At their July 30 work/study session, city councilmembers heard the Mountlake Terrace Police Department’s report for the first six months of the year and also pressed forward on developing a Mountlake Terrace Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Commission.
Chief of Police Pete Caw informed the council that since the May killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which increased the national dialogue about police accountability and relations with communities of color, he and City Manager Scott Hugill have facilitated a number of coffee with the city meetings to gather local input and will continue to have those interactions. “We’ve had some robust discussions, some of those discussions have been admittedly uncomfortable, but most discussions that are worthwhile can sometimes be uncomfortable,” Caw said.
Councilmember Erin Murray said she appreciated those conversations with the community and would like to hear at a future meeting what main issues and takeaways were identified in the feedback, and also the department’s responses to those matters.
Caw said the department continues to track its enforcement actions and then compare those to city and larger community demographics. Caw noted that the agency continues to embrace, as part of its mission since 2016, the “Six Pillars” identified in President Obama’s 21st Century Policing Task Force.
With the expected influx of people to the city from projects such as light rail and the Town Center, Caw said that the police department would need to expand, “if not in numbers, at least in the quality of the services we can provide.” He also told councilmembers that the department was reaccredited earlier this year.
Police Commander Pat Lowe spoke to the department’s enforcement statistics, which he characterized during the first few months as being on par with previous years. followed by a decline since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Lowe said that assaults have consistently increased over the last few years and added he thought that the current numbers were up due to people staying at home more. He noted these were mostly misdemeanor rather than felony assaults and that the figures for burglaries, robberies and rapes, “are all very low.”
Both the department’s code enforcement and the investigations divisions have also been affected by the pandemic and social distancing guidelines. Lowe said that the department had handled more of these efforts by phone while it developed safety plans and protocols that it now has in place to handle those issues like they would normally do.
Speaking about the topic of racial bias in local law enforcement, Lowe noted based on infractions and arrest statistics, “there’s really no disparity on the amount of Blacks versus whites versus Asians that we write tickets to compared to actual demographics of the city,” Lowe said.
In addition, the department has received no complaints about bias-based policing, and MLTPD sergeants regularly review the department’s anti-bias policy with employees, he said.
In-person training, such as defensive tactics, firearms and police skills refreshers, have been greatly impacted by the coronavirus and the department has been working on developing online resources, which it hopes to have available within a few months.
Lowe said most officers have completed a One Breath online course that is designed to help them recognize breathing problems and counteract two myths:,that if a person is talking, they are breathing, and that one or two breaths shows the person is breathing. Lowe found the training to be “very eye-opening” and informative. Their crisis intervention training is also online, and all officers are required to take the course.
The police department is now one of the few in the state currently using BOLA Wraps, which are remote hand-held restraints that discharges an 8-foot tether to wrap a subject’s legs or arms at an effective range of 10-25 feet. Lowe said that they have not yet deployed one in the field but that he hears they are an effective way to stop suspects in a non-lethal manner.
Many on the council expressed their support for the police department and its practices. Councilmember Rick Ryan thanked the police for making the community feel safe, citing the results of a recent survey, and their “excellent service.” Councilmember Steve Woodard said Chief Caw “represents the best of the best,” and appreciated him not “mincing words” in calling the killing of George Floyd a murder.
The council reviewed its ordinance for the creation of a local diversity, equity and inclusion commission, whose mission will be to, “Promote and embrace diversity through action, education, and guidance,” while seeking “to foster an understanding that includes, accepts, respects and appreciates each individual member of our community.” It has been patterned off of a similar program in Edmonds.
After discussion, the council determined that it would like the commission to be comprised of nine members who would serve on the board for three-year terms. The length of the terms would be staggered in the initial round of applications to prevent a complete turnover all at once. While other city commissions usually have seven board members, to make obtaining a quorum easier, most councilmembers were in favor of having a larger coalition in order to provide the opportunity for a broader, more diverse commission.
City Manager Scott Hugill told the council that with their input, he would be able to have the ordinance on the agenda for the Monday night, Aug. 3, council meeting.
In other business, the council heard from Hugill a request to amend the agreement with ARC Architects, Inc. for almost $2,300 in additional funding as part of the Civic Campus redevelopment. The money would cover work a subcontractor did designing audiovisual equipment for the police station. The equipment includes a drop-down projector for a larger training room that is part of the project and additional wiring for more monitors in the future throughout the structure. The council will vote on the amendment Monday night.
Hugill also told councilmembers that he will invite Sound Transit to provide an update on the light rail project during the next council meeting.
City Clerk and Community Relations Director Virginia Olsen informed the council that the mailing of two face masks to each address throughout the city had taken place the day before and most residents received them on Thursday. She said that several households with larger families had already reached out to inquire about procuring additional masks, and that city staff would be able to deliver those. Olsen encouraged people to keep calling or emailing to let the city know the size of their household and address, so that those could be provided as long as they still had masks available for distribution. She also noted that by including the City Happenings newsletter in the masks that were mailed out, the city had saved approximately $1600 in separate postage.
— By Nathan Blackwell