Vancouver Candidates’ Views on Policing

Thursday, July 22, 2021
ACLU-WA is a non-partisan, nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to the defense and advancement of civil rights and civil liberties. The ACLU does not endorse candidates for elective or appointive office. The purpose of this blog post is to analyze and inform the public on what their candidates have said (or not said) on local policing issues.

Election Day is August 3rd

Ballots have dropped, meaning you’ll soon have the power to decide who you believe should be elected to serve our city. Through this blog post, we’ve aimed to inform you about the issues we’re fighting for day-in and day-out and what your local candidates are saying about them. This blog post is not comprehensive of the candidates as a whole and does not elaborate on issues outside of policing and accountability, ACLU-WA also prioritizes many other issues related to the civil rights and civil liberties of people in Washington State.

Vancouver is the fourth largest city in Washington state and like many large cities in these times of scrutiny to police accountability, Vancouver also grapples with many issues pertaining to their law enforcement practices. We implore you to do your research to find the best candidate that suits your values and vision for the City of Vancouver.

Before jumping into what candidates are saying, it is important to understand what powers related to policing lie in which office. When tension is thick and the rubber hits the road, it’s easy for candidates to point fingers and assign blame. Understanding who has authority to make decisions creates a clear and efficient accountability feedback loop.

Separation of Powers

The City of Vancouver operates under a Council-Manager form of government. The City Council is comprised of seven members, including a mayor, nominated and elected from the city at large. The mayor and councilmembers serve four-year terms, with three councilmembers standing for election every biennial municipal election. The mayor stands for election every four years beginning with the 2005 election.
Council powers include:
  • Passing ordinances and resolutions
  • Reviewing and approving the annual budget
  • Modifying the city’s charter
  • Regulating public health and safety
  • Appointing the City Manager
  • Appointing citizen boards, committees and commissions
  • Confirming department appointments made by the City Manager, including the Chief of Police
  • Borrowing funds
The mayor presides at meetings of the city council and is recognized as head of the city government for all ceremonial purposes and by the governor for purposes of military law. The mayor has the rights, privileges, and immunities of a member of the council, but has no regular administrative duties.
The city manager (appointed by the city council, not elected) is accountable to the council for the administration of all units of city government under the manager’s jurisdiction, including the appointment of the chief of police of the Vancouver Police Department.

Meet the Candidates

This post groups both mayoral and city council candidates together as they are all technically members of the council, meaning the mayor does not have more legislative power than other members of the council. Here are Vancouver’s candidates:
Mayor: Anne McEnerny-Ogle (incumbent), Earl Bowerman, and Doug Coup
Council, Position 1: Kim D. Harless, Justin Forsman, John Blom, Mike Pond
Council, Position 2: Erik Paulsen (incumbent), Kara Tess, Tami Martin
Council, Position 3: Diana H. Perez, David Gellatly, Glen Yung
Racially Biased Policing
When beginning research for this blog post, ACLU-WA asked Vancouver community members and allies working on police reform what they viewed as key issues. Police violence, disproportionately inflicted against Black and Brown people and those experiencing a mental health crisis, was at the top of their list.

Black people make up 2.4% of the Clark County population but in recent years have accounted for one-third of the people killed by police. Not only is deadly force used disproportionately against people of color, but there have been recent reports of preferential treatment by members of the Vancouver Police Department towards white supremacist terrorist groups like Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys, and unfavorable bias against Black Lives Matter protestors and supporters. There is also evidence of ties between Clark County Sheriff’s Office and such groups.

Vancouver’s candidates and future elected leaders have the power and opportunity to set policy and demand accountability from the city manager, who is an at-will employee of the council and hires the chief of police.

Through our research collected as of July 19, 2021, we found that none of the candidates on Vancouver’s primary ballot had explicitly commented on the critical issue of biased policing. This indicates a lack of prioritization by current elected officials and candidates vying for seats to proactively acknowledge and denounce racially biased policing. The public needs to know where candidates stand on this critical issue, and the gap in information demands urgent attention. Next time you are before candidates, ask them what their thoughts are on the matter and what they hope to do about it. Follow up with us at [email protected], and we will update our blog post.

In 2020, the Vancouver Police Department’s budget was $57.2 million, totaling 33 percent of the city’s total general fund. The money paid for 234 uniformed officers and 63 civilian positions whose salaries and benefits accounted for 73 percent of the policing budget, according to data provided by City of Vancouver Financial and Management Services.

After the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, protests erupted across the country demanding not only accountability from their local jurisdictions, but also rethinking of the size of law enforcement budgets. Vancouver residents had varying stances on “defunding the police,” with some believing defunding might prevent police from doing their jobs.

Few candidates have explicitly commented on divesting from the police budget and reinvesting in other alternatives. In fact, the vast majority of Vancouver candidates support either maintaining or increasing police funding. Take a look at what local candidates have said on the matter (if anything).

Doug Coup – Candidate for Mayor
  • “Fully fund and empower law enforcement to protect the safety of law-abiding citizens.” Source
John Blom – Candidate for Position 1
  • “The victims and their families of violent crime should be able to have confidence knowing the detectives working their cases have the tools and resources they need to solve their crime. This requires adequately funding our police department. However, we as a community also need to recognize that the police department is not a one-size fits all answer. We should be looking at alternative response teams, trained in medical and behavioral health to respond to calls in partnership with our law enforcement professionals.” Source
Mike Pond – Candidate for Position 1
  • “Sufficient funding for Police and Fire is a top priority, to provide the level of resources our citizens expect, we must find sustainable funding in order to ensure safety standards.” Source
David Gellatly – Candidate for Position 3
  • In speaking about police reform he says, “We can identify what doesn’t work — removing funding from a police force.” Source
Through our research, we found that most candidates had not explicitly commented on what to do with the police budget. As the budget appropriation authority, the council has the power to determine the size and scope of municipal budgets, including the Police Department’s. If this is important to you, next time you are before candidates, ask them what their thoughts are on the matter and what they hope to do about it. Follow up with us at [email protected], and we’ll update our blog post.

Make a Voting Plan!

Election Day is right around the corner, make sure to return your ballot via mail (free postage!) or drop box by 8pm on August 3rd. If you forgot to register by the online deadline, no worries – you can still register in person. We will endeavor to keep this page updated so you have the most up-to-date information about what your candidates are saying. Until then, happy voting.
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