A wrap-up press conference was held Tuesday concerning the SPD-conceived, tax payer-sponsored, two-day brain trust known as the "Consortium to Build a New Policing Paradigm." The consortium gathered police chiefs and academic types from around the nation, as well as local community leaders. A press conference Monday introduced the concept of the consortium, but left unclear what exactly was going on - aside from some unfocused brainstorming by really, really smart people in a crowded conference room on the 40th floor of the Columbia Tower. And today's conference did little to clear things up.
What was the meat and potatoes of the consortium? What did the gathered masses do for two days? Presentations? Q & A sessions? Gathering in a circle and singing "Kumbaya"? The answers are still unclear, but here's what I do know.
Monday's press conference took place in the same room that held the consortium, so I saw a room of about 50 people - presumably the think tank - in business attire seated at several round tables, notebooks open and tablets fired up. When the media was led in, a presentation was wrapping. Then the consortium adjourned for a 15-minute break and the press conference, in which Mayor McGinn and SPD Chief John Diaz answered questions, began. The press conference ended, and the consortium resumed. What exactly they did afterward is unclear. I only assume it was a day and a half of presentations with some discussion mixed in. About what, I do not know.
On Monday, Chief Diaz said several ideas would be amassed from the all-star brainstorming session, and that list would be narrowed down to "one or two areas we're going to focus on."
Today Mayor McGinn said, "The primary issue that came to the fore...was how do you build that trust between the police department and the community."
Diaz's "one or two areas we're going to focus on" seems to have culminated with one area, the need to build a better, more open relationship between SPD and the people of Seattle.
"There is a real commitment from this group to continue moving forward," Jim Miller, a consortium member and executive director of the Millionair Club Charity, said. It seems nothing tangible was achieved by the consortium, only concepts and ideas that will hopefully lead to change down the road.
According to SPD spokesperson Sgt. Sean Whitcomb, the most important thing the consortium accomplished was a lubing of the channels of communication between police and civilians, making future interactions between the two smoother and more abundant, underlined by at least a little bit of mutual understanding.
Strangely absent from the Consortium was the Seattle Human Rights Commission, which was obviously disappointed about not being involved in the process.
"The Mayor's summit is both an excellent idea and overdue. The Mayor's commitment to best practices is important and in that respect, it would be have been ideal for the participants to hear from both the OPA Review Board and the Human Rights Commission because both have produced police accountability reports and recommendations for structural reform based on best practices," the Seattle Human Rights Commission's Chris Stearns said in a statement distributed to the media today. "The bottom line is that you can put a lot of effort into building new innovative policing strategies but they won't work if the basics aren't in place first. Don't put the cart before the horse. Police reform has to come first."
Will this consortium end up being more symbolic than practical? Only time will tell. One thing's for sure, it seems like all three parties involved - police, academia and community leadership - came out of the consortium excited and hopeful about what they had achieved, which, it seems, is essentially getting to know one another. The entire ordeal cost tax payers around $7,000, the bulk of which covered lodging for those invited to attend the consortium.
UPDATE: SPD Spokesperson Sgt. Whitcomb issued a statement shedding light on what went down during the two-day consortium. This is an excerpt from Whitcomb's statement:
How should police deal with aggressive panhandlers? Should jaywalking laws be strictly enforced? How can police agencies better monitor themselves for racial profiling or biased policing when it occurs? These are the types of questions that police executives, criminal justice academics and community members delved into during a two day multi-discipline gathering, or Consortium, held at the Columbia Tower.
American policing is at a crossroads and in need of a fundamental re-examination of its objectives and approaches, and the Consortium can provide a powerful vehicle to carry US law enforcement through the transformation necessary to ensure its vitality and strength in the 21st century.
In all, over 40 community leaders, academic scholars and police practitioners were on hand to deliberate over use of force, bias free policing and police accountability.
The Consortium's discussions identified these issues and others for further review and study, and ultimately identified police and community trust as the premier issue.
Consortium participants will now begin reviewing issues surrounding community and police partnerships to validate or change current police practices. The Consortium will then craft a white paper outlining the best law enforcement practices for the future.
They should have read this at the press conference.