A community dialog about police accountability has started in Wrangell, where the local police chief says he’s open to equipping officers with body cameras, forming a committee to provide civilian oversight over the department, and increasing the level of training for his officers.
Wrangell’s police department received a lot of public support at a June 29 web-cast forum. Police Chief Tom Radke says he sees ways his officers can do even better.
“I think you’ve got a very young, inexperienced department that’s really looking to learn and be an active member of the community,” Radke said. “And I think there’s a lot of potential here to develop a good relationship with the community and moving forward.”
He also says he’s been in conversation with the city manager about creating a level of civilian oversight through a “community police committee.”
“We’re your police department so, you know, let’s work together,” he said. “And I think that’s important, that guidance in that connection, to have independent review. I think we’re open to it. We just want to be able to build that bridge to it.”
He also says the department is looking at outfitting officers with body cams. But that would be something the city would need to be willing to shell out for.
Most of those who spoke at the forum praised Wrangell’s police officers.
“I just wanted to make a statement saying I am 100% in favor and in support of our police department,” former Wrangell mayor Don McConachie said. “And I think personally over the years, they have done a wonderful job. They’ve even given me a ticket, you know, and, and that never bothered me even a little bit.”
Mike Lockabey says he’s lived in Wrangell most of his adult life — nearly 40 years. He once served as a reserve officer, backing up Wrangell police as a volunteer. He says he didn’t see systemic racism as an issue in Wrangell.
“I’m not saying it doesn’t exist in other places,” he said. “But I don’t it here, and I’ve never really seen it. I see all backgrounds interacting together all the time.”
But in Wrangell, as in communities around the state, some residents are choosing to be proactive. Valerie Massie attended a candle-lit demonstration in Wrangell last month, in solidarity with the nations’ victims of police brutality. She acknowledges that police in Wrangell appear willing to open a dialogue. Reading from prepared remarks, she says she’s glad so many people have had positive experiences with law enforcement.
“At the same time, I hope that anyone who experiences racism in town or anywhere, whether it is via policing, education, financing, employment, housing, etc. can be heard and listened to, and that changes can be approached with care instead of denial or anger,” she said.
The police chief says anyone that feels they’ve had their rights violated by police officers should come forward. But he warned residents not to make groundless claims.
“I encourage internal affairs complaints, because I know we’re doing things right,” Radke said. “And I want to verify we’re doing things right. And so I take it to heart if somebody comes in and makes a false statement or accuses an officer of something that just didn’t happen. I am one that believes that that needs to be forwarded on to the district attorney for charging of making a false report. I think it is a two-way street and I do want to hold my officers accountable. I also want to hold other people accountable.”
During the meeting, the police chief says all incidents of police using force are reported to the state and feds. He later corrected himself, saying use of force is only reported to the FBI which created a voluntary national database last year.