Wednesday, August 17, 2022
Aug. 17, 2022

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In Our View: Police reform done right takes time, diligence

The Columbian
Published:

A scroll through Columbian.com this week reveals the work that remains on police reform in Washington. While it is tempting to hope for quick and simple solutions, this important work will require time and diligence.

In one article, it was revealed that none of the four Vancouver Police Department officers involved in a fatal shooting on Sunday were wearing body cameras.

Police had been called for a reported disturbance at a mobile home park in the North Image neighborhood. Officers said a man confronted officers with a knife and was shot after he could not be subdued with a less-lethal device.

One of the first questions is whether police were wearing body cameras. The department equipped 10 officers and six patrol vehicles with body-worn and dash cams on Dec. 8, launching a 60-day trial period for the camera vendor.

On Monday, department officials said that on Dec. 29 they had ended the trial period and returned the equipment to the vendor while issuing a new request for proposals.

“We recognize that proposal and testing processes take time, but these are vitally important steps to help the city of Vancouver and the Vancouver Police Department identify and implement the right camera platform with the necessary features, functionalities and support to meet the needs and expectations of the department and community,” Police Chief James McElvain said in a statement. “Although we are eager to get a system in place as soon as possible, we need to ensure that we are making the right choice and not just the fast choice.”

The importance of that cannot be overstated. While we long have editorially called for the implementation of body cameras for local law enforcement, it is essential to find a product that best serves both the public and officers. To help ensure an effective process, city and police officials must be transparent regarding what functionalities and support they require in a camera system; the public that is footing the bill for the equipment and for the police department must be well-informed.

Meanwhile, the Legislature is considering bills to clarify law enforcement accountability laws passed last year. “There were several claims by law enforcement that the policies we enacted last year prohibited them from actions that they thought were in the best interest of public safety. In most cases, that was not true,” said state Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, a co-sponsor of the new legislation. “These two bills are intended to clarify the original intent of the bills, and that is to ensure peace officers can respond when there is reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed.”

Clarity in the laws is crucial. So is accountability for law enforcement, particularly regarding the use of lethal force.

The point of all this is that police reform is a rocky landscape that must navigate the needs of the public along with those of people who perform a difficult and dangerous job. Effective legislation and appropriate equipment will assist officers rather than encumber them. It also will help bolster the public’s faith in servants tasked with keeping our communities safe.

Poor legislation and equipment, however, can undermine that faith. For example, nonfunctioning body cameras or weak policies that allow officers to turn off cameras can create more questions than answers when a police shooting occurs.

For the good of the public and officers, getting it right is more important than getting it fast.

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