BI police reputation better than elsewhere

Police have been subjected to criticism nationwide the past few years, but locally only 10 complaints were filed last year.

Bainbridge Island police chief Joe Clark told the City Council last week that each month 20 surveys also are sent out to residents who deal with police. The response rate is 36 percent, and they come back favorable by a large majority.

As for use of force, Clark said that happened eight times, which amounts to just 1/10th of 1 percent of their cases. He added that intoxication is the reason behind police using physical force.

“Most arrests do not result in use of force,” he said, even though that’s the only stuff shown on social media. BI police have body cameras that are turned on every time there is an interaction with the public. “No camera stays on in any kind of scuffle,” though, he said.

Asked if police always carry a weapon, Clark said they have to. If they need it, they don’t have time to go back to the vehicle and get it. “It’d be too late. The safest place for it is on their hip.”

Councilmember Brenda Fantroy-Johnson asked if statistics could be broken down more by race in the future to check for bias. Clark said they use state forms that do not have that information. He said he’d like to see that information put on driver’s licenses because it can be awkward for police to ask that question when giving out citations.

Mayor Joe Deets wondered about police follow-up with sexual assault allegations made at the high school level. Clark said that was a concern when he first started at BIPD, and he has worked to provide support for those victims. The department now has a Community Health navigator who works with domestic violence and sexual assault victims. Bainbridge Youth Services also helps “focus on those individuals and their needs.”

BIPD statistics show the navigator received 152 referrals for adults and 55 for youth last year. By far the most-often need was mental health with 87.

DV and behavioral health calls surprisingly dropped during the COVID-19 pandemic, Clark said, but the number of arrests actually went up.

With fewer people on the road during COVID those showed up in statistics: Collisions went down from 230 in 2018 to 156 last year and impaired driving dropped from 65 to 18.

Also due to COVID, police were asked to reduce contact with community, limiting stops to serious violations, Clark said. Therefore, traffic stops and citations have gone way down.

Even before COVID, Clark said the philosophy on BI has been education over enforcement. So, unless they are a repeat offender, most people get warnings with just 17 percent getting tickets. He said numbers from a few years ago probably were inflated because a few officers enjoyed doing traffic more than other parts of the job.

Calls to 9-1-1 were down 11 percent last year, but are returning to pre-COVID levels, he said.

Clark showed that crimes against people have dropped since 2012, but, “We have seen a spike in property crimes.” Car prowls, along with mail and package theft, are up. “It’s a trend throughout the county,” he said, adding that such crimes at trailheads are an issue statewide. Those occur in remote locations and “easily go unnoticed.” To combat the crime, BI has put up cameras at trailheads where smash-and-grab crimes are being committed.

Finally, like everywhere else, the BIPD has had issues staffing a full force of 24 officers. There are four openings now. Six left the force last year, with three changing careers, two moving closer to family and another having a better career opportunity on another force.

“It’s a competitive market out there,” he said of hiring police. “We’re moving quickly but carefully” because we want new officers to be a good fit here.