With Seattle police recently under fire for allegedly using excessive force, the Bellevue Police Department last week went on a public relations offensive.
More than 50 people turned out for a community forum on police brutality and the media, including several uniformed members of the Bellevue police force.
It was a rare chance for cops and community members to meet. Brief encounters during a traffic stop or detainment are often the only contact that most Bellevue residents have with police officers, said Carla Iafrate of the Bellevue Police Department.
She said news coverage of alleged police brutality incidents might mislead them.
"Since the media only shows part of the clip, the public doesn't really get a clear understanding of what really happened," said Iafrate, referring to videos of Seattle police that recently came to light.
The Bellevue police force made 3,470 arrests in 2010, 102 of which resulted in a use of force. The vast majority of the uses of force were officers grabbing the hands of perpetrators during an arrest, said Bellevue Police Chief Linda Pillo.
Discussions of department policy were particularly relevant for communities such as the homeless or disabled, said Kevin Henry, communications coordinator for the City of Bellevue's cultural diversity program.
Because of the "precarious nature of being homeless, the likelihood of [a use of force] incident happening would increase," he said.
But Fabienne Brooks, director of Law Enforcement programs for the National Coalition Building Institute and a retired police officer, said cultural diversity goes both ways.
"We're always told to learn about other people's cultures. Well, police also have to educate about their own culture, police culture," she said.
To that end, officer Sarah Finkel recalled an incident in which she had to restrain a man who was intoxicated and refusing to leave Crossroads Mall in Bellevue. When he resisted, Finkel, a small woman, had to take his hands and firmly push him in the direction of her patrol car. While it required what Finkel calls a "low-level" use of force, to an outsider it may have easily been misinterpreted, she said.
Brooks, a retired officer, asked attendees to think about how police officers feel.
"Let yourself [be] in [the police officers'] shoes, and allow them to be in your shoes. You can build better relationships that way," Brooks said.
And what do the Bellevue Police intend to do to be in citizens' shoes?
Capitalizing on the evening's