Citizens’ Police Academy 1: Chief Hamner welcomes new class

This is the first of 9 entries about reporter Ethan Fowler’s participation in the Bainbridge Island Police Department’s Citizens’ Police Academy.

As someone who has always been interested in how a police department works, I was eager to register for the 12th annual Bainbridge Island Police Department’s Citizens’ Police Academy, which kicked off Tuesday night.

I was one of the 15 people who had signed up and went through a background check to participate in the free 10-week, 12-class academy. Over the next two months, the academy will teaches us about the functions of the department, ranging from criminal law and narcotics, defensive tactics and investigations, use of force and tactics, traffic enforcement, marine patrol and the municipal court process.

We also will get to tour the Kitsap County Jail, Kitsap Mental Health, the county’s central communications center and the coroner’s office. Plus, we’ll be able to also see a K-9 demonstration and go on a two-hour officer ride-along – which is something I’m very interested in doing!

Bainbridge Island Police Chief Matthew Hamner and instructor Officer Carla Sias started off the evening by giving everyone a warm welcome and providing treats and refreshments. Hamner spoke for about an hour as he answered several questions from the group and shared things about his life – he’s married with seven children (three are in college), has earned a master’s degree, served on a school board and ran his own business for 11 years.

Hamner said Bainbridge was a lot safer than Indianapolis, where he worked from 1990 to 2013. To compare, he said Indy had 124 murders in 2013 and Seattle had 29. Hamner said the island hasn’t had a murder since 1998.

“You live in a state that’s very non-violent,” said Hamner, who related some of his harrowing near-death experiences with the attentive audience. “I don’t miss it.”

In addition, Hamner said Bainbridge’s population of 23,000 warranted more officers than the current 18 it has and ideally he’d to like to have 25 officers in the future. This would give him more officers to specifically patrol busy Highway 305 and the 4.6 million people who come on the island from a ferry annually.

Sias said the top crimes committed on the island were property (burglaries, car prowls and mail theft), malicious mischief by youth and minors in possession in the summer months. Hamner surprised many of us when he said that heroin dealers also live on the island – there were five heroin purchases last year that resulted in arrests.

In fact, Hamner said that he was told by some Bainbridge High School students at the recent Healthy Youth Summit that “alcohol and marijuana are as accessible as drinking water” on the island and that a lot of the use is “enabled by the parents in the house.”

As the informative two-hour event was wrapping up, I was continually impressed by how friendly, welcoming and open all the police officers were to us. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to the next nine weeks of classes.

“You will see things in a different light after this,” Hamner said as he closed his talk, prior to distributing his business card and encouraging us to contact him when questions or concerns arose.

Bainbridge Island Police Chief Matthew Hamner was hired in June 2013. Contributed photo
Contributed photo Bainbridge Island Police Chief Matthew Hamner was hired in June 2013.

About Ethan Fowler

Ethan Fowler has more than 20 years of journalism experience with 19 years of daily and weekly newspaper experience covering news, features and sports, as well as being an editor for 14 of those years. He has won several writing awards over the years in Washington state, Virginia, Texas and Georgia, including award-winning investigative journalism. Fowler was paid by the Review & Herald Publishing Association in 2009 to co-author a book, "Brushed Back: The Story of Trevor Bullock," with his wife. The book details the real life of a top minor league pitcher in the Philadelphia Phillies organization and his Christian faith. "Brushed Back" has sold more than 2,000 copies since its release.