The Pasco Police Department needs to better train officers in the use of force and to actively recruit a more diverse police force that includes more Hispanics, women and Spanish speakers, according to a review by the Department of Justice.
Pasco Police Chief Robert Metzger invited DOJ’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services or COPS to review the city’s relationship with the community after the Feb. 10, 2015, death of Antonio Zambrano-Montes, 35.
Three Pasco police officers shot at Zambrano-Montes 17 times during a confrontation near Fiesta Foods. The immigrant farmworker and citizen of Mexico was high on methamphetamine and throwing rocks.
His death brought mostly peaceful protests in the Tri-Cities and contributed to the national discussion about police use of force against people of color.
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Michael Ormsby, U.S. Attorney for Eastern Washington, released the results of the yearlong review at a news conference Monday afternoon.
The document, available only in English because authors completed their work Sunday, includes 27 recommendations and 12 findings.
In some ways, it echoes a report issued in February by the American Civil Liberties Union, which recommended Pasco increase its training on the use of force and de-escalating conflicts.
The DOJ’s top findings include:
- There is a perception in the community that the police department is in denial about the challenges stemming from the shooting of Zambrano-Montes.
- The police department needs more Spanish-speaking employees.
- The department has not kept pace with the dramatic increase in the percent of residents who are Hispanic. Latinos represented 55 percent of the population in 2014 but fewer than 20 percent of the department’s officers are Hispanic.
The recommendations were met with skepticism during a Monday evening session where the report was presented to the community.
Rick Rios of Latino Rebels wondered if the city’s commitment will extend to future councils, which could change dramatically if the city alters the way it elects the leaders. The police chief said all the recommendations are a priority and pledged to work with the current and future council members.
Claude Oliver, a former Benton County commissioner, questioned if the recommendations address the lack of crisis response services in the community. Zambrano-Montes was reportedly having mental health issues a year prior to his death, he said.
“You’re identifying holes in the bucket of mental health services,” Oliver said.
Leo Perales, who has acted as a spokesman for the Tri-City-based Latino Coalition, said the police department has not acted on earlier recommendations to shift toward community-oriented policing.
“The police department hasn’t really done anything to move the ball,” he said. “They always tell us the majority of our officers are good guys. That’s good. I hope they know the vast majority of our citizens are good guys too.”
But Metzger said the department has taken many steps to improve relations since the shooting.
It has sponsored several Coffee with a Cop sessions. He said hundreds have visited with officers during the sessions, which are designed to build personal relationships with residents. The city is reopening community-based police stations, as well.
It will reopen the Alderwood station next week and plans to add a new station at Chiawana Park by fall, he said. It has recruited Spanish-speaking staff members and already has two female recruits training at the state police academy.
It established a robust social media presence with more than 25,000 followers, nearly as many as the Seattle Police Department. It routinely issues statements in both English and Spanish.
The DOJ report hands Pasco a long to-do list that is accompanied by some resources. The department will continue to provide training and is expected to review its progress in about six months. Metzger said he has applied for federal COPS grants to implement some of the recommendations.
He will ask the Pasco City Council to approve increased spending in its budget, though he noted the police department is one of many functions the city must pay for.
“My hope is, this creates a sense of transparency in the community,” he said.
The COPS recommendations address improving relations between police and the community. They do not touch on lingering questions about whether the officers, Adrian Alaniz, Ryan Flanagan and Adam Wright, should have been charged with crimes.
Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant declined to charge the officers, as did Ormsby.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has asked the state’s attorney general, Bob Ferguson, to review Sant’s decision. The chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has asked U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to review Ormsby’s decision. Those reviews are pending.
Franklin County Coroner Dan Blasdel said his office still plans to conduct a public inquest into Zambrano-Montes’ death at Columbia Basin College prior to Thanksgiving, pending approval of the Franklin County Commission for $7,000 to pay an attorney to lead the inquest.