By Stefanie Donahue
Not all of the Blaine Police Department’s policies and practices are up to snuff with industry standards, according to a recent report.
Produced through the Loaned Executive Management Assistance Program (LEMAP), the report is boiled down into 18 chapters and features more than 100 administrative and operational recommendations for the Blaine Police Department to consider. It was released on March 28 by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC), which provides management consulting and other technical assistance to law enforcement agencies in Washington.
“The goal of this LEMAP review is to provide the Blaine Police Department and city officials with a critical look at the organization through the eyes of peer professionals,” reads the report. “The resulting report should serve as a guide to identify areas in need of strengthening and highlight positive and innovative programs and practices.”
The LEMAP report was conducted by chief David Doll, lieutenant Don Almer and sergeant Jay Hart of the Bellingham Police Department; chief John Dyer, and administrative manager Julie Ubert of the Lake Stevens Police Department; Kelly Donnelly, a police records specialist; and Michael Painter, WASPC director of professional services and LEMAP lead.
On February 20 and 21, the LEMAP team visited the police department to interview staff and gather information. In preparation, they reviewed documentation given them by interim police chief Michael Knapp. A former chief of police in Medina and Ferndale, and a member of WASPC, Knapp has had prior experience with LEMAP.
“It provides the guide post for change,” Knapp said of the report. “It gives you some direction to prioritize your efforts and I’ve done this in every department I’ve been in.”
Knapp was hired to serve as interim police chief last November, a day after long-time chief of police Mike Haslip retired. City manager Dave Wilbrecht asked Knapp to review the policies and practices of the department. The LEMAP report cost the city $4,670, according to finance director Jeffrey Lazenby.
Wilbrecht said he has wanted to contract a third-party assessment of the police department for some time, but cost estimates from consultants have always come in too high. He was pleased to hear about LEMAP, which can only be requested by a police chief.
“This is an invitation process,” Wilbrecht said. Considering that police deal with high-risk activity, “the city is interested in best practices,” he said.
While the LEMAP report had a lot to say about the Blaine Police Department, it emphasized that updated organizational policies, comprehensive training for personnel and supervision of all policies and training are first priority.
The report pointed out that most of the police department’s policy manual was written in 2002 and 2003 and has received only minor updates. Because the manual is “outdated” and “largely ignored” by employees, a “significant and dangerous organizational void for agency operations and administration” has been created.
At the time assessment was conducted, the police department did not have policies to ensure compliance with the constitutional requirements of several “in-custody situations.” The report states that the department lacked written policies for conducting interviews and interrogations, access to counsel, search and seizure actions, strip and/or body cavity searches and the arrest or detention of foreign nationals, among others. As well, there was no mission statement for the force.
The manual did contain several sections about daily operations and the chain of command. The police department is also working to install a system called the Lexipol Knowledge Management System, which provides law enforcement agencies with standard policies written by legal and public safety professionals.
Staffing is also a big challenge for the police department which, at the time of the assessment, was comprised of 12 officers (including the police chief) as well as two full-time and one part-time employee in the records section. Lisa Moeller, who previously worked as the records supervisor for the police department, resigned in late February.
Knapp estimates that the department, at minimum, requires 15 police officers – 12 that are assigned to patrol as well as one lieutenant, one full-time detective and the chief. “Most small agencies struggle with staffing and Knapp is in the process of developing a strategic plan that will allow for two officers working 24/7,” according to the report.
Knapp and Wilbrecht said hiring additional staff will take time, and more importantly, money.
“The city council and the citizens are going to have to come to terms with that,” said Wilbrecht, who retires in June. “I think it’s going to be a big challenge … city council is going to have to make some difficult decisions.”
Knapp has already created a temporary lieutenant position and has promoted two sergeants and would like to appoint a third sergeant.
How the records section staff retain and destroy police records was also cited as a problem. According to the report, the department kept records dating back to 1980. Staff told LEMAP assessors that records were never destroyed. As well, older police records were stored separately from newer police records.
In Washington, records can be destroyed or transferred after a retention period, which varies depending on the document; while agencies can hold onto records, it is considered best practice to destroy them once the retention period has elapsed.
If the department received a public records request for older records, it only provided “limited electronic data” and told the requestor there was no additional data. “This response is likely false,” read the report. “The public records act mandates that agencies provide all available data, upon request, and failure to do so leaves the agency at high risk of a claim.”
Knapp said the police department hired a temporary contractor to archive records after the report was released.
LEMAP assessors called the department’s training “disorganized” and “somewhat neglected,” while noting that “training curricular for small agencies is particularly challenging, but a complete review of future training needs and execution of meaningful training must be an agency priority.”
Officers take part in weekly training sessions about a variety of topics, such as firearms, defensive tactics and operational tactics. They reported that they appreciate the ‘hands-on’ training, but said it was limited. Very few officers could expound on topics like Amber Alert, de-escalation tactics or laws related to issues such as use of force.
The report also referred to “reported tension” between Haslip and Wilbrecht.
Wilbrecht said, “[Haslip] asked for a lot of things that were needed to do the job [including additional police personnel]. The city is a very modest city, financially. There’s a lot of things we’re not doing in every department. It just gets discouraging,” he added.
The Northern Light provided Haslip with a copy of the report, but did not receive comment before presstime.
“Eighty-five percent of this document relates to housekeeping rules,” Knapp said. “The areas that we must concentrate on are those that relate to the core principle of this department – to provide public safety.”
The report’s critical nature is typical, he said, pointing out “that collective wisdom is better than my single view.”
Wilbrecht said the report will be helpful in hiring a new police chief. The city recently selected Prothman Company for recruitment services; Knapp recommended it after working with the firm to recruit the Ferndale Police Department’s new police chief.
“For me, I was really looking forward to the report so we have a really clear path forward for the new police chief,” Wilbrecht said. “[The new chief is] going to have to be motivated.” He added, “the city is in a difficult financial position. I’ve been talking about that for five years.”
Wilbrecht said the city will soon receive a list of applicants for the chief position and will begin scheduling interviews. Knapp will remain in the interim position for the time being, he said. “I’m flexible. Exactly when I’m going to leave, I don’t know for sure.”
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