Bruce Harrell at the John T. Williams totem pole memorial ceremony. Harrell was the only councilmember to meet directly with the Willams family following his death at the hands of SPD in 2010.
Bruce Harrell at the John T. Williams totem pole memorial ceremony. Harrell was the only councilmember to meet directly with the Willams family following his death at the hands of SPD in 2010. Courtesy of the Bruce Harrell Campaign

I am glad that The Stranger has shown interest in the seemingly unorthodox proposals I am offering as part of a larger package of comprehensive reforms to change not only the way Seattle Police Department (SPD) officers do their jobs, but how they perform those jobs. 

Unfortunately, lost in snarky takes about my calls for officers to sign a pledge to treat others with dignity and my belief we must celebrate model policing is the heart of the issue: Reforms passed through Congress or the Legislature, imposed under federal consent decree, or enacted by a Mayor will have minimal effect unless and until we change the culture of SPD.

Experts in organizational management and reform are clear that failing, demoralized organizations need both external reformers and inside adopters—evangelists for positive change who exemplify the values of a successful, mission-driven organization. So, when I say that I want to personally engage with officers and command staff, recruit and inspire team leaders, and help drive internal change, it is both informed and essential to rebuilding an SPD that is accountable to community and effective in basic policing.

To keep doing the same thing – or to focus only on punitive actions like arbitrary defunding – is to perpetuate an SPD mired in dysfunction, clinging to outmoded and racially biased norms, and led by individuals motivated by fear and division, not unity and commitment to change. 

We know this because we live it: Despite a decade of Department of Justice oversight, citizen police commission review, passage of statewide de-escalation mandates, and even the anti-bias laws I passed during my City Council tenure, the culture at SPD has not changed. We still see Black and Brown Seattle residents victimized, we still see foot-dragging and refusal to adopt basic reforms.

I don’t take issue with anyone questioning my proposals – there is always room for dialogue and improvement. But I do believe that selectively ridiculing these two out-of-the-box calls for culture change without including the voices of people who may support them comes from a place of privilege.

When Derek Chauvin took the life of George Floyd, he showed – in the most violent terms imaginable – the failures of both laws and regulations guiding law enforcement and the racist culture of policing. When the police sergeant in Atlanta described a white terrorist – taken alive following the murder of six Asian women and two others – as having a “bad day,” he articulated the racial disparities in how perpetrators and victims are treated and depicted by law enforcement. 

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BIPOC community leaders and advocates for police reform are not monolithic; we may not always agree on every tactic and tool for change. But the sense of urgency we share means that we cannot wait for the courts, lawyers and lawmakers to impose change from the outside – we must act with immediacy and purpose to change the culture of policing from the inside. 

When I outlined some of these ideas with Omari Salisbury and TraeAnna Holiday on the Morning Update Show earlier in the week, I also made it clear that officers who are not committed to change have got to go. It's as simple as that.

An SPD that works for all the people of Seattle starts with a new Mayor who has the experience, passion, and commitment to implement an array of overdue reforms – and make those reforms part of the fabric of a re-imagined police force, a team of officers and community liaisons who approach their job with pride and a commitment to equity and justice – for all.