Frequently Asked Questions - Updated May 28, 2015

About this FAQ

Following the May 21 officer involved shooting, our community has been asking many questions. On this page, we will attempt to answer as many of those questions as we are able. It is important to undersatnd that because the Olympia Police Department is not conducting the criminal investigation, much of the information specific to the incident is not available to us.

We will be updating this page as we continue to hear from our community and as more information becomes available.

The Investigation

The investigation is being conducted by the Thurston County Critical Incident Team lead by the Thurston County Sheriff's Office. The team includes investigators from the Thurston County Sheriff's Office, the Lacey and Tumwater Police Departments, and Washington State Patrol.

The Thurston County Prosecutor will review the case and determine whether any criminal charges are warranted. The State of Washington does not use a Grand Jury process to decide criminal chargings.

The Critical Incident Team also presents their investigative findings to the management staff of the Olympia Police Department. The Department holds an internal Shooting Review Board to determine whether Department policies and procedures were followed. The Shooting Review Board is usually made up of a representative from the City Attorney’s Office, a citizen at large, a representative for the officer, and other Department staff.

Usually, right after a critical incident such as this, our police officers provide the scene supervisor with a brief statement. Sometimes this statement is called a “public safety” statement. In this brief statement, the officer tells his/her supervisor:

  • A brief synopsis of what just happened
  • If there are any outstanding suspects and where they may have went as well as descriptions
  • Who is hurt and where they are
  • Approximately how many rounds were fired and which direction the officer fired his weapon
  • Where the officer thinks evidence may be and where the crime scene may be

From this statement detectives are able to glean enough information to begin their investigation.

The officer is quickly removed from the scene and detectives immediately process evidence from that officer which includes: seizing the firearm, seizing all of the officer’s equipment, photographing the officer, processing any physical and microscopic evidence on the officer, and seizing the officer’s uniform.

An officer-involved shooting investigation is similar to other criminal investigations. Usually, a detective will briefly speak to a victim or suspect to get an initial idea of what has happened but not undertake a complete and detailed formal interview at the front of the investigation. The detective will wait until he/she has had the time to process and understand all the evidence. With all the information at hand, the detective then knows what questions to ask, understands what details are important to solicit, and can test the veracity of the formal interview against the physical evidence and witness statements.

Police Hiring and Training

OPD hires officers under Civil Service rules. This means that a Civil Service Commission, made up of citizens appointed by the City Manager, ensures that our hiring process is fair and based on criteria relevant to the job. The Board approves all testing and processes used for hiring police officers.

(Hiring process info upated 05/26/15)

The hiring process is lengthy. Each step is taken in order. Failure at one step stops the process. The steps involved include:

  • Written test by the applicant
  • Physical Ability Test
  • Suitability Assessment
  • Oral Review Board –interview by a panel of law enforcement officers and community members
  • Civil Service Commission certifies the hiring register
  • Background Investigation
  • Civil Service refers names to OPD for selection (Civil Service “Rule of Three” - Police Chief receives a list containing the highest scoring applicants equal to the number of vacancies plus two)
  • Interview with Police Chief
  • Conditional Employment Officer (offer is contingent on passing psychological, physical, polygraph)
  • Psychological evaluation by a psychologist
  • Physical examination
  • Polygraph
  • Final Employment Offer

Yes, former military personnel go through the hiring process listed above and receive the same training as all other applicants, once hired.

Police officer candidates statewide are required to attend a 19 week basic law enforcement academy where they receive certification as a law enforcement officer from the State of Washington. For a complete list of the course and classes they must successfully complete see the Washington State Basic Law Enforcement Academy website.

After the Basic Law Enforcement Academy, officers then return to the Police Department and go through a 10 week field training program in which an experienced training officer teaches the recruit the local municipal laws, the department’s policies and procedures and helps the new recruit gather the valuable experience of hands-on work.

Olympia Police Officers participate in monthly training. One day a month they receive refresher and advanced training in many different topics including: use of force, scenario based training, firearms, community resources, etc. Training is done by community groups, professional trainers, management, and police staff.

Engagement and Use of Force Practices

When the police receive a report of a potential crime, regardless of its severity, we are expected by our community to respond. The community also expects that we will attempt to locate suspects of a crime in order to prevent them from committing other crimes. Once the suspects are detained by police, the rest of the criminal justice process is initiated.

Olympia, like many other cities our size, does not have the resources to have two officers in each vehicle. Each of our officers working a shift is assigned to work a geographical area. However, they remain in constant contact with officers from other areas who will provide back-up, when needed. It is routine for officers to make initial contact with suspects by themselves. Usually, other officers will respond to the location for the safety of all parties. Sometimes, there are circumstances where the officer needs to take action before other officers arrive, such as to stop physical harm, prevent a suspect from fleeing, or to render aid to anyone who is injured.

We often say…no two contacts are alike. We cannot make a policy or rules for every single incident law enforcement encounters. Officers have many tools they use. Some of those tools include their mere presence, their words, their hands, a baton, pepper spray, a Tazer or a handgun. Decisions about which is used are most often forced upon the officer in a split-second. The officer uses his or her discretion and training to determine which option will keep themselves and others safe. All officers understand the gravity of using their firearms.

Unlike television or movies, it is very difficult to shoot so precisely under stress or assault. Officers are trained to shoot the biggest part of the threat, often described as “center mass,” or, in real words, the chest area, to stop the immediate threat and to minimize the potential for a stray bullet to strike an unintended target.

Yes, officers are trained to evaluate their environment and the risk to bystanders when using a firearm. In real life conditions, environments are not absolutely controlled, physical movements will rapidly change and evolve, and the officer has only a fraction of a second to make a decision. This is part of why we treat these uses of force so seriously and why we so infrequently actually use firearms.

Body Cameras

The Department is in favor of body cameras and we have been analyzing how we might implement them for over a year. Some of the challenges we are facing include:

  • Privacy issues for victims, suspects, witnesses, and the public at large. We think the Washington State public disclosure laws are unclear about which videos we would be required to release to the general public. Officers encounter people in some of their worst moments. Whether those moments should be available for everyone to see is still an open question.
  • Implementation costs are very high. They include the purchase of the camera, purchase of the video software, purchase of supporting hardware, storage of the videos, and the staffing to both manage the videos and disseminate them when requested. While the cost of the cameras themselves may be within our resources, the costs to support them are enormous.
  • The Department currently receives over 3000 requests for records a year, many of which require hundreds of hours to fill. We anticipate that video records would be requested frequently, and would require us to increase our administrative staff significantly to meet the workload.

All Washington law enforcement agencies are facing similar hurdles. The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs has been working with the State Legislature to resolve the legal issues presented. With additional clarification from the Legislature, we can begin the community conversations about what our community expects from the Department and  how we implement body cameras.