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Reporter file photo

Menchie’s incident investigation leads to new protocol for Kirkland police

The report showed that department practices for responding to “unwanted person” calls was inadequate and that a new formal protocol is needed.

  • Friday, January 11, 2019 2:52pm
  • News

Kirkland Police Chief Cherie Harris has issued a final incident report for the Totem Lake Menchie’s incident that occurred on Nov. 7, 2018.

The report finds that the officers that responded to the 911 call did not act out of bias or violate internal protocols or policies, according to a city of Kirkland press release. However, the incident demonstrated a need for the department to review practices and create a new protocol for handling “unwanted person” calls.

On the evening of Nov. 16, 2018, the city was made aware that the police response to a 911 call placed earlier in the month from the owner of a Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt shop had left Byron Ragland feeling like he had been asked to leave the store based on his race. Harris launched an investigation of the incident the following morning. On Nov. 19, 2018 Harris and Kirkland city manager Kurt Triplett issued a joint statement extending their apologies to Ragland for being made to feel unwelcome in Kirkland, the release states. The apology reflected that the initial assessment of the interaction showed it did not meet the expectations of the Kirkland community or the high standards held by the city and the Kirkland Police Department, according to the release.

The final Menchie’s incident report resulting from the investigation launched by Harris was made available to the public on Jan. 11. According to the release, the report includes the following findings:

  • The officers missed the opportunity to mediate between the employees and Ragland by failing to initially determine Ragland’s purpose in the store and as a result Ragland left Menchie’s feeling he had been asked to leave based on his race. That is not an acceptable outcome.
  • The officers did not violate any of the department’s protocols or policies or act out of racial bias. The officers that responded handled the call in a manner that was consistent with departmental norms and practices for this type of “unwanted persons” call.
  • This incident showed that the practice for responding to “unwanted person” calls was inadequate, and that a new formal protocol needed to be drafted and adopted. On Nov. 27, 2018, police command staff issued official guidance to the department regarding the new protocol and practices for “unwanted person” calls, and the results have already been encouraging. KPD officers exercise their best judgment and discretion when responding to all calls and situations. In instances like the one that occurred at Menchie’s, officers are now asked to always make efforts to determine the facts of a situation before they initiate any actions to remove an individual from a premises, and to make efforts to overcome misunderstandings whenever possible.
  • All city departments, including KPD, will receive additional implicit bias training. Additionally, KPD will continue to refine and improve its protocols based on national best practices and officer feedback.

“The Kirkland Police Department is committed to being the best police department in the country,” Harris said in the release. “When we fall short of our own expectations, we acknowledge it and work quickly to learn and improve.”

According to the release, the new protocol implemented by KPD reinforces that officers should mediate between business owners and a person being asked to leave, and includes guidance such as:

  • Find out if the owner/employee has asked the person to leave.
  • Encourage owners/employees to communicate, either in person or through signage, why the unwanted person is being asked to leave.
  • In cases where this does not work, officers should attempt to mediate the conversation and determine if there is a valid reason for this person to be asked to leave.

“We’re already finding that the new protocol is having positive results for our officers’ interactions,” Harris said in the release. “We believe that by improving our systems we can significantly reduce the possibility that misunderstandings, such as the one that occurred at Menchie’s, occur again.”

In addition to the findings of the report and the changes being implemented by KPD, the city is in the process of providing cultural awareness and racial bias training to all city staff, the release states. The Kirkland City Council has volunteered to participate in this training. Additionally, city staff plan to continue conversations with community members around issues of race and equity in Kirkland. The city will be partnering with James Whitfield and Leadership Eastside to facilitate this critical dialogue with Kirkland residents and businesses, according to the release. The additional city actions are outlined in the “City Manager Letter to the Community” that accompanies Harris’ report.

“We know that to be the safe, welcoming and inclusive city that we strive for, we must take a leadership role on conversations around difficult issues such as racial bias,” city manager Kurt Triplett said in the release. “Over the coming months we will continue these community conversations while we also take actions to prevent implicit bias from becoming a factor when providing all city services.”

The full text of the final report, including statements and video used in developing the report’s findings, can be found on the city website at tinyurl.com/yd7noq3y.

The Reporter will update this story.

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