PORT ANGELES — The Port Angeles City Council has voted to restructure the Public Safety Advisory Board after receiving a resident’s petition calling for more diversity on the all-white panel.
Council members voted 6-1 Tuesday to direct staff to prepare an ordinance adding two positions for enrolled tribal members and one position for a resident who has experienced homelessness or a chemical use disorder or has worked with someone who is homeless or addicted to drugs or alcohol.
The approved motion also seeks a codified process for appointing future members of the Public Safety Advisory Board, including potential term limits, staggered terms and a requirement that voting members not be city employees.
The motion was made by Council member Mike French and amended by Council member LaTrisha Suggs to increase tribal representation from one to two members.
It did not include a recommendation from the online petition to give the 12-member advisory board powers to investigate complaints against city police and other staff.
Council member Brendan Meyer voted no, saying he would favor an amendment to decommission the Public Safety Advisory Board.
“If people believe that change is needed, they need to participate in every level of government and be involved even when the spotlight is off and the attention is gone,” Meyer said, referring to national outrage over the recent deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn., and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky.
Meyer and other council members praised the work of the Port Angeles Police Department, which practices community-oriented policing and has been accredited by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC).
“I’m proud that our officers are professional and thoughtful in their approach to potentially dangerous situations,” Meyer said.
Carloyn Wilcox of Port Angeles submitted the petition to the City Council. It had 321 signatures as of Thursday.
City Manager Nathan West, Fire Chief Ken Dubuc and Police Chief Brian Smith drafted a 3½-page response to the petition in the City Council meeting packet for Tuesday.
“The purpose of the (Public Safety Advisory) Board is to serve as a liaison between the police and fire departments and the community, yet the board refuses to condemn vigilantism, white supremacy or address the public safety concerns that were brought to the board by six members of the public in June, half of whom are people of color,” Wilcox said during a five-hour virtual council meeting Tuesday.
Dr. Tree Stokan of Neah Bay, who works as a family physician in Port Angeles, said she was “disheartened” that the advisory board did not address the concerns of the six citizens at its June 17 meeting.
“Even more disheartening is to hear that someone in a leadership position on the advisory board is part of a vigilante group that coordinates with law enforcement as to, so to speak, clean up homeless camps,” Stokan told the City Council on Tuesday.
“While people who are affiliated with these groups claim to be cleaning up our town, they are in fact part of the vigilante problem that is plaguing our communities,” she added.
Stokan suggested the council add language to city code that states: “No government official, elected nor appointed, shall be part of a vigilante or hate group that is targeting people who are experiencing homelessness, people of color, people with addictions or people who are considered outsiders.”
“We need the members of this Port Angeles City Council to have the will and the fortitude to stand up and do the right thing at this critical moment in time,” Stokan said.
“We will help you find new leaders for the Public Safety Advisory Board and other positions who share the ideals of creating a community rooted in justice for all.”
Retired Clallam County Undersheriff Ron Peregrin urged the council to deny the petition and simply commit to providing more diversity on the Public Safety Advisory Board.
“The fact is PAPD is a model agency,” said Peregrin, a 52-year law enforcement officer and WASPC mentor who assessed the Port Angeles Police Department on two of its accreditations.
“I’ve assessed many agencies statewide, and I would put PAPD as a model for other agencies to emulate,” Peregrin said.
“So I’m wondering why we’re trying to fix a problem that doesn’t exist, or if this petition is simply a solution looking for a problem.”
West said the staff-recommended changes to the Public Safety Advisory Board “in no way reflect on our current seated board members,” all of whom are volunteers, or staff.
“There’s a lot of opportunities and ways that we can ensure diversity moving forward,” West said.
Smith said the staff recommendation was to keep the Public Safety Advisory Board as an advisory board.
“It’s the belief of staff that our current process for investigating complaints is fair, it’s transparent, it’s professional and it meets well-established practices and it’s very robust,” Smith said.
Council member Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin, who is married to Wilcox, said he generally agreed with the motion and staff recommendations.
He added that civilian oversight of law enforcement provides for increased community confidence, accountability and transparency in policing.
“If we’re doing that well now, then we have nothing to fear in ensuring that the community can audit individual incidents and look at patterns in our city’s policing practices,” Schromen-Wawrin said.
“That’s the principle, trust but verify.”
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at email@example.com.