As your police chief, I wanted to thank everyone who has expressed their support, concerns, and willingness to engage in open dialog in light of recent events locally and around the country. The homicide of George Floyd in Minneapolis was outright shocking, and people, as well as officers are and were rightfully outraged. Law enforcement has universally condemned the appalling actions of the officer and the inaction taken by his fellow officers. What happened on May 25, 2020, in Minneapolis is contrary to the training, values and oath of every officer entrusted to wear a badge.
Since that touchstone event and the call to action that followed, many have contacted me with questions or concerns about our use of force policies, training, and what we do to prevent such an unacceptable outcome in our own hometown. My first answer is always this: hire the right people for the job. Good training might lead to competency, but it will never replace good character. Good policy will provide guidance, but it will never replace good judgement and decision making. Minneapolis had a policy imposing a duty for officers to intercede when excessive force was being used, but not one but three officers stood by and watched a human being die at the hands of a fellow officer. They all lacked the moral character to do what was right, not the proper training or policies.
To whom much is given, much is required. Our officers are entrusted with extraordinary powers and responsibilities. Every officer hired by the Sumner Police Department must pass a rigorous background investigation that includes a psychological exam and must demonstrate the requisite moral character to hold this position of trust in our community. Our officers must meet state training requirements to become certified as a peace officer and must meet annual requirements to maintain that certification. Annual training includes crisis intervention, de-escalation, and anti-bias policing in addition to other necessary skills and policy reviews. All Sumner employees receive quarterly as well as annual evaluations to ensure they meet established standards.
In addition to hiring the right people and providing the right training, the next critical component is having the right policies. Policies form the culture and expectations of the department and provide guidance for our members. Your Sumner Police Department is and has been a State Accredited agency since 2005. Only approximately 59 out of 258 law enforcement agencies in Washington are accredited. This achievement means that our department must strictly meet or exceed 132 individual standards in policy and in practice. We do not just say we met them; we get evaluated every four years through an audit and review conducted by non-Sumner experts. In the meantime, we subscribe to a policy service called Lexipol, a national organization that provides policy recommendations and updates based on current law, legal decisions, best practices, and accreditation standards. Each member of our department must acknowledge each policy. We constantly review our policies to meet recommended best practices and to reflect our values and the community’s expectations.
In November 2018, our collective voice for police reform was heard loud and clear with the passage of I-940, and in February 2019, our state legislature passed the Law Enforcement Training and Community Safety Act adopting those reforms. These reforms include an additional 40 hours of required police training in de-escalation, mental health, patrol tactics, decision making, alternatives to force, implicit bias, and the historical intersection of race and policing as the foundational blocks of instruction. The Act also mandates better transparency by requiring completely independent investigations of police use of force incidents by qualified investigators and non-law enforcement community representatives. Please click here for more information on how you can help with serving as a community representative.
After careful review and consideration, I have suspended the use of the carotid control hold, which many members of the public view as a dangerous “choke” hold. I am reevaluating other current department policies to ensure that they are consistent with our vision of setting the standard of excellence for a progressive small city. To me, this means we have policies and actions that give the highest priority to the life, liberty, dignity, and worth of all individuals by preserving human life, minimizing physical harm, and by performing our duties equitably and without prejudice.
All that said, the real strength of Sumner’s police department is not in our policies but in our close connection with the community. I attended Sumner’s June 5th gathering of about 200 community members and heard your voices, your concerns, and your fears over continued racism and disparate treatment. I firmly believe that the injustices still plaguing our country have their roots in the individual and collective actions of many and cannot be remedied without the individual and collective actions of us all. We must work to identify and eliminate our own implicit and explicit biases in order to dismantle systemic racial injustice. It is also necessary to admit mistakes of the past in order to change the future and not repeat the past. Thank you to the Sumner Bonney Lake School District for opening up the 21 Day Racial Equity Challenge to all of us to participate. I continue to learn and benefit more each day taking this journey.
It is imperative that we continually earn and maintain the public’s trust, especially in a small city. We do this by forging partnerships with our community, by building trust one contact at a time, and by being open, honest, and accountable. The men and women of the Sumner Police Department take pride in our community and in our service. I look forward to continued dialog and input as we seek ways to improve our organization and strengthen the bonds with those we serve.
Chief Brad Moericke