In an effort to strengthen community relations in Pasco following the shooting of an immigrant farmworker, the U.S. Department of Justice will provide some training to the city’s police force.
The federal agency’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS, announced Wednesday that it will identify areas of need within the Pasco department and develop a training plan focused on improving relationships with citizens.
The training program, which could be implemented over the course of a year, will draw input from law enforcement experts and leaders around the country, community leaders and Pasco police command staff, said COPS Deputy Director Robert Chapman.
“There’s never going to be a one-size-fits-all approach,” said Chapman, who was in Pasco on Wednesday. “What it requires is getting a sense of what the community sentiment is, what are the issues, what are the specific areas the police department can make advances in and how to develop a tailored approach.”
The COPS office implements strategies to improve police departments within communities in crisis. Other cities where the office has intervened include Ferguson, Mo., Seattle, Detroit, New Orleans and San Diego.
U.S. Attorney Michael Ormsby in Spokane and Pasco Police Chief Bob Metzger requested help from the DOJ in the wake of the controversial Feb. 10 shooting of Antonio Zambrano-Montes.
Officers Ryan Flanagan, Adam Wright and Adrian Alaniz fired at the 35-year-old Pasco man a total of 17 times during a confrontation in a busy intersection. The incident was captured on cellphone video and posted to YouTube.
Police shot Zambrano-Montes after he apparently threw rocks at them. The father of two was killed after he ran from the three officers. A rock was found near his body.
Metzger said the shooting led him to take a look at possible ways to improve the 70-officer department that polices a city with a large Hispanic population.
Metzger has remained steadfast that community trust in Pasco is not broken, and that his department doesn’t need to be overhauled. However, the chief said he wants to identify areas for improvement and learn from the tragic situation.
“It never hurts making adjustments. It’s very important and timely,” he said Wednesday. “We want to identify how to move the department and the city forward. I’m not saying (the department) is perfect. Some departments fall once they stop trying to improve.”
Justice Department officials have begun talking with citizens and will work to identify community leaders to gauge what are their sentiments about the police force, Chapman said. Some citizens have expressed feelings that there is “insufficient” trust with the department.
However, Chapman told the Herald that his office is working to identify all types of community members to get different perspectives on how to improve the agency. He called the entire process “ongoing.”
“I don’t think we are in a position at this point to say trust is broken,” Chapman said. “The best police departments are always looking for ways to improve and ways to strengthen community ties.”
The new training initiative started Wednesday as Pasco officers and department officials met with citizens at the McDonald’s on Court Street for an event called Coffee with a Cop.
The event was sponsored by the COPS office with help from the Hawthorne Police Department in California, where the idea was born. Pasco patrol officers and Metzger mingled with citizens over coffee, discussing community issues and getting to know one another.
Jim VanderHeyden and Steve Scott, both of Pasco, came to show support for the police and chat with officers.
“Sitting down face to face makes it a lot more personable,” Scott said.
VanderHeyden has heard rumblings from downtown business owners and others about a disconnect with the police force, though he said most people he has spoken with feel the department is doing its best to keep the community safe.
He recently talked with a Hispanic business owner who expressed concerns. “He just doesn’t know what will happen,” VanderHeyden said. “Will they be good to him?”