At a City Hall press conference today, Mayor Ed Murray and police chief Kathleen O'Toole condemned the killings of five police officers in Dallas yesterday. They called for healing, mutual respect, and nonviolence.
But last night, the Seattle Police Officers Guild, which represents about 1,200 frontline Seattle police officers, blamed the shootings on a "minority movement," implicating a broad group of people across the country in the acts of a lone gunman. The remarks were poorly received and today, SPOG quietly removed them from its Facebook page—just as the union did last summer, when it claimed President Obama was waging war on cops. I've reached out to SPOG for comment and have not heard back.
Chief O'Toole refused to condemn SPOG's rhetoric.
Afterward, I caught up with Murray and City Council Member Tim Burgess, a former Seattle police officer, in two separate interviews.
Murray said the comments are "not helpful," and admitted bringing the union along in the reform process has been a "struggle." The mayor was backed heavily by SPOG during his election campaign and has been loath to publicly criticize the union's resistance to civilian oversight and reform.
Burgess went much further than the chief, calling SPOG's comments "terrible," "disgusting," and "disrespectful."
Here's what they had to say:
Is that the kind of rhetoric that you want to see from SPOG to build community trust?
O'Toole: I didn't see that online, I'm not sure what they intended by that. But I'm here to build bridges, not to drive wedges... I want the community to know that we care deeply about our relationship with the community. As the leader of this organization, I will ensure that we deal with the community respectfully and collaboratively... I've been in this business for three decades and the vast majority of people are decent, hard working people. Do we have bad apples? Yes, like every other profession and occupation, and it's our job to weed them out. Are we humans? Will we mistakes? Yes. Those people, we need to hold them accountable but give them support if they make mistakes that are unintended.
I'm quoting directly. That rhetoric doesn't send the wrong message?
O'Toole: I don't know what they intended by that phrase. I'm not going defend it, I'm not going to comment on it. I don't want to feed into division between the police and the community... I'll let SPOG speak for themselves.
Murray: I don't like it, I think it's open to interpretation, and that's not helpful. As I said before, there are posts on all sides of this issue that are not helpful... I don't get to choose what a union posts. I get to choose the chief of police, and that shows you the kind of leadership and communication that I expect from the police department. I think my choice of Kathleen O'Toole and how she deals with her police force is how we should act.
Last summer, you told me you're trying to bring the union along. Do you feel you're doing that?
Murray: You know... it's a struggle.
Burgess: I would have answered that question differently... I think sometimes the police union leadership are their own worst enemies. They fire off these statements and then take them down. It's terrible, because it reflects an inner cycle of thinking that is very negative and disrespectful. Sometimes I find it disgusting... They used the "we shall overcome" phrase.
Do you think it casts a shadow over the consent decree process?
Burgess: I wouldn't go that far. But it's not helpful. They're harming themselves... it reflects an immaturity and an insensitivity to the issues we're dealing with.