City Opens Community Forums to Offer Recommendations in the Hunt for New Chief

Buzzwords like “community,” “diversity,” and “integrity” bounced off the walls of the University District’s University Heights Center on Tuesday night, when Mayor Ed Murray’s Community Advisory Committee held a workshop to ask the citizens what they are looking for in a new police chief.

As an effort to garner community input in the nationwide search for a new Seattle Police Department Chief, the Mayor’s 32-person CAC is holding workshops between Jan. 28 and Feb. 6. The U-District workshop was the first out of seven that will be held in the Central District, Southwest Seattle, Rainier Valley, Lake City, Ballard, and Downtown. (Community members unable to make it to the workshops have been invited to weigh in at spdchiefsearch.com.)

Ron Sims, former King County Executive and co-chair of both the CAC and the 12-person search committee, said this type of process involving major community input is uncommon in police searches across the nation.

“It’s gonna be an exhaustive process,” Sims said. “It’s gonna be worth it I think.”

The forum was formatted to address four areas: the top three qualities the city should look for in Police Chief; matters important to Seattle residents in finding a new police chief; other skills, qualifications, or issues that the city should consider; and particulat issues the public believes the new chief should focus on.

A crowd of around 15 people were divided into three groups to discuss these matters. The groups wanted similar things: sensitivity to diversity and marginalized communities, more presence in and interaction with various Seattle communities, a more positive image of the department in the media, and increasing partnerships with non-police organizations, among others. The attendees also said they would prefer the new chief live in or near the Seattle metropolitan area, speak a second language, and be present in community meetings.

“All the buzzwords are here,” said Kent Willis, a U-District resident. “Again, my concern is based on our community and I think that being willing to think outside the box to new ideas [is important].”

City officials have said that they expect differences between the wants of each neighborhood depending on their resident makeup. Of the issues brought up during the U-District forum, however, only one was specific to the neighborhood: the working relationship between the SPD the University of Washington Police Department.

“Both departments need to say ‘We’re gonna collaborate, we’re gonna work together to serve this community better,’” said Karen Ko, a City of Seattle neighborhood district coordinator for the Northeast District. “We want the new chief to keep that up.”

In addition, Eric Sano, president of the Seattle Police Management Association who is both in the CAC and on the search committee, also told the attendees that the city could possibly seek assistance from either the Police Executive Research Forum or International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Most in attendance were unconcerned with the current makeup of the SPD and the department’s recent personnel changes, including the appointment of interim chief Harry Bailey. Sims echoed that sentiment.

“Chief Bailey—it’s his decision and the Mayor’s decision ... I don’t follow that too much,” Sims said. “We were asked to bring a new chief here, we will read a lot of reports that are key to us—the police, federal courts, and justice departments. We just want a great chief.”

After the “exhaustive” string of community meetings, recommendations will be given to the search committee and reports will be filed. Until then, the committee will not see a list of candidates.

“I don’t wanna see it,” Sims said. “The list doesn’t mean much to us until we know what people want to achieve. The mayor says ‘Give me the very best,’ and he’ll get three really great candidates who want to come here and reflect the values here. And we know they’re there. We’ll brag years from now, we got the police chief that everybody else really wanted, but we got that chief.”

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