Previously scheduled meeting comes after four police shootings in recent weeks
By Jack Heffernan, Columbian breaking news reporter
Published: March 13, 2019, 11:02 PM
After offering department staffing updates, Vancouver Police Chief James McElvain asked if anyone had staffing-related questions. Mark Moors, however, asked what the typical timeline is for officers involved in a shooting to return to work.
“So, I guess we’re going to go in this direction sooner than I thought,” McElvain said, prompting tenuous laughs.
From there, McElvain faced a number of questions, contention and a few shouts.
The meeting Wednesday night, one of several this year scheduled months ago by the Vancouver Neighborhood Alliance at Fisher’s Landing Fire Station 9, comes after four officer-involved shootings by the department in recent weeks.
Port of Vancouver Commissioner Eric LaBrant said the number of shootings “feels unusual” and asked if the chief plans on making changes moving forward.
“Four incidents in such a short period of time is unusual for a department of our size, for Vancouver, it is,” McElvain said. “But if you go back to, I want to say 2014, we had six officer-involved shootings in that one year. But we don’t remember that because they were, for the most part, you know, spread out.”
Others challenged the police chief, asking him to answer questions more directly, or verbally disagreed with his responses.
A number of people raised the question of whether officers should wear body cameras.
Meridian Green specifically asked if officers who were involved in previous shootings should be mandated to wear them. As the chief responded by saying that blaming the officers would be a jump to conclusions, Ren Autry, director at Outsiders Inn, a Vancouver-based homeless advocacy group, interjected.
“Three strikes you’re out as a criminal,” Autry said.
“OK, so if you’re going to ask a question, I get an opportunity to respond,” McElvain replied.
Later, McElvain discussed how he plans to soon release information about officer training to the public when he was interrupted again.
“You play judge, jury and executioner,” said Anthony, who declined to offer his last name but said he was with Vancouver Democratic Socialists of America. “You ignore the Fourth Amendment right.”
Mary Elkin, the neighborhood alliance’s chair, paused the discussion.
“Excuse me,” Elkin said. “We will respect everybody in this building.”
“My people are dying!” Anthony shouted. “There is no room for decorum.”
Some in attendance offered supportive comments to McElvain and the department.
Judy George told the audience that if an active shooter entered a mall, she would support an officer using deadly force.
McElvain offered some statistics about the department’s use of force and sprinkled in a few jokes to lighten the mood. But the tension lingered.
“The community of color right now is hurting,” said Ophelia Noble, executive director of The Noble Foundation, a social justice organization. “There’s something going on, and we want to know what it is and how to interact with a system that is not showing our community the humanity that we deserve.”