News Column

Bellingham police to address questions on info-gathering system

July 4, 2014

By Samantha Wohlfeil, The Bellingham Herald (Bellingham, Wash.)



July 04--BELLINGHAM -- City Council will again host a public hearing about a federal grant that would provide the police department access to a digital information-gathering service after no police officials attended the first public hearing to answer questions.

The hearing will take place at the 7 p.m. Monday, July 7, council meeting in the City Council chambers at 210 Lottie St.

Unlike at many public hearings, there was no staff report before the floor was opened to public comment during the June 23 hearing and no representative attended to respond to questions.

The council was not being asked to approve the application or acceptance of the funds. The information-only public hearing was required as part of the application process for a $25,834 grant that would provide Intrado Beware/Address logins to the department. The service provides officers with a slew of safety information about addresses they are asked to respond to and the people involved in potentially violent calls. It pulls information from public and commercially available records, social media, the Internet and police databases to give officers a threat indication and hard-to-find contact information.

A few citizens raised questions about the software's possible uses, citing concerns about what information would be accessible or made public.

After the public comment period, Mayor Kelli Linville asked the council to consider delaying action until Police Chief Cliff Cook could appear and explain what he had already explained to her: The software would enhance practices the department already uses.

Council member Terry Bornemann was upset about the flub.

"Madame Mayor, I've got to disagree with you. ... The time to get information for the council is the presentation before the public hearing," he said during the meeting. "If the police department ... can't be here, and can't ask you to fill in, then it's not very important and I'm not willing to support it and I want to vote on it tonight."

Council member Jack Weiss moved to extend the public hearing to the July 7 meeting, with a staff report to take place beforehand. The motion was approved 5-1, with Bornemann opposed and Gene Knutson absent.

When applying for JAG funding in the past, the department has not typically attended the public hearings, said Deputy Chief David Doll.

"It was definitely our mistake, and we absolutely apologize to the council, the mayor's office and the community for not being there to provide a better picture of what this will do," Doll said.

Doll and Cook will provide information before the hearing Monday night.

"One thing that's really important is that we have tailored the use of this product based on our community concerns," Doll said.

For instance, Bellingham Police would not use the service to query domestic terrorism lists or national arrest data, but it would look for national convictions for violent crimes and local arrest and conviction data, Doll said.

Those with access would not be allowed to enter names into the system at random, say while driving down the road on patrol, Doll said.

"That would violate our policy," he said. "If we ever do a query, it's tracked, and if we ever use that data in an investigation it is included in the police report. We're only using it for bonafide police investigations."

Reach Samantha Wohlfeil at Samantha.Wohlfeil@bellinghamherald.com.

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(c)2014 The Bellingham Herald (Bellingham, Wash.)

Visit The Bellingham Herald (Bellingham, Wash.) at www.bellinghamherald.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services


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Source: Bellingham Herald (WA)


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