Police study finds poor leadership; police department soured by lack of accountability by police lieutenants

An outside consultant hired by Bainbridge Island to review its police department said the department is plagued by poor first-line supervision, poor communication and divided community support for the police department.

Michael Pendleton briefed city council members on his long-awaited report at their Wednesday meeting.

Pendleton also said there were long-standing unresolved allegations of police misconduct and retaliation, and said the problems in the department have been known for years, but city leaders have not solved the problems.

Pendleton said the city's new police chief should help guide changes in the department, partly by developing a leadership development strategy and creating and using a police accountability system. He also said a formal police commission made of citizens should be created that would review the internal affairs of the city's police department.

The existing police department should also be moved inside city hall or nearby.

Pendleton's report painted a blunt picture at times of the existing department. He recalled interviewing members of the department, and officers had told him of low supervision and accountability and "self-orientated back stabbers."

Officers also said there was poor leadership at the top, and there was low trust in the department.

First-line leadership — the lieutenants who also belong to the same union as the line officers — was one of the most pressing issues facing the department, Pendleton said in his report.

Officers told Pendleton the department's first-line leaders were made up of poor role models who were slackers, unprofessional and ignored assignments.

Officers also said they were afraid to speak up.

Pendleton recalled how one of the lieutenants sent a threatening email to officers not to participate in the study, but that move was stopped by the city manager.

"I think there's an issue here," he said.

"I'm sorry, it's uncomfortable, I understand that," Pendleton quickly added.

Pendleton also said he was told that Bainbridge Island was a community of entitlement that doesn't like authority and was "quick to lawyer up."

The assessment of the police department was also stark from city leaders who were interviewed.

According to Pendleton's report, city leaders said the lieutenants and the police union undermines the management of the department.

The lieutenants led the movement against the last chief, they said, and the lieutenants historically resist and don't follow through on ways to improve accountability.

There were also no consequences for bad behavior, they said.

The perception of the police department in the community was also poor. There was a lack of trust, but some community members who were interviewed said that "80 percent of the noise comes from 3 percent of the people."

Some community members also noted the history of the lieutenants undermining the city's last chief.

In his findings, Pendleton said there was a discernible disconnect between leaders and supervisors, and there were no consequences for poor behavior.

Pendleton said the department could be improved by implementing a police accountability system that included both an internal affairs component and performance evaluations.

A police commission should be formed, he said, that would have a formal role in the review of officers who had been the subject of internal affairs complaints and investigations.

A specific organization development plan was also needed.

"If you do these things your police department will be a better place," Pendleton said.

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