“How did it get so late so soon? It's night before it's afternoon.” - Dr. Seuss
by Tyler Mangrum
- The Capitol Hill Times -
Following an investigation into the Seattle Police Department’s apparent abuses of power, including a violation of constitutional rights regarding use of excessive force, racial profiling and bias against people of color, as well as the use of unwarranted stops and searches, the City of Seattle has established a Community Police Commission (CPC) tasked with improving “community engagement” within the police department. But some residents feel that enumerating new policies within the SPD will not be enough to counter the problem of building trust between the community and those tasked with protecting them.
“The CPC was established, essentially, to be the vehicle for getting community input into the reform process,” said acting CPC Director Betsy Graef during the recent East District Council meeting. “It is in place through the course of the entire settlement agreement, which will go at least until 2015, and is likely to go beyond 2015. The commission was charged in this initial phase with looking at specific policies of the department. Bias-free Policing, Stops and Detentions, and The Monitor asked the commission to look into policies around in-car video recording. The commission also asked to make comments on use of force, which, as you may know, is the foundation of the Department of Justice’s findings with respect to the problems in the police department.”
Currently, the CPC has developed drafts of policy changes that include avoiding use of excessive force, and the implementation of new guidelines for when officers may use their weapons, calling for more “less-lethal” devices like tasers to be used, and requiring officers to report any instance in which an officer points a firearm at a suspect.
While one of the primary goals in the founding of the CPC has been to encourage a strengthening of trust between the community and law enforcement officials, the primary form of community outreach, so far, instituted by the CPC has been to speak to demographics that have traditionally had an adverse relationship with the SPD, particularly people of color.
“We’ve basically focused on target communities that have had particularly negative experiences with the police department to get that kind of feedback, so we have lots of partner organizations that are out holding meetings and getting feedback from them,” Graef said. “At the same time, we’re also trying to reach the larger community and get feedback from everyone in the city. And, of course, this is not perfect. We wish that we had more time, and we wish that we could do a more robust engagement process, but that’s just not going to be this time around.”
With the CPC’s policy recommendations to be instituted mid-November, some residents feel that the CPC’s rewriting of police policy won’t be enough to improve the SPD’s reputation within minority populations. One Asian-American attendee of the meeting stated that establishing trust requires more than policy changes.
“I’m from a minority group in this city,” said the attendee. “The biggest problem that we see is that the police have no clue of protocol when they arrive [to a crime scene]. When something happens in Chinatown, for example, locals won’t open up and tell the police exactly what happened because they don’t trust them, because they come from a different culture. The police department doesn’t hire enough minority police officers, Chinese, or any other race. If the police department establishes trust between themselves and minority communities, they will open up. If you hire a Chinese policeman to go to Chinatown, they will open up. The same with other minority groups; if I see a police officer from my culture, I’ll open up.”
When Graef was asked by the Capitol Hill Times how the CPC would help improve the SPD’s standing within the community, she responded by saying that the CPC was primarily engaged in policy work, and not any specific outreach geared towards improving relations between the SPD and the community beyond input for those policy changes.
“We have a questionnaire that we’re asking people to fill out, which is available online,” Graef said. “It asks both general questions about your perceptions about the police department and how well you think that it’s performing, and any problems that you might see. It asks specific questions about the policy items that the commission has drafted recommendations on, and it’s asking for demographic information so that we can provide a picture that’s a bit more nuanced and complex than you might get in other surveys where the subgroups of the city may not be captured.”
To participate in the survey, visit www.surveymonkey.com/s/CPC123 (October 31 is the final day to do so).