In his introduction to the report, Bremerton Police Chief Tom Wolfe characterized 2021 as a year of “unprecedented changes to law enforcement in Washington State.”
Thirteen Senate and House bills passed in July 2021 that impacted how law enforcement officers operate, Wolfe noted; many of the items legislated were practices already in place for the department, such as limiting vehicular pursuits to dangerous felons, he wrote.
“Others took a considerable amount of time to understand and learn the impacts on how we should be delivering service in 2021,” he wrote. “The biggest challenges came in dealing with behavioral health issues.”
The department had a behavioral health navigator position already that “helped fill a void” in responding to behavioral health incidents, Wolfe wrote, and the department added a second navigator position this year.
Bremerton Police Department saw 10 employees leave in 2021, and the department hired 13 new employees, Wolfe wrote. Additionally, the department promoted 11 employees. At the time of writing the introduction, Wolfe noted, the department has 12 vacancies to fill, and will promote three employees in May.
Transparency was a priority for the department in 2021; Wolfe wrote that the department purchased body cameras for all its officers, and later in the year, cameras will be added to patrol vehicles.
“Our goal is to be transparent with those we serve, and this one tool will help tremendously with that,” Wolfe wrote.
In 2021, the Bremerton Police Department responded to 44,485 calls for service, down from 46,020 in 2020 — a more than 3 percent decrease.
Police filed 7,423 case reports, made 1,626 arrests, and reported 164 uses of force — all down from 2020's numbers. Additionally, citizens filed 27 complaints against officers.
The report defines use of force as “anything more than physically moving someone or grasping their arm to direct them. Bremerton Police Officers must document all uses of force beginning at the lowest level of force used to overcome resistance.”
Of the 164 instances of use of force in 2021, only one was found to be against the department’s policies, the report states.
“This was not because the specific force the officer used was not authorized, it was because the officer failed to incorporate de-escalation tactics prior to using force,” the report states. “The officer involved in that incident received written counseling and retraining on Department policy as well as Washington State House Bill 1310.”
House Bill 1310 went into effect on July 1, 2021, and according to the report the law “impacted when officers are legally authorized to use physical force. The new law also requires officers to use de-escalation tactics when possible.”
The department analyzed use of force incidents and compared the first half of the year with the second half, and found that there was a 30 percent decline in use of force incidents by officers in July through December.
An analysis of use of force incidents did not identify any patterns against minorities, nor did it identify any officers who used force unreasonably more often than anyone in their peer group, the report states, noting that “our review and analysis revealed there is no evidence of bias, concerning patterns, or signs of misuse of force based on the data collected.”
Last year saw 58 suspects attempt to elude Bremerton Police Department officers, an increase from 35 in 2020, according to the report. There was a marked increase in the second half of the year, with 19 people attempting to elude police before July 1 — the date HB 1310 was passed — and 39 people attempting to elude police after July 1, according to the report.
In 51 of the 58 cases, officers immediately stopped pursuit of the vehicle. The remaining seven pursuits were authorized per policy and state law, according to the report.
Ten of the total pursuits led to suspect collisions; none led to officer collisions or citizen bystander injuries. In 22 of them, officers identified the suspects and established probable cause to arrest them, the report states.
Three officers last year were determined to have pursued vehicles out of compliance with the department’s policies and received employee counseling and retraining, the report states.
Given the increase in attempts to elude police in the second half of 2021, “we anticipate an increase in the number of attempts to elude by suspects, but a decrease in engaged pursuits, next year,” the report states. The number of engaged pursuits in 2021 dropped to five in 2021, from eight the year prior.
Citizens filed 27 complaints against officers in 2021, down from 39 the year prior.
“The Department takes all complaints seriously and fully addresses them,” the report states. “There are no parameters placed on how a citizen can make a complaint. An anonymous complaint will be taken and followed up to the extent possible.”
According to the report, in 22 of the complaints, the officer was exonerated — meaning the alleged act occurred, but the action was “justified, lawful and proper” — or the allegation was determined to be unfounded, meaning it was false or not factual.
Eight complaints were “not sustained,” meaning there was insufficient evidence to sustain the complaint or to fully exonerate the employee.
Eleven of the complaints were sustained, meaning, “The act occurred, and it constituted misconduct.” One complaint was classified as “other.”
There were also two internal investigations in 2021. One of the investigations involves an allegation of theft and computer trespass, and was not sustained. The other is an accusation of domestic violence and improper storage of a firearm. That investigation is still pending, according to the report.
Police department employees were involved in 10 collisions in 2021. Ninety percent were found to be preventable, while 10 percent were found to be not preventable.
In response to the Washington State Supreme Court decision in State of Washington v. Blake, known as the Blake decision, in February 2021, the department retired its drug K9 unit and shut down its drug enforcement Special Operations Group.
The decision found the state’s simple possession of a controlled substance statute to violate due process. In response, the state legislature passed ESB 5476, which re-criminalized drug possession. “Simple possession is a misdemeanor, although a person must be offered diversion to services at least twice before they can be prosecuted,” the report states. “However, no tracking system has been implemented.”
The decision has skewed some of the apparent drug trends in the city of Bremerton, the report contends.
“Despite the continuing use of drugs in the city, officers are limited to the criminal enforcement they can enact,” it states. “In looking at the 5 year statistics, it may appear as if the drug use in the city has decreased; however, it shows the limitations the Blake decision has created.”
This year, the department will hire officers for its Directed Enforcement Team, Wolfe wrote. The team is made up of officers who are not assigned to 911 calls, but instead use crime analysis and citizen information to "prevent or quell criminal activity where it is occurring in a timely manner."
The team "will use various methods one of which is being on mountain bikes in the community to better address crime issues," the report states. "We have had great success with this model in the past and want to improve service and scope to take this approach city-wide."