Police Chief Search Committee hears concerns

About two-dozen people turned out for the first of three public meetings devoted to finding Seattle’s next police chief. It took place at the Northgate Community Center on Feb. 10. Not unexpectedly, crime was on the minds of some who spoke.

Tunny Vann, a UW student, cited an event that happened the day before, during which a SWAT team showed up a few blocks north of campus. Vann, chair of a campus committee on student safety, said he learned of it after the fact by friends who questioned why they didn’t receive an alert from the campus police department.

“I called UWPD, [they] transferred me to SPD – SPD transferred me to UWPD,” Vann said. Eventually he spoke with a dispatcher, who told him things were under control. “I feel like there’s a lot of miscommunication going on,” he said.

Jens Gundlach, a professor of physics at the University of Washington, said that his house was burglarized about a month ago and many items were stolen. “We called the police of course and they were very responsive,” Gundlach said, adding that the officers were very friendly, “but that’s where it ended.” Despite leaving repeated phone messages, he has been unable to follow up with police.

“All the telephone machines are answering trees – getting you from one machine to the other,” he said, noting that there is no e-mail access to the police. Frustrated that he had to do his own investigating, Gundlach stressed the need for greater accessibility.

Concerns about racial and ethnic diversity were also brought up.

Tsegaye Tewolde, chairman of an Eritrean church in the Pinehurst neighborhood, asked the committee to consider selecting candidates who would employ a more diverse array of officers. He referred to diversity in race, gender and age.

Isela Gutierrez spoke on behalf of the Racial Disparity Project of the Defenders Association. This organization has been providing public defense in Seattle since 1969, and the Racial Disparity Project is an effort to raise public awareness and end racial disparity in law enforcement.

“We hope that you will look for a candidate who will be open to innovations such as pre-booking diversion for low-level drug offenders and other offenders who might be considered eligible – folks who are engaged in non-violent offenses like prostitution,” Gutierrez said.

She added that she felt such innovations are “more likely to have a positive impact on our neighborhoods than the traditional approaches we’ve been using, and are likely to be more cost effective.”

A student who asked name not be printed because he is a minor, gave a perspective as a young black American. He described two events he had witnessed. In the first, a man tried to rob a Wendy’s and seven or eight cops “beat him down.” The second involved “some guys at Nathan Hale High School who tried to kill somebody,” he said. The police were called and soon arrived, but got “shot at,” he said. The police called in a SWAT team, which arrived an hour later and reportedly stopped the crime.

However, the next day, students were talking about the incident and were worried about being victims of violence, he said. In summary, the student believes that “some cops should focus on small things, and some cops should focus on bigger things.”

The city’s Police Chief Search Committee is co-chaired by Charles Rolland, board member and president of the group Community and Parents for Public Schools of Seattle (CPPS), and Kate Joncas, president of the Downtown Seattle Association (DSA).

Click here for more information on the search for the new Seattle police chief.

A video of the entire meeting can be seen here.

(Contributor Justin Vorhees is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory.)

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