A look at some of the reforms Bellevue Police Department has adopted. Courtesy of BPD.

Bellevue Police Department talks police reform and body worn cameras with community

The department will continue community discussions regarding police reforms and the use of BWC’s.

On Jan. 12, the Bellevue Police Department hosted a virtual presentation and Q&A session with those who live and work in the city to discuss police reform updates and body worn cameras. Following the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020, the department began reviewing policies.

By September of 2020 the Office of Independent Review Group (OIR) was hired as a third-party consultant. After reviewing BPD’s use of force policies, OIR released a report in April of 2021 that cited 47 recommendations. Currently, BPD has adopted 32 of the 47 cited recommendations.

At the Jan. 12 meeting the department mentioned how officers are required to use de-escalation techniques prior to the use of force.

“De-escalation comes in many different forms,” said Major Andrew Popochock of BPD. “It could be stepping back from the situation and provide distance from you and the subject…it’s very dependent upon the situation that you’re at.”

Any use of force—which is anything beyond an extremely minor altercation—that occurs must be reported directly to the officer’s supervisor.

“I can tell you the Bellevue Police Department has a good culture in place to prevent that [not reporting use of force],” said Interim Police Chief Wendell Shirley. “Are we perfect? Absolutely not, but we certainly don’t have a culture of people being afraid to report someone for misconduct.”

When responding to calls, the department’s goal is to obtain a positive outcome for all. According to Popochock, BPD officers have been trained in de-escalation techniques for years.

Sgt. Joe Engman chimed in and mentioned how officers initially receive de-escalation training at the police academy. Officers also have in service de-escalation training which consists of role playing in different scenarios.

Public Information Officer of BPD, Meeghan Black, conducted a virtual poll to understand the community’s stance regarding officers wearing body worn cameras (BWC). Out of the 61 attendees, seventy-two percent strongly support the use of BWC’s, twenty-two percent moderately support, and 3% strongly oppose.

“Agencies across the country that have not engaged with the community in the process and have gotten feedback—there have been problems down the road,” said Shirley. “So, we’re trying to do it the right way.”

The department plans to incorporate the use of BWC’s for the purpose of providing a third point of view.

“Once we get to officers wearing body worn cameras, our hope is that all officers in uniform will be equipped with body worn cameras wherever they’ll be patrolling,” said Shirley. “The goal is to try and have body worn cameras by the end of this year. This is the goal, and the city has been aggressively researching it.”

In addition to collecting BWC footage in the future, officers plan to continue to collect other video evidence, if available, from other private individuals.

“Just because an officer has a body camera does not minimize the requirement to talk to witnesses,” said Popochock.

For video footage, the chief mentioned that there needs to be some form of internal auditing to ensure the equipment is being used as intended.

One meeting attendee asked what challenges the department faces in 2022. The Chief responded with recruitment of a diverse workforce, particularly since law enforcement has recently not been painted in a glamorous light. Shirley also mentioned how the department does not hire every officer that applies for a BPD position.

“In this climate it is absolutely vital that we hire the right type of officer, and we make that very clear,” said Shirley. “Here is the expectation and you’re not going to go out there and make assumptions about people.”

BPD will continue to host virtual progress reports regarding the OIR recommendations and the use of BWC’s. For more information and to get involved visit https://www.engagingbellevue.com/

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