Focusing on law enforcement and racial bias, the city of Poulsbo hosted its second panel discussion on diversity.
The panelists included Poulsbo prosecutor Alexis Foster, Police Chief Ron Harding and Pastor Richmond Johnson of Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Bremerton.
Johnson was invited to participate both as a panelist and a facilitator. Johnson is one of the organizers and facilitators of Bremerton’s Police and Community Together (PACT ) forum, which allows police and the community to interact in a calm environment that establishes relationships, builds understanding and gains trust.
The discussion covered a range of topics, based on questions posed by Johnson, that were holdovers from the previous discussion in October.
Some of the questions addressed police reform and calls to defund police departments.
“I don’t believe in abolishing the police. I’m going to very blunt as to why I don’t. As a black woman, married to a black man with a black family, the concern I have that if we got rid of the police, we as a community would not be able to police ourselves, because we still operate as a community as a whole with racism in play,” Foster said.
Foster believes in police reform and giving the department the tools it needs to connect with the community, including making sure officers have experience outside where they grew up.
“Police reform has to be looked at as doing more than just talk, and that’s what’s happened in the past. It’s been a lot of talk and a lot of superficial things,” Foster said. “When we’re looking at police reform, we’re making sure that law enforcement has a broader knowledge, that officers who are ingrained in the community, aren’t just part of that community they grew up in,” Foster said.
Foster also offered ideas such as a National Police Recertification Policy to make sure officers are keeping up with training, including required anti-bias training. Another solution was a community advisory board made up of community members with backgrounds in law enforcement to bridge the gap with police.
Johnson asked how the Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) community and police can engage in a more communal way. Johnson noted that many in those communities have a mistrust of police due to past trauma and that even the smallest actions can create tension.
Harding said: “Our officers need the ability to get to know people in a context that is outside of a law enforcement need. We are challenged, and this is no secret to anyone, by our staffing levels. It’s very hard to dedicate resources to community programs when we struggle to just have enough staffing to handle calls.”
Foster added: “I also say that we have some officers that get out into the community on their own free time and like to keep it a secret. I think that’s for the best because it shows they really care about what they’re doing.”
Harding noted that the more officers they have the less negative interactions there will be because officers, who work 12- to 14-hour shifts, including keeping up with training, will be less fatigued.
The PPD is still predominately made up of white men. Johnson asked how it could be made more welcoming to officers of color.
Harding responded: “We have a definitive goal to recruit and hire officers of color and to build them into our community and truly the most powerful change than can happen is change from the inside.”