A new committee formed to improve public safety in Olympia is beginning to take shape, after its members outlined goals it seeks to accomplish. Chief among them: create a justice system that treats all people the same.
At its first meeting yesterday, this new public safety committee did not discuss specific policy changes that would allow it to accomplish its lofty goals. Rather, it outlined its charter and mission.
Chaired by council member Clark Gilman, this public safety committee also includes Olympia Mayor Cheryl Selby and council member Jim Cooper. It was created after a September meeting highlighted systemic issues in current police department operations. In that meeting, professional moderator Nancy Campbell said that over the past 4-5 years, Black men in Olympia accounted for 10 to 15 percent of jail bookings, while they only represent roughly 2.8 percent of the population.
Those statistics weren’t easy to find, Campbell said. They took some digging. Now, this new committee wants to compile additional data and make it easy for anyone to find. Specifically, said Gilman, they want data on demographics. Who is being arrested and on what charges?
“More broadly, it’s about us knowing what’s going on,” said Gilman, adding data can highlight bias against people of a certain race or members of the LGBTQ community.
This public safety committee doesn’t have the authority to make policy changes. Rather, it will suggest new policy to the city council, which does.
“My biggest concern is we’ve been reluctant to just share … ‘here’s where we’re at right now.’ Here’s where we’re at for our work towards eliminating bias. Here’s where we’re at in our work towards not incarcerating people for dumb little things,” said Gilman.
Gilman said he wants to present information to the community as they receive it. As both the public and the council become more informed, officials and citizens can work together to discuss potential public safety improvements.
This committee is scheduled to meet twice more this year to finalize its charter. It plans to start meeting once a month by 2021.