Poulsbo’s Police Advisory Board was established in December 1991 and was, for 23 years, an avenue of communication between the police department and the public. One of the members of the last board before it disbanded was a former mayor.
The board’s purpose was to keep the department apprised of public safety concerns in Poulsbo’s neighborhoods, and to serve as a conduit for information from the department to the public.
“[P]eople in our neighborhoods would know that we were a liaison between the public and the police chief,” another board member, Jennifer Wiegand, said. “… I had a number of people come to me for that.”
At the request of then-Police Chief Alan Townsend, the City Council dissolved the advisory board in January 2015. At the time, he said he preferred to engage with residents using modern methods of communicating, such as email and social media.
The Police Advisory Board should be reestablished.
Townsend’s ensuing tenure was, to our knowledge, one of the most controversial in the department’s history. In order: A deputy chief was accused of making sexually inappropriate remarks to two officers who were involved in a relationship (they would later marry) … The same deputy chief resigned while under investigation for allegedly making threats against his estranged wife … Townsend was caught in his darkened office after midnight with a subordinate female officer; a photo later emerged that showed them kissing … The same officer let an intoxicated motorist – he was a Kitsap County sheriff’s sergeant — remain in the driver’s seat of his vehicle, parked at the Poulsbo Regal Cinemas, after he told her he wouldn’t drive. Officers later found him in his car in the driveway of his home.
We’re not saying these issues would not have occurred had the Police Advisory Board been in service. But the board would have provided an additional layer of accountability. The police chief doesn’t always attend City Council meetings. But if the chief knows he’s got a noon meeting on Monday with an advisory board comprised of residents and former city officials, he might think twice about tweeting photos of K-9 officer Kilo dressed up as a judge and seated at Judge Jeffrey Tolman’s Municipal Court bench, or being alone at night in a darkened office with a subordinate officer, or leaving an intoxicated driver in the driver’s seat of a vehicle.
We are proud of our police officers, and Chief Dan Schoonmaker, has done a fine job restoring calm and order to the department. A police advisory board could help him in restoring public confidence in his department and building engagement with residents.
At the time the advisory board was disbanded, Townsend and Mayor Becky Erickson noted that several board positions were vacant and that meetings seemed to lack focus. That was not the fault of the board, but of the chief and mayor.
Reestablish the police advisory board. Set an appropriate meeting time, once a month. Include a former City Council member on the board as chairperson. Have an agenda for the meeting. Give the board real responsibilities that would help the department. Townsend told of having neighborhood meetings; the advisory board could be responsible for setting those up. The department needs more reserve officers and volunteers; the board could help with recruitment.
Social media is a great way to communicate with a large audience. But it can’t beat the relationships of trust and accountability that develop from face-to-face dialogue.