Bainbridge Island Police Department is looking to improve its once rocky relationship with residents through a designated community resource officer.
“When you have that good relationship of trust between officers and the community, we’re more effective,” said Police Chief Matthew Hamner.
City Council unanimously gave the department the go-ahead to apply for a federal grant that would cover 75 percent of the $100,000 annual salary and benefits of the community resource officer for three years. The department would cover the full cost the fourth year.
The community resource officer would be responsible for community related events and programs with the department, such as the citizen police academy, neighborhood watches and the police youth advisory group.
The community resource officer would be a liaison for the island schools, although it would be up to the schools how often the officer meets with students.
While the district has been without a school resource officer for more than a decade, there might not be a great demand for one just yet.
The district recently determined students and parents felt safe at the schools based on surveys and meetings with the police department, said Galen Crawford, communications specialist with Bainbridge Island School District.
Although residents don’t have a safety concern for the schools, community trust in the police department was waning and the City Council was split on whether to support a school resource officer before Hamner became chief in June 2013.
In May 2011, the council stalled in a 3-3 vote to apply for a school resource officer grant.
The city manager at the time, Brenda Bauer, blamed a Facebook post by Officer Michelle Vollmer for turning the council against the grant, a post Vollmer said was a joke.
Vollmer’s Facebook comment was one of a string of issues the Bainbridge Island Police faced.
In October 2010, a Bainbridge officer shot and killed a mentally ill man during a welfare check, ending in a $1.4 million lawsuit settlement and a federal jury finding the city and then Police Chief Jon Fehlman at fault for not providing enough training for handling situations with mentally ill residents.
Another officer — president of the Bainbridge police guild at the time — was accused of harassing City Council members the same month as the fatal shooting.
During the summer of 2011, the department hired a volunteer reserve officer — giving him a badge and the authority to carry a gun — who had a criminal history, including a misdemeanor assault charge and a weapons charge.
City Council learned about the reserve officer’s background a couple months after he was hired, and he was asked to resign.
Fehlman was the Bainbridge Island police chief during each of these issues. He resigned in September 2012.
Public support for the police department has been increasing, Hamner said, citing the council’s approval for a community resource officer and the police department having more residents apply for the citizen police academy than there were spots available.
“I think the chief has shown he has the best interest of this community and our children at hand time and time again,” said resident Dominique Cantwell, a former board member of the Bainbridge Youth Services.
A full story on the community resource officer grant will be available on the Kitsap Sun website.
This post has been updated to include a response from the school district.