said they trusted the department, and the rest split their trust between the officers or the department's leadership.
Clear majorities emerged on other questions in the survey; 55.7 percent said they were worried about how officers use their time, and 55 percent said Bainbridge Island has too many officers.
Even so, 50.6 percent said Bainbridge Island should keep its own police department and not contract out police services to another entity such as the Kitsap County Sheriff's Office. A total of 30.3 percent supported the idea; 19.1 percent had no opinion.
Also, 52.4 percent said the department had "gotten worse" in recent years, while nearly 33 percent were not aware of any significant change, and about 8 percent had no opinion. Almost 7 percent said the department "has gotten better" in recent years.
When asked to pick the island's "most significant" policing problem, 24.8 percent said "problems with department leadership/management or trust issues," and 24 percent said the attitude of officers or the skill/training/background of officers.
In a separate question that asked about the "most pressing crime problem," 24 percent said property theft. Another 18.8 percent said underage drinking/drug use, and 14.5 percent said drug trafficking and use. Approximately 21 percent did not have an opinion.
People who took the survey could also comment on what they thought were policing problems.
Many complained that officers were too tough on young people, sent too many police out on some 911 calls, were too focused on issuing citations, or were not adequately enforcing traffic laws. Others wrote there were too many officers on Bainbridge Island.
"They are obsessed with busting kids," one respondent wrote. "Alcohol and drug use will not go away, and handing out MIPs [minor in possession] isn't going to fix anything."
"They called every squad car (with weapons including shotguns and M16 or similar rifles) to detain a bunch of kids playing with Airsoft guns," another wrote. "Literally every single car was dispatched. Seriously. Airsoft."
Some commenters raised political issues, and said the city council was the most significant problem.
Another put the problem this way: "Gangster government where police are used as enforcers for political purposes of city employers, elected officials and their friends."
Many others said the problem wasn't with the police, however, but with who they serve.
One of those surveyed complained about "politically motivated and pretentious BI citizen involvement."
"Citizens will not admit when they are wrong and will blame the police for stopping them," another wrote.
"A small group of BI citizens seem biased against the police and [are] determined to malign and discredit the police," wrote one respondent. "While nothing and no one is perfect, they are a far better force than others I have encountered in other cities."
Some said there had been exaggerated negative publicity in the media on police issues, and a few cases had been blown out of proportion.
Officers were being harassed by a small group of islanders, "who insist they know how to run the police force better than the professionals."
"Get a grip. Look at Syria, Egypt, Libya, Mynmar, Russia, Uganda, Nigeria, Sudan, South Africa, Mexico, Columbia. We have no problem," added another.
"Too many people on the island that want law and order as long as the rules do not apply to them," wrote one person.
Some also noted the fatal shooting of Douglas Ostling in October 2010 by a Bainbridge officer, currently the subject of a civil lawsuit in federal court. Some of the respondents to the survey questioned the training of officers and "a rush to use excessive deadly force."
A total of 646 respondents took the survey, though not every person answered each question.
It's not known how many actually live on Bainbridge Island; respondents were asked to self-identify if they lived on Bainbridge.
Roughly 97 percent, 622 people, self-identified themselves as either a full- or part-time residents.