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Jan. 20, 2021

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Vancouver council, police taken to task over shootings

Residents at Vancouver public forum call for empathy and body cameras

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
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Vancouver Police Chief James McElvain speaks during a Vancouver Neighborhood Alliance meeting March 13 at Fisher’s Landing Fire Station 9 in Vancouver.
Vancouver Police Chief James McElvain speaks during a Vancouver Neighborhood Alliance meeting March 13 at Fisher’s Landing Fire Station 9 in Vancouver. Alisha Jucevic/The Columbian Photo Gallery

The Vancouver City Council chambers were packed Monday evening with people looking to address a recent series of police shootings with charged, emotional testimony.

During a public forum that lasted more than two hours, attendees took the council and Vancouver Police Department to task for their response to four shootings over the course of five weeks, three of which were fatal.

Pam Hunter — whose brother, Carlos Hunter, was shot and killed in a traffic stop during which police said he was armed and uncooperative — took a deep, long breath before addressing the city council.

“We are seeking justice for Carlos Hunter. He was my brother, a father, a son, uncle, cousin, and known widely throughout the community as a protector. We understand that the local news and print media have released information about Carlos Hunter that did not capture the life and spirit and the friendships that Carlos had throughout his life. I came here today to let you know that our family wants only one thing — that’s justice for Carlos,” Pam Hunter said.

She asked that the Vancouver Police Department show “humanity and transparency” in the aftermath of her brother’s death.

“That’s something I believe our family deserves. We ask that there be an independent investigation into the third and most recent shooting death in Clark County, Washington. We ask that the recent dehumanization of our brother not be tolerated, that our local city council will do everything in their capacity to see that there is help and support in getting an outside investigation from a neutral body outside Southwest Washington, including Camas Police Department,” Pam Hunter told the city council.

Under the current policy, officer-involved shootings are investigated by the Regional Major Crimes Team. That group is made up of officers from the local municipalities in the county, as well as the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, Skamania County Sheriff’s Office and Washington State University Police Department.

Vancouver Police Chief James McElvain told The Columbian earlier this month that he’s confident the department’s policies are in line with best policing practices, despite the string of shootings.

Others at the public forum asked that Vancouver police start wearing body cameras. Currently, local police don’t have body cameras or mounted dashboard cameras on their vehicles.

Karen Morrison, founder of Odyssey World International Education Services, said what she described as a degradation of trust between the police and the community has become an emergency.

“The response, we have heard Police Chief McElvain to direct his officers to stay the course. But the course we are on is leading us to death. People are dying, children are dying at the hands of those who have promised to protect them. When the course you are on and the policies you have in place result in a family losing their child, and children losing their father, your humanity requires that you reset your course, and you take a new direction. When our communities are living in fear of police, and people are losing their lives, this is what a state of emergency looks like,” Morrison told the council.

“No. 1, when a death occurs, we need to know that we are not alone in our pain. We ask that our police and our city officials stand with us in acknowledging our pain and the grief and the fear our community feels. And we ask that our police acknowledge their participation in creating that pain, even in cases where use of deadly force is found to be justified. No. 2, we are asking for dashboard cameras and body cameras to be implemented. Our community needs accountability and transparency from our police.”

In the past, McElvain has said he’s open to the idea of body cameras, but expressed concern about the cost to the city and privacy concerns during certain kinds of calls.

The testimony during the forum echoed that at several similar public events over the last month. At a meeting of the Vancouver Neighborhood Alliance on March 13, McElvain faced tough questions and emotional outbursts from residents about his department’s policies and responsiveness in the aftermath of the shootings.

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