Agency glorification won’t generate community trust in law enforcement / Letter to BPD Chief David Doll and Bellingham City Council

Click the still frame of the Bellingham Herald video “Messages show how police used man with mental health issues in prank” to access the video on The Bellingham Herald website

August 27, 2020 Dena Jensen

Dear Chief Doll and Bellingham City Council:

I want to address the statement made by Bellingham Police Chief Doll at Bellingham City Council’s August 24, 2020 meeting. Chief Doll’s remarks were in regard to the four Bellingham Police officers who were involved in an incident where one of the officers responded to a 911 call during which a phone number was requested to a cab company from a man with a severe mental illness on Sept. 19, 2019. The incident developed into four BPD officers agreeing to one of them intercepting the victim who had called 911, and was not seeking BPD involvement or services, to use him to play a prank on some off-duty officers. 

I want to note first, that in an August 15, 2020, Bellingham Herald article regarding Bellingham City Council Member reactions to the incident after they found out about it that week, it had stated, “City Council President Gene Knutson told The Herald in an email the council will be discussing the issue with Police Chief David Doll at its next meeting, scheduled for Aug. 24.” 

This discussion never happened at the 8/24/20 City Council meeting, and it is disappointing that Council Members offered no questions or remarks in regard to what Chief Doll said that night. 

The thing that disturbs me most significantly about Chief Doll’s remarks that evening – which predominately focused on what he believes Bellingham Police department has done right, spending very few of his words on what was done wrong by the officers – was that there was no acknowledgement that the officers involved in the incident on 9/19/19, reflected attitudes and actions that surely would have impacted their interactions with individuals in the community they serve prior to that event, if not subsequently. 

I reread the August 13, 2020 Bellingham Herald investigative article about the incident after I heard Chief Doll’s statement Monday night. Here are some things reported in the article that reflect those attitudes and actions to which I am referring:

“At 3:01 a.m., on-duty Bellingham police officer Nicolas Sturlaugson, a then-four-year-employee of the department, put out a message to another officer via the mobile data terminal making fun of the victim’s last name and his tendency to use the phrase “Hell yeah,” the records show.”

“Sturlaugson said he watched for a few minutes and saw the off-duty officers laughing, smirking and acting like they couldn’t believe it was happening.”

“Johnson also told Monson, the internal affairs investigator, that the incident wasn’t meant to be vindictive, but ‘more mischievous’ and ‘thought it would be harmless.’ 

“At the time (Johnson) felt that (the victim) would behave himself, be grateful and eat his meal. He anticipated the worst thing that would come of it would be that (the victim) might overstay his welcome,’ Monson’s report states.”

“Whipple, who parked across the street from Shari’s to watch, told Monson that the victim is constantly looking for a ride and a cup of coffee, so at the time of the incident, she thought to herself ‘No harm, no foul … get a reaction and while at the same time give him something he is always looking for … didn’t seem like there would be anything negative to it.’”

I don’t believe that the type of insensitive, ridiculing, opportunistic attitudes and actions toward this community member, which are reflected in this material from public records, can only have emerged in response to one person, ever, in their career. This was an individual over whom these officers had a disproportionate level of power, and they followed through with a plan to put him is [sic] a position where they believed other officers would share their attitude of ridicule and lack of empathy toward the man. 

Instead, I believe this is one instance in which actions, born of the attitudes that the four on-duty officers had held and cultivated over a period of time, were boastingly revealed in their workplace at a moment where those unacceptable attitudes unavoidably came to the attention of supervisors, rising to a level of intensity where they could not be ignored.

Gaining and maintaining community trust in law enforcement won’t be achieved by members of those agencies constantly praising and glorifying themselves, and recounting how others praise and glorify them. Right now, Chief Doll, at the very least, must be realizing and demonstrating a deep concern and a high level of agency accountability. Despite his professed beliefs that those officers, and/or other officers, don’t still direct damaging attitudes and actions toward marginalized or disabled community members, he must be calling for all hands on deck to help provide amply-empowered oversight from the community to find out if his beliefs are true, and to help ensure that in the future, they will be. 

All the letters of commendation – that are never disappeared from officers’ files – must not be held up to Council Members and the community now.  Just discovering this event from last year, our community needs to be allowed to sit for a while with the implications of the findings of that investigation last September. We need to be allowed to read and re-read, undistracted, the temporary letters of reprimand, that are currently in the officers’ files only the next two years, after which these officers’ leaders could start to proclaim again that they have, “no record of disciplinary action,” as Chief Doll declared they had prior to the 9/19/19 incident. 

Lastly, the victim of the officers’ mocking and dangerous treatment must not be further demeaned by advertising that he has “been provided multitudes of services.” This is clearly a man who has been severely failed by this community, to date. The multitudes of services have not offered him dignity, healing, and well-being. In order to offer services that bring forth those results, we all need to be humble, transparent, self-reflective, and vigorously pursuing meaningful and effective changes in our own attitudes and actions. 

I look to see these qualities reflected in all leadership moving forward.


Dena Jensen

Birch Bay, WA

This email was sent to the following addresses:

To: David G. Doll <>; <>; Hannah E. Stone <>; Hollie A. Huthman <>; Michael W. Lilliquist <>; Daniel C. Hammill <>; Lisa A. Anderson <>; Gene R. Knutson <>; Pinky T. Vargas <>Cc: <>; <>; Satpal Sidhu <>; Sheriff <>