Earlier this year, the City of Seattle launched a national search for a new Seattle Police Department chief who can successfully manage police reforms while garnering public confidence amidst calls for accountability.
The City held seven community workshops throughout Seattle in addition to creating an online forum for people to provide input. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray appointed community members to two committees to try to ensure a safe and secure process within this 100-day search. The Community Advisory Committee represented the diversity of Seattle and provided feedback from a community perspective. The Search Committee has the task of screening all applicants and presenting a list of finalists to the mayor for his consideration.
Seattle City Councilmember Bruce Harrell is a part of the Search Committee, which sent its recommendations of ten people to the mayor this week. The names are not being made public until mid-May. Harrell is also chair of the Council’s Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology Committee. The International Examiner caught up with Harrell to find out how the police chief finalists were selected and what this decision will mean for Asian Pacific Islanders moving forward.
International Examiner: What specifically does the Asian Pacific Islander Community need to know about this Police Chief search?
Councilmember Bruce Harrell: They need to know that a quality we’re looking for in this chief is one that fully embraces diversity—that they not only embrace it, but they have actual experience dealing with diverse communities, Asian communities, communities that speak English as a second language … and that they demonstrated not only in the prior work experience but in hiring people in their command staff.
IE: When it’s all said and done, and we have a new police chief, how can the community ensure that the new chief will create a police force that reflects the racially diverse and low income communities they are paid to protect?
Harrell: The test for the new Chief [will be deciding who] to hire on his command staff. We passed the recent law that allows him or her to hire whoever they want as assistant chief. The prior law required that the assistant chief come from the city itself, from the Seattle Police Department. We changed that to allow them to hire whoever they want, assuming this person is qualified. I hope to see that we have diversity at the top staff.
And I also hope [the new police chief looks at] who he hires and why he hires those folks. In other words, when we recruit new officers, we do give sort of a preferential consideration to whether they’re a veteran and I think that’s the federal requirement. … Now we’re also asking the question whether this person is bilingual, whether this person has experience in diverse communities. And we’re opening up the criteria, if you will, to make sure that we get well-rounded officers. … [I’m also] looking for a chief that can be as comfortable in a corporate board room as they are in [an] Asian restaurant, talking to Asian communities, and being able to relate and genuinely respect the communities and have a good dialogue.”
IE: Did you observe any differences in the concerns between neighborhoods from the north side of Seattle compared to neighborhoods from the south side?
Harrell: Yes, but even regardless of geography within the north side [or] the south side, you can hear the same themes. … The first theme has been accountability, use of force, fairness to people, and whether the officers are behaving as bullies or overstepping their bounds. The other theme that emerges in all communities is that they want good strong policing. They want effective policing. … Southern folks want good police officers and northern folks embrace the accountability too.”
IE: What concerns have been brought forth by the Asian Pacific Islander community that you think are the most important?
Harrell: There are a couple of [Asian Pacific Islander] people, myself and Eric Sano, that are on the Search Committee. We know in the Chinatown/International District, as an example, that many conditions are unacceptable. That when it comes to thuggery or open air drug dealing or just unlawful loitering, we want a chief that will be bold enough to say, “We need a drastic improvement of the conditions.” And we also want a chief that’s bold enough to say, “We can’t arrest ourselves away out of all conditions and many of these folks will need social services.” … The unacceptable wrap will be to do nothing. And I would argue that many times we’ve done nothing. And so, this new chief needs to step up to meet the high expectation of the API community, which are clean streets, safe conditions. This affects many of the bottom lines for the businesses down there. They want it to be safe for tourists and patrons and if it’s not, then we are failing.
IE: Any specific example of how the police has “done nothing” in terms of the International District?
Harrell: Sure. There are certain areas in Chinatown during certain times of day where it is just unsafe. And many of the restaurant owners have complained and they have continued to complain and they’re just not seeing the results that they want. Around Hing Hay Park and a few other areas, and I’m sure you know the areas that I’m talking about. We’ve made a lot of progress, but I still get complaints weekly. And our officers are being pulled in lot of different angles and right now their common complaint is the amount of paperwork they’re required to fill out whenever any force is used at all. And because of the scrutiny there, there are many officers that may not be as aggressive as they would have been a few years ago.
IE: How does a candidate demonstrate cultural competency? How can cultural competency” be qualified? Other than being bilingual, what other characteristics are you looking for?
Harrell: I look specifically at their past hiring practices. I look at how they’ve handled in the press because finding their press exposure is fairly easy. Controversy of situations dealing with ethnic communities—whether they ignored it or whether they issued statements on it. I look at their past disciplinary practices, when they’ve had to impose discipline, when they have not, when they’ve ignored it. I look at what kind of accountability scheme they are used to, whether they have civilian oversight or an auditor and see if they’ve actually pushed it publicly or criticized it publicly. So, cultural competency and accountability come hand-in-hand in my eyes. And they would’ve taken or should’ve taken public stances to support it. So, on the other hand, if I see a chief that says they embrace diversity and I see absolutely no public display of that, no hiring decisions to support that other than that hallow representation, that doesn’t mean a lot to me.
IE: How do you assess the overall participation of the API community in this process? Do you feel that the community has been really involved in the search process up to this point? Has there been a strong showing?
Harrell: I hope so. And I’m sure that we could’ve done a lot better. … I’ve been in the community my entire life. I was born here. And I don’t need months and months of process to know what this community wants. I think I’m pretty close to it. And if I need ten meetings to be convinced that the community wants one thing and I don’t know that, then I’m not very good. And I would say that that would apply to the mayor and the other councilmembers as well. So, yes, we probably could have done more to listen to the communities, but that doesn’t apply to just the police search, that applies to every major issue that affects their communities.