Seattle forum on police relations identifies trust as top concern
From a list of topics, improving police and community relations was chosen as the focus of further talks between police officials, academics and community members. More than 40 participants met at Columbia Center to discuss topics ranging from panhandling to use of force.
Seattle Times staff reporter
After 1 ½ days of discussing best practices, a group of Seattle and national police officials, academics from around the country and community leaders on Tuesday identified improving trust between the police and residents as the most pressing issue they want to focus on as part of a continuing collaboration.
"It's really about putting theory into practice," Seattle Police Chief John Diaz, who organized the Seattle consortium, said of the effort to tie together the expertise of the parties.
Meeting at the downtown Columbia Center on Monday and Tuesday, more than 40 participants discussed topics ranging from discrete issues such as dealing with aggressive panhandlers and jaywalkers to broader topics that included the use of force, bias-free policing and police accountability.
The talks came at a time when the Seattle Police Department is under federal oversight after reaching a settlement with the Department of Justice to curb excessive force and biased policing. The forum's work also met a goal of the city's "20/20" reform plan, calling for 20 initiatives in a 20-month period.
At a news conference after the gathering, Stephen Rice, an assistant professor in the Criminal Justice Department at Seattle University, called the consortium a "historic event" that will be noticed nationwide.
Developing trust means recognizing that what happens during a "2 a.m. traffic stop does matter," said Rice, who was joined by academicians from Seattle University; the University of Washington; the University of Illinois, Chicago; the University of Nevada, Las Vegas; George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.; and the Police Foundation in Washington, D.C.
Information gathered during the talks will be provided to the participants by January, followed by continuing discussion, some on a Web-based program, on how to develop practical solutions based, in part, on academic research and testing.
Without absolute timetables but an impatient approach, the eventual "white paper" results will be applied in Seattle but shared for the benefit of police nationwide, according to Seattle police and Mayor Mike McGinn.
Austin, Texas, Police Chief Art Acevedo said the goal was to take adversity that has affected police departments and use it to develop better practices. Other police officials who attended included Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca; Portland Police Chief Mike Reese; and Sgt. Renee Mitchell of the Sacramento, Calif., Police Department.
Jim Miller, executive director of the Millionair Club Charity in Seattle and president of the Belltown Business Association, said he was impressed by talks that involved "courageous conversations."
Miller said the discussion went beyond "episodic" events that are soon forgotten to substantive dialogue that has the potential of developing "evidence-based" practices that would help the community engage with the police.
The event cost the city $7,000 for lodging out-of-town guests; refreshments and food; and a facilitator and the meeting room.
Chris Stearns, chairman of the Seattle Human Rights Commission, issued a statement calling the gathering an "excellent idea and overdue." But Stearns chastised the city for not including representatives of the commission and of a citizen-review board which both have "produced police-accountability reports and recommendations for structural reform based on best practices."
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org