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Eastside police team up to investigate internal incidents

The Issaquah Press of Issaquah, Washington

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A number of Eastside police departments are teaming up in an effort to foster cooperative, transparent investigations into internal incidents.

Issaquah joins Bellevue, Bothell, Kirkland, Redmond, Black Diamond and Mercer Island in an interlocal agreement to share resources in investigations.

"Each party has the power, authority and responsibility to investigate officer-involved fatalities or serious incidents occurring within its boundaries," the agreement reads. "The parties want to maintain community trust and recognize best practices when investigating such incidents by creating a King County Investigative Response Team. KCIRT will provide expert investigative aid to any party to this agreement when a party requests such aid."

In such investigations, a department would have to dedicate valuable officer resources to the task. Police chiefs believe that forming the team would not only help share resources between departments, but also offer an objective eye into inquiries.

"It really drains a lot of resources to investigate our incidents, and one agency uses a lot of resources," Issaquah Police Chief Paul Ayers said. "A few years ago, the chiefs started asking ourselves, 'Is there a better way to do it?'"

Ayers said the plan is largely based on a program n in place in Snohomish County for the past several years. Under the agreement, agencies have a minimum of what they must donate for such investigations.

"Each of the main agencies assign a minimum of one person to the team," Ayers said. "It depends on the size of the incident. We will use the team if there is a police shooting, a death in the jail or hands-on use of force where a person is seriously injured."

He said the decision to join the investigation team was not affected by the Sept. 24, 2011, shooting of Ronald Ficker at Clark Elementary School. Ficker, 51, toted rifles and more than 900 rounds of ammunition from a stalled vehicle in downtown Issaquah to the school, and then died in a shootout with police.

Ayers said the momentum had already begun for departments to work together.

"No, the discussion was going on even before that," he said. "There was just no need to spread around King County resources."

For the Issaquah chief, more than anything it is about transparency.

"There is no legal requirement to do an independent shooting investigation," he said. "We can do that ourselves, but we want to be sure it is done properly, fairly and objectively."

Bellevue Police Chief Linda Pillo echoed Ayers' remarks that the investigative team was a good move for the Eastside.

"I think it's real clear in our own message to have transparent investigations in King County," she said. "As part of mutual aid we will give help to agencies that may not have the resources."

"It's been very successful in Snohomish County," she said. "We will be using investigators that are specifically trained in these instances."

Ayers said the agreement would not have any adverse effect on the current level of police service.

"We will use the team if there is a police shooting, a death in the jail or hands-on use of force where a person is seriously injured."

- Paul Ayers, Issaquah Police chief

Copyright 2013 The Issaquah Press, Issaquah, Washington. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: July 3, 2013

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