August 16, 2020 Dena Jensen
Q: So guess who’s not at all afraid to commit to actions regarding the Bellingham Police Department? (And don’t get excited on this first one, because, in this case, it’s not good news).
A: Council Member Gene Knutson. He appeared, along with Bellingham Police Chief David Doll, on Kris Halterman’s Saturday Morning Live Radio program, yesterday, August 15, 2020, and was not tentative at all about speaking out on what would and wouldn’t happen – as he said at one point, under his watch – regarding law enforcement.
Last week, at the August 10, 2020 listening session for Race and Justice, Mayor Fleetwood held steadfast in his position not to commit to certain actions, in favor of focusing on process, including future listening sessions, a potential for dialoguing sessions and the formation of a task force.
A couple other City Council Members – in response to the investigative article in The Bellingham Herald published this week about four Bellingham Police officers, who, in September 2019 took advantage of a man with severe mental health issues to play a prank on fellow officers – came out with some actions they are saying they want to take that would impact the Bellingham Police Department and increase services and resources in the community. I will put links to Facebook posts that Council Member Hannah Stone and Council Member Dan Hammill made regarding their stated intents toward action that favor reallocating funding (from the police budget, at least in Council Member Stone’s case) toward alternative services.
Council Member Stone: https://www.facebook.com/CouncilmemberHannahStone/posts/346479199854782
Council Member Hammill: https://www.facebook.com/danielhammill/posts/10158507140367383
Below, I will share a transcription of two of the responses that Council Member Knutson offered to Kris Halterman on her August 15, radio show. Incidentally, there was no discussion at all during the show of The Bellingham Herald article about the 2019 prank of the four Bellingham Police officers and their victim.
The first response is related to Kris Halterman remarking on Seattle’s Police Chief Carmen Best’s resigning from the Seattle Police Department, which happened on August 11, 2020.
Council Member Knutson: “It is unconscionable to sit at a table and not allow the police chief who runs the department to come in and sit down and talk budget. That is deplorable and that will never happen, never happen under my watch, and I don’t think it would happen under anybody’s watch here in Bellingham, to sit down and talk about cutting someone’s budget and not even having them there. So, I don’t fear that’s going to happen here. I think we have seven level-headed people that are going to take a look at that. But our biggest asset is Chief Doll. He’s always been there. You know, he’s been there so long, that – I’ve been there 27 years. He’s been there all, you know 37 – you know, it’s amazing the relationship we’ve built up.
“But you know, I’m only one person. I can’t speak for the whole council, but I will never support absolutely de-mantaling [sic] our police department. We have to make it, if anything, we probably have to keep adding officers to keep up with our population. Because I can tell ya, there’s a story out there, and when I mention the Cahoots program, but we’re just going to take a look at it. We don’t know that much about it. But I’ve talked to a few officers about it. And they’ll just come out and say it’s like the Fram oil filter commercial: call me now or call me later. Because there will be times when somebody goes out there and it’s an uncontrollable situation. You’re going to have to call the police. We need our police department. We need law enforcement. And I’m proud of how we have supported ours so far, and hopefully we continue to do that.”
This next response is regard to a question Ms. Halterman asked regarding the Seattle City Council stating that, “Seattle Police Department perpetuates racism and violence and upholds white supremacy culture. The Seattle City Council has moved to redirect cash to a non-profit Civilian Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention.” She continued to outline various features of Seattle City Council’s decisions regarding programs they would be establishing and asked “Council Member Knutson, is that something that they’re asking you, our City Council to look at, as well, when you’re being presented?“
Council Member Knutson: “No, no, what we’re getting, Kris, is, we’re getting calls for no budget increases at all; totally defunding; abolish; and a 50% cut. And I know, that’s just not going to happen here. You know I have faith in our Council. Our Council has a very good relationship with Chief Doll and the police department.
“During the racial tension that’s happened after George Floyd was murdered, we had a lot of things happen here in our community. We had the rally. We had defacing City Hall, defacing the police station. So, when people call me – and I talk to everybody that calls me – when they say 50% cut, no I’m not going to support that. Abolish the police, that’s not even relevant. Defunding, and no budget increases at all – we have nine bargaining units and every year we treat them all fairly. There are going to be budget increases. I would only caution, maybe the next two years are going to be very difficult on all of our departments, which there may be cuts because of the pandemic.
“So, we’re listening, but Bellingham has grown, and Kris, you’ve been around awhile. When I was a child 65 years ago, we had 12,000 people. We now have 97,000 people. We’ve been behind the police officers. We’ve been hiring two new police officers every year. So, we’re committed to public safety in this community. Every Council Member raised their right hand, and that’s part of our job. And we have to make sure we have a good police department, and that can take people’s calls, because I remember back when we had the big debate over the 911 ambulance service that was critical in a couple years, or three or four years ago. People were calling up and saying, hey when I call 911, I want somebody to come. And that’s the same with the police department. When you call 911, you want the police to show up.
“So, you know, we’re gonna listen, we’re gonna go through some of these things but I would be absolutely shocked if any one of those things, a 50% cut, or abolish, is not going to be on the agenda, and no budget increases at all. Because a lot of this just can’t happen to this community or county.”