Washougal police chief denounces officers charged in George Floyd’s death

'What happened in Minneapolis was bad policing,' Steinbronn says

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Wendi Steinbronn is settling in well to her new role as chief of the Washougal Police Department. (Doug Flanagan/Post-Record)

Washougal Police Chief Wendi Steinbronn has condemned the actions of Minneapolis police officers that led to the May 25 death of a 46-year-old Black man.

“Those who know me personally have heard me denounce the actions of the officers,” Steinbronn wrote in a statement. “Based on my knowledge, training and experience, I know what happened in Minneapolis was bad policing. I support the firing and the arrest of officer Chauvin as well as the firing of the officers who failed to intervene.”

On May 25, Minneapolis Police Department officers arrested St. Louis Park, Minnesota, resident George Floyd for allegedly using counterfeit money to buy cigarettes at a grocery store. During the arrest, police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes while three other officers looked on. Floyd died later that day.

Chauvin and the three other officers on the scene were fired. Chauvin has since been charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter and the other officers are charged with aiding and abetting in the death of Floyd.

The events of Floyd’s arrest and death and the actions of the officers led to international Black Lives Matter protests, and nationwide calls for police reform and legislation to address systemic racism in the country’s policing and judicial systems.

Steinbronn said the Washougal Police Department is reviewing all of its policies as part of its continuing efforts to obtain accreditation from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

“Our policy work includes a review of our use of force, biased-based policing prohibition, investigation of misconduct and hate crime investigations, to name a few,” Steinbronn stated. “Our officers are certified by the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission (WSCJTC). Ongoing training is critical in police work. We meet or exceed the training hours required by the WSCJTC, which is no easy task with a small department budget. Our annual refreshers include training in de-escalation and effective communication with those in crisis.

“Our current use of force policy requires that officers intercede when they see force used that is beyond what is objectively reasonable. If force is used, an officer must document it in a report and notify their supervisor. The supervisor is required to review the incident and initiate an investigation if there is a policy violation or any other reason that further investigation may be needed.”

Washougal police candidates are subject to background checks, psychological screenings and polygraph tests before being hired, according to Steinbronn, who added that “recruitment and selection are also essential in policing.”

“Lateral candidates who come from agencies inside or outside the state go through the same testing,” she stated. “The polygraph includes questions about use of force, truthfulness and potential bias.”

Steinbronn said that, although she’s not opposed to the use of body cameras, “the cost of storing the data and responding to public records requests for video can easily overwhelm a small budget.” Washougal police do not use body cameras at this time.

Steinbronn, a former Portland Police Bureau commander, has served as Washougal’s chief since December 2019.

“I have felt your support from day one,” she stated. “Washougal is a beautiful, welcoming city, and I’m proud to be your chief. I have received emails, calls and comments from you in the last few weeks. I welcome the discussion, and I thank you for trusting me enough to ask the questions.

“Most of the members of our department grew up in this area. Although we don’t require our employees to live in the city, many of them do. I, as many of you know, live right next door in Camas, but I spend my workdays and a lot of my leisure time in Washougal. I graduated from high school in Longview and am native to the Pacific Northwest. We are all invested in keeping Washougal the safe, friendly and inviting city that it already is.”