Racial Equity and Justice

After recent tragic and often deadly shootings of people of color by law enforcement in a number of cities, and growing awareness of the persistence of racism, there is heightened attention to the need to root out racism in public institutions. Changes enacted locally include public safety programs that respond to emergency calls when police response is unnecessary; reform of police procedures and training; and restructuring of judicial practices to reduce unwarranted incarceration. A new countywide Racial Equity Commission will review public policies and practices and recommend reforms to reduce bias and increase equity.

Antiracism and Public Accountability

In 2020, members of the Bellingham City Council participated in a Listening Series on Race and Justice. Community participants identified a need for continued antiracism work, improved police accountability, creation of alternatives to police response, and expansion of social services and housing. The City Council discussed the content of the forums and needed next steps at Council meetings in August and September of 2020. On September 27, 2021 the City Council passed a Resolution Affirming that Racism is a Public Health Crisis.

Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement

The Council is working with the Mayor’s office to strengthen civilian oversight of law enforcement. As currently conceived, a new board would review use of force and other incidents of concern to determine whether such incidents were thoroughly and fairly investigated. A board may also review patterns of police encounters to identify where policies and practices should be changed.

Whatcom County Racial Equity Commission

Both the City of Bellingham and Whatcom County supported a community-led effort to create a new Whatcom County Racial Equity Commission. The new commission will work to involve and educate the public and to improve racial equity in both public and private institutions in the county. The Whatcom County Council voted to create the Racial Equity Commission on October 11, 2022.

Public Safety Alternative Response Systems

Police departments nationwide are tasked with responding to situations they are neither fully trained for nor have the tools to resolve, including encounters with individuals experiencing a mental health episode or a substance use crisis, and those who have unmanaged medical needs. Bellingham is collaborating with Whatcom County in the creation of programs that can respond appropriately to these issues.

Alternative Response Team

Bellingham is working with Whatcom County to pilot an Alternative Response Team (ART) for a portion of emergency calls involving non-violent behavioral health and substance use concerns. The program is a collaborative approach between law enforcement, emergency medical response, human services, and other community agencies. A crisis triage specialist will be housed at WhatCOMM dispatch center to ensure proper employment of vans staffed by a mental health specialist and a registered nurse.


The County Prosecutor has created a new Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program where law enforcement refers people at risk of criminal involvement to a team of specialists who work to resolve issues and keep the person out of the judicial system. A Ground Level Response and Coordinated Engagement (GRACE) program connects people who are frequent users of emergency systems and who have numerous contacts with law enforcement to appropriate services. See the following links for more information.

Links to local programs or resources

 Alternative Response Programs in other cities

Additional City Council web resources