‘Whole picture’ to be weighed in Seattle police hiring
In an effort to promote diversity on the force, candidates with troubled backgrounds will be evaluated on what they have overcome in their lives
Seattle Times staff reporter
Past gang membership, tattoos and a record of driving while intoxicated will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis in screening applicants for the Seattle Police Department under new policies designed to boost diversity on the force and hire officers who reflect the makeup of the community.
“We’re trying to do everything we can to smooth out those bumps in the road,” Assistant Police Chief Dick Reed said at a news conference Monday at the social-justice organization El Centro de la Raza as the city unveiled changes in minimum hiring standards.
Mayor Mike McGinn said the new approach grew out of the city’s “20/20” police-reform plan adopted last year, calling for 20 initiatives over 20 months, and is designed to lift technicalities in the hiring process.
The reform plan was adopted last year after a U.S. Department of Justice finding that Seattle’s police officers have too often resorted to excessive force and displayed troubling, if inconclusive, evidence of biased policing. The city later entered into a settlement agreement with the Justice Department to address the issues.
The city expects to hire more than 300 officers in the next five years to fill positions created by retirements, including 85 to be hired this year. A new round of testing is to be held July 13, with enrollment having opened on Monday.
As part of the changes, the city will no longer require a $25 application fee, which was seen as a barrier.
One goal is to attract applicants through community-based organizations such as El Centro, the Atlantic Street Center and Filipino Community of Seattle, along with career-promotion efforts in Seattle’s community colleges.
Workshops, including one which was to be held at Filipino Community on Monday night, will be advertised on the Police Department’s new recruitment website at seattlepolicejobs.com.
New materials to advertise career opportunities and recruit applicants also will be used, shaped by suggestions from the community.
With the hope of attracting more Seattle residents, McGinn said the department wants the “broadest possible pool” of qualified applicants who demonstrate integrity and reflect the city’s values. But the city will not set quotas, he said.
Felony and domestic-violence convictions will continue to be automatic disqualifiers, Reed said.
But misdemeanor convictions and past misconduct will be evaluated on an individual basis under background checks that, overall, will examine challenges which applicants might have faced, lessons they have learned and changes they have made in their lives.
“We’ll evaluate the whole picture,” Reed said, explaining that the department may consider what occurred years ago differently from more recent conduct.
In addition, the marijuana-use policy has been revised to require that new hires have not used pot in the past year rather than fewer than 25 times overall.
The department also is eliminating some language regarding applicants’ driving records that might have disqualified some.
Visible tattoos already are allowed for officers working on the force, and confusing language in application papers regarding their acceptance has been removed, Reed said. Tattoos will now be reviewed case by case, along with marks from deliberate scarifying, and the department will eliminate a policy restricting dental ornamentation.
Recent statistics show the Police Department has 86 percent male officers, compared with a Seattle population 50 percent female; 75.3 percent white officers compared with a 69.5 percent white population; 8.6 African-American officers compared with 8.0 percent; 5.1 Hispanic officers compared with 6.6 percent; 8.5 percent Asian/Pacific Islander officers compared with 14.2 percent; and 2.3 percent Native-American officers compared with 0.8 percent.
Tony Benjamin, representing Atlantic Street Center, a nonprofit social-service agency that helps families and communities to raise healthy, successful children and youth, said he sees the plan as a way to promote a great career opportunity and a safer community for all.
Kip Tokuda, a community activist and former state legislator hired by the city to study police hiring, said he identified barriers to recruitment, which has prompted the department to adopt specific changes.
Among his recommendations was to build partnerships with various communities and establish relationships at Seattle’s community colleges, Tokuda said.
More diversity will lead to a more effective department, Tokuda said.
The general idea, he said, is to make hiring “more welcoming than in the past.”
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @stevemiletich.