Bainbridge council to look at hiring another consultant to review embattled police department

The city of Bainbridge Island may take a more intensive look inside its troubled police department.

At its meeting this week, the city council will consider hiring an expert consultant to conduct a top-to-bottom review of the police department to find areas of improvement and then come up with a development plan for needed changes.

Pendleton Consulting, a Kingston-based firm headed by Michael R. Pendleton, has submitted a proposal for the assessment. Pendleton, a former police officer and University of Washington professor, has worked as a consultant on police issues for the cities of Kenmore, Sumner, Lacy, Olympia and Kent. According to the biography that is included in his assessment proposal, he is also on retainer to the city of Seattle as a consultant on police accountability.

The suggestion for an intensive review of the police department has been an enduring idea within Bainbridge city hall over the past year, spurred in part by the fatal police shooting of a mentally ill Bainbridge man in October 2010 that prompted a federal civil rights court case and a $1 million judgement against the city in June.

The Bainbridge Island Police Department has been caught in a swirl of controversy ever since.

Jon Fehlman, then the city's police chief, went on medical leave during the trial and was hit by a vote of "no confidence" by the city's police union while he was on leave. Union officials blamed Fehlman for poor morale in the department, and accused him of numerous violations of state law and department policies.

An outside investigation was launched and found the union's claims of wrongdoing largely unfounded. The Kitsap County Prosecutor's Office also investigated, and found Fehlman committed no crimes.

Fehlman, however, resigned in September.

City officials had also sought an outside investigator to review union complaints against Fehlman's second-in-command, Sue Shultz, after members of the Bainbridge police guild accused Shultz of gender discrimination against two female officers in the department.

Though the investigation did not find clear evidence of gender discrimination by Shultz, she tendered her resignation after the investigation report was released.

Shultz's position of commander has not been yet filled by the city, and Larry Dickerson continues to lead the department as interim public safety director, a position created during Fehlman's absence last year.

Apart from the recent high-profile departures in the police department, some members of the city council began to call again for a comprehensive review of the police department.

In November, the council agreed to ask the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs to perform a study that would look at the strengths, weaknesses and areas for improvement within the department.

Even so, that approach has not been viewed as adequate by some on the council.

The issue arose again during the council's retreat earlier this month.

"We have long-lasting problems in the department," Councilman Bob Scales said at the council's Jan. 6 retreat.

"This is deeply rooted. The (Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs) study is not there to identify these problems and bring them to the surface so they can be dealt with," he said.

Scales said he wanted a different consultant to tackle the department's problems.

"What we clearly need with the police department is someone who can do a deep dive into the policies, and procedures and functioning of the department," Scales said. "That is not going to come from the (Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs) analysis."

Scales suggested conducting a "deep dive" before a new chief is hired. Councilwoman Kirsten Hytopoulos agreed.

"There is obviously turmoil in the department," Hytopoulos said. "I don't feel we have had a management issue. These issues predate the management that was there."

The assessment suggested by Pendleton Consulting is estimated to cost between $9,770 and $10,495 for the first phase.

According to Pendleton's proposal, it would include interviews of 45 people; 25 police department employees and another 25 participants picked by the city manager.

The consultant would then present his report and meet with the head of the police department and the city manager for an implementation planning meeting.

City Manager Doug Schulze is asking the council for authorization to spend up to $12,000 on the effort.

If the council approves, Pendleton would begin its review with the hope to complete the assessment and plan before a new police chief starts work with the city.

Review writer Richard D. Oxley contributed to this report.



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