Washougal officials pass pro-cops resolution

Council members, mayor reject nationwide Black Lives Matter calls to defund police, call the idea ‘absurd’

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Washougal Police Chief Wendi Steinbronn (left) talks with outgoing police chief Ron Mitchell (right) and citizens at a November 2019 "Coffee with a Cop" event. (Post-Record file photo)

Washougal City Council members have overwhelmingly rejected the nationwide Black Lives Matter movement’s calls to “defund the police.”
In a resolution that passed 7-1 on June 22, with Councilwoman Alex Yost the sole dissenter, the councilors state that “the meaning of such calls is not clear with some advocates stating ‘defund the police’ means reallocating resources to mental health and social services while others are calling for an outright elimination of police departments.”
The resolution goes on to state that “eliminating the police department would be absurd because crime is not going away; and reallocating resources from police to mental health and social services is largely beyond the purview of city government in Washington State.”
The resolution also states that “defunding the police would be devastating for people around the country, hurting those who need protection the most; and regardless of the meaning of the term ‘defund the police,’ the Washougal City Council has no intention of taking such action.”
Washougal’s police chief said she feels supported on a local level.
“Some community members have not agreed with everything that our police officers stand for or have respectfully disagreed with some of our tactics, but I still feel that people respect and care about us,” Wendi Steinbronn said. “The criticism that’s going on at the national level is not happening here.”
The May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man killed after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes while three other officers stood by, ignoring Floyd’s cries that he could not breathe and bystanders’ pleas for the officers to help Floyd, has reinvigorated the Black Lives Matter movement.
Hundreds of thousands of people have marched in the streets and called for widespread changes to the nation’s police and judicial systems.
“A bad thing happened. (Floyd) died as a result. The officer was fired, but now (every) officer is getting painted with that brush, and is seen as ‘bad’ and ‘evil,’” Steinbronn said. “It’s hard to not take it personally sometimes. I get really upset when a few ‘bad apples’ make us all look bad. It’s disgusting and discouraging (when) bad officers damage the profession.”
Yost, who cast the lone “nay” vote on the resolution, said she “fully, 100 percent” support local police officers, but thought the resolution “paints with too broad of a brush.”
“In order for me to support this, I would want to see stronger language denouncing the culture around policing in general,” Yost said. “I think there’s a lot of issues of systemic racism within the police force as a whole.”
“I think what really sums it up for me in terms of not being able to support this resolution is (because it) says, ‘defunding police would be devastating to people around the country, hurting those who need protection the most,’” Yost said. “It’s not just death by police. It’s death by a system in which police are involved, where Black people specifically are not being treated the same as other individuals. I (don’t think it’s right to say) the police are the be-all, end-all of protection, because I think there are other ways that we can protect each other.”
Councilman Ernie Suggs said that while he believes the resolution isn’t “100 percent appropriate,” he does believe it “best suits the city of Washougal.”
Councilwoman Julie Russell, a licensed therapist, said she agreed the area needs more resources for mental health, but thought it was “beyond the ability of the city of Washougal to expend those funds.”
“It has to come from the county and state, and I think that’s a lot of what we’re wanting to say,” Russell said.
The Washougal Police Department has altered its policy on the use of the vascular neck restraint, a type of neck hold officers could previously use to control suspects. The department’s new policy limits the neck hold to a method of “last resort” to be used only in life-threatening circumstances.
“It’s a very effective tool, but there’s a lot of training involved,” Steinbronn said of the neck hold. “It sure doesn’t look pretty, and there have been too many instances of (officers) improperly applying the move and cutting off (the person’s) airway, so there’s definitely a risk management piece involved. From that standpoint, I don’t think it’s wise (to use that move as a) level of control.”