Ron Smith
Ron Smith, president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild. Ansel Herz

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Last week the Seattle Police Officers Guild, which has often been resistant to necessary changes to the SPD's culture, wrote on its Facebook page: "Times have changed and we must also change to adapt to societal expectations."

Today, in an interview at SPOG's South Seattle headquarters, I asked union president Ron Smith to expand on what that meant—particularly in light of incidents over the past year in which officers have taken to social media to use racially inflammatory rhetoric, defend the militarization of police, and rant about gay people.

Smith said he's repeatedly told some of his members—particularly "the ones who complain about it"—the following: "You applied here. And you have to treat people all the same. You have to serve the community. If you don't like the politics here, then leave and go to a place that serves your worldview."

The tough talk, Smith said, usually continues with him saying something like this:

"They hired you because they thought you were going to be able to work in a diverse community. And if you can't, well then, I guess there are still places across the country that aren't diverse, so go work there. But those won't last forever."

Speaking of Seattle's intolerant cops, Smith told me: "There are more than enough places across this country that are hiring law enforcement that have a different political landscape than here. And I don't know why they don't just go there."

It was exciting language from the head of a union that in the past, in its monthly Guardian newsletter, has described efforts to combat racial profiling as "socialist policies" from "the enemy" and argued that officers should be able to call citizens "bitch" and "n***a."

Smith said all Seattle police officers need to "check their bias at the door" when they walk into work. Bias-free policing training, which officers underwent in four-hour sessions between October and December of last year, was the best training he'd experienced throughout all of last year, he added.

"Hopefully we have some more of that [training] this year," Smith said, "to really strike home the concept of getting rid of those biases."

I questioned, however, whether one could ever expect to train away, so to speak, a set of discriminatory beliefs held by a police officer. I asked whether an officer who has internalized derogatory stereotypes about blacks or gays, for example, could realistically remove those biases from an interaction with someone on the street.

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"That's an overt attitude," he said. "There's no room for that. I don't know how you check that at the door. That's like playing dress up."

Then he repeated his core feeling: "We need to treat everyone the same. Regardless of race, gender identity, economic class—all the same."

"I'm going to try to do better on things," he added. "I stand firm on the fact that if you don't like... the political environment of the city, then go someplace else... You gotta change with the times. You gotta embrace what we have here."

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