August 25, 2020 Dena Jensen
I am posting below Bellingham Police Department Chief Doll’s statement at the 8/24/20 Bellingham City Council meeting last night, which was regarding the September 2019 prank involving BPD officers taking advantage of a severely mentally ill community member to play a dangerous prank on fellow officers at a local restaurant. The incident was reported in the Bellingham Herald on August 15. I will put the link to the part of the meeting where the statement begins at about 00:52:30, https://youtu.be/7-r7GZCe5r0?t=3146
Chief Doll’s statement was difficult for me to stomach. So much department praise was used by him to distract from the reprehensible action of his employees. Only the introductory paragraph of Chief Doll’s statement below doesn’t contain good things he advertised about the department. There is a shocking lack of agency self-awareness here. There was no acknowledgement that the mindset that allowed numerous officers to all agree to and encourage an inhumane and dangerous prank, using multiple people as pawns in the game, would be influencing any other actions or remarks or treatment of community members by officers, either before or after the incident. I am going to send a letter to Chief Doll and the Council in the morning. Here is his statement:
“Good evening, Council, I am David Doll, your police chief. First and foremost, I apologize again, to each of you and our entire community for the misconduct of my personnel. It is conduct that occurred last year and recently reported by the local news media.
Your collective reactions of outrage, disappointment and just plain being sickened by what occurred were the same reactions I had when this incident was reported to me last September: outrage that such an incident would ever occur, considering our organizational values and culture of service to all of our community; disappointment that members of my department would take what is otherwise a kind and generous gesture of transportation, money, and food, a gesture frequently offered by your police officers to those who are disadvantaged – and publicly praised by members of our community – and turn that gesture into something else is so upsetting.
“Thankfully, our organizational culture did not allow for that event to remain unreported, as it quickly came to my attention the next morning. At that time, I immediately acted by ordering an internal affairs investigation to be completed. A thorough investigation occurred and sanctions were issued to those responsible. While the investigation was conducted by the police department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, it also included consultation with our City’s Human Resources Department, and legal department to ensure proper procedures were followed and the appropriate discipline issued.
“The community member who was at the center of this incident was also contacted and has been provided multitudes of services. Not only before, but after the incident had occurred. Several reports include providing individual courtesy transportation, at his request, to medical care, shelter, buying him food to eat and working with additional care providers for intensive treatment.
“Council, I frequently sit before you and tell you that you have the best police department in the world, with a culture of empathy, decency, and service. You have reported seeing officers in the act and have heard many stories, reinforcing those facts, from your constituents. Many of you, thankfully, shared these stories with me, and it is with great pride I pass those along to our officers.
“This incident is in no way representative of your police department. And I certainly hope that those are not hollow words, as I know full well that such an incident like this severely damages, and even destroys, not only your trust and faith, but the community’s, as well. I see this in social media posts, emails, phone messages, tonight’s comments and information from the community and from all of you.
“Council, this incident has damaged our reputation. Nothing like this incident last September has happened in our agency. It is simply not who we are and I want to talk briefly about the officers involved. They had no record of disciplinary action. They have no pattern of improper behavior and this is the only incident that tarnishes their record. Their personnel files all include internal commendations and community letters of praise for the work they’ve done in their 44 years of combined service. They’re excellent employees who had a lapse of judgement on that day of September 2019. They were sanctioned at the time, and they each continue working hard moving forward – harder, especially now that they are feeling and living through the public embarrassment during the past two weeks.
“Some have asked for their termination. And just as I believed at the conclusion of the investigation into this incident, I believe now, just cause for termination did not and does not exist. Just cause is a legal requirement I must meet in employment law. Progressive discipline is intended to correct behavior at the lowest level possible. Suspension was considered and mitigated due to expressed remorse and personal accountability. I believe the corrective action taken have served the intended purpose of correcting behavior demonstrated in this incident. The discipline process followed organizational policy, the guiding principle of just cause utilized by public employers, as well as input and review by Human Resources and legal departments. This ensured due process was met and discipline was issued in such a way as to sustain my administrative actions.
“Now to ensure that our culture does not tolerate such an event to ever occur again, we continually engage in relevant training, appropriate supervision, and empathetic outreach to all of our community, especially those who are in crisis due to drug addiction and behavioral health issues. We’ve received great constructive feedback on ways we can enhance our policies and I do look forward to exploring with you, Council, on how additional oversight can be implemented to heighten community trust and organizational transparency.
“I am deeply appreciative to the members of our community who have shared, not their disappointment and anger, but also their continued words of encouragement, support, and forgiveness. It is these conversations of acknowledgement about what was done wrong, the fact that this incident does not define this entire police department and the belief by our community that we are better than a single lapse in judgement that begins the process of moving forward and constantly improves our organization.
“Council Members, your police department is working each day, call by call, citizen contact by citizen contact, to build back any trust we have lost and I continue to lead in that effort. Council, thank you for letting me have this opportunity to explain our response to this event.”