Councilwoman Hytopoulos presses council to hire consultant on police review

The time is right for an outside and intensive look at the Bainbridge Island Police Department, City Councilwoman Kirsten Hytopoulos told her fellow council members this week.

Controversies involving the police force have flared again in recent months. Hytopoulos said she was initially hesitant to bring police issues forward, because the council is busy with other time-consuming efforts, such as finding a new city manager.

No more.

"It's not worth it for the community to wait," Hytopoulos said. "It needs to be done."

Hytopoulos and Councilman Bob Scales asked their colleagues on the council to consider hiring a consultant during Wednesday's council meeting.

"Who we are bringing forward is one particular person who we have identified as amazing," Hytopoulos said.

The candidate: Michael Berkow.

Berkow, a principal with the Massachusetts-based Strategic Policy Partnership, has worked as a consultant for a wide range of municipalities from Marblehead, Mass. to the police department in India.

"His skill set is far beyond what we would need to look at our police department," Hytopoulos said. "I'm incredibly impressed with this person."

Hytopoulos asked for support to bring Berkow to Bainbridge to do a full analysis of the police department.

She further noted that Police Chief Jon Fehlman agrees with the suggestion to hire Berkow.

Berkow's career in law enforcement spans appointments as the chief of police in Coachella and South Pasadena, Calif. and Savannah, Ga. He was also deputy police chief for the Los Angeles Police Department.

Berkow has authored various studies on municipalities and their police departments where he has assessed problems and probed the culture of other law enforcement agencies.

Scales cited Berkow's previous consulting work for the city of Marblehead, Mass. — a community he said is very similar to Bainbridge.

Everyone on the council wasn't as enthusiastic about Berkow, however.

Councilman David Ward said he supported the initiative to address the police department, but favored the option of asking for proposals from a pool of consultants. A consultant would then be plucked from the pack.

Mayor Debbi Lester agreed.

Hytopoulos stayed firm with her choice, though.

"If you look at these reports, they are very frank," Hytopoulos said.

"There are consultants who will give you what you want, but he is going to give the analysis that we need," she said.

Hytopoulos said that the council needs to take action sooner rather than later, and waiting for pitches from consultants would stretch out the effort.

"It's not worth it for the community to wait. It needs to be done," she said.

"Obviously we can go through an RFP [request for proposal] route if there is no sense of urgency," Scales added.

"I feel a sense of urgency," he said. "We have been talking about this before the new council members came on. We made some first steps but we did not go far enough."

"I would like to move forward with Mr. Berkow and at least bring him in and see what he can do for us," Scales added.

The council settled on allowing Hytopoulos and Scales to gather information on the costs and the scope of work for Berkow.

The council will have the later option of voting to hire Berkow, or some other consultant.

Last year, the council formed an ad hoc committee consisting of Scales, Hytopoulos and former councilwoman Kim Bracket. The committee had hoped to assess and find ways to mend the ongoing rift between police and some in the community.

Part of their efforts included bringing in consultant Sam Pailca to assess the city's police department and how police handled public complaints.

It was only the first step for the committee. They had also hoped to conduct a professional and scientific phone survey to gauge public perception of the police department, but the effort was never launched.

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