By Mike De Felice
Port Orchard Independent
PORT ORCHARD – The widely watched murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the death of George Floyd seemed to drive plenty of questions during Port Orchard Police Chief Matt Brown’s first virtual “Chat with the Chief” last Thursday.
Viewers who tuned in asked about police body cameras, how officers deal with implicit bias while in uniform and how relations can be improved between the police and community.
The issue of officers wearing body cameras made up a significant portion of the question-and-answer period. The chief was asked his biggest concerns about officers wearing body cams:
“There are really not a whole lot of concerns for the officers. There is some concern about when they will be on or not,” Brown said. “When you are dealing with things, (turning on the camera) may not be the tip of where your brain is. I need to push this button before I save my life or I save this person’s life.
“There is a concern that if I don’t turn my camera on, and it wasn’t an intentional act or just wasn’t a priority at that moment, does that mean I’m going to get in trouble or I’m going to get fired because now there is not video of clearly a high-profile thing because I forgot.”
The police chief continued: “The flip side of that is some who are not in the police department have said just make sure your camera is always on. So, in a 10- or 11-hour shift I can’t talk to my wife, I can’t go to the bathroom, I can’t have a graveyard humor joke, which is something we use to reduce some tension.”
Brown also noted there are times officers lawfully enter an individual’s home and find no improper activity taking place, but the recording of the person’s home would trigger privacy concerns.
The chief did not voice support or opposition to police body cams but did have concern over the logistics of maintaining and storing recordings from all of his officers. He believed the department would need to hire a full-time person to manage records associated with the recordings.
Still, if body cams are mandated and funded, Brown said his department would incorporate their use.
The top cop also was asked what barriers exist to improving relations between the police and community.
“The first answer is we have to be present, especially in a smaller community,” Brown said. “We need to get out of our cars and walk around and talk to people. We have the ability to do that in a smaller community…That’s the first step.
“My job is to be involved with the community and to listen to what the community wants.”
Brown said community outreach is an integral part of his job. Listening to concerns goes a long way to strengthening the relationship between police and minorities, he said.
“You need to build relationships before there is a crisis. You can’t build trust in the middle of a crisis,” he said.
Brown said he regularly speaks to representatives of groups like the NAACP so that when an incident happens, a relationship already exists with segments of the community, making it easier to deal with situations.
The chief was asked how can law enforcement combat unconscious racial bias among officers.
The key to addressing implicit bias is to ensure those wearing a badge are aware that everyone, regardless of their job, carries biases, he said.
“If you are aware of it, you can look at your decisions and say, ‘OK, am I making this decision because it’s the right decision or because I am biased against someone with blond hair or I’m biased against somebody who is Asian.’ That’s where we need to be.”
He and his deputy chief review critical decisions made by officers in the field.
“We look to see why this person was given a warning and this one was given a ticket and why forced was used here when it wasn’t in a similar circumstance.”
The goal is to get to the point where officers examine their own actions and ask themselves why they took the action they took, Brown said.
Brown opened the April 12 town hall listing accomplishments he believes his department has made in the 20 months since he stepped into the position as police chief.
The department put together its first five-year Strategic Plan that sets out goals for the department to work toward, he said.
An advisory board was formed to provide the force with community input. The board is made up of nine people representing different segments of the community.
There is a member from the NAACP, from one of the local churches, from POBSA (the Port Orchard Bay Street Association) and the superintendent of South Kitsap School District.
“It’s a fantastic group so we can have hard conversations,” Brown said. “One of the things that is difficult to talk about is race, and we talk about race and policing.
“I’ll be honest. Those are hard conversations, and we are willing to politely confront each other and even have disagreements. It’s been tremendously successful.”
The chief said a community health navigator, dedicated to the south end of Kitsap County, was hired in February. Melissa Stern connects individuals with behavior health and dependency issues to needed services, he said.
“She has had some tremendous success in getting people into treatment and to the behavioral health professionals they need.”
Other developments within the police department were the addition last summer of another sergeant position and a revision of the department’s manual, making it digital so officers can readily access it on their cellphones, Brown said.
The one-hour session was delivered as a webinar and also live-streamed on Facebook. A recording of the program is on the POPD website.
The chief said he wants to have similar town halls in the future.
“I can’t sit here and say we want to be collaborative and want to hear from you and never talk to you. That doesn’t make any sense.
“We hope to have (similar sessions) on a regular basis, hopefully quarterly.”