Chief Best’s Letter to the Community on Re-Envisioning Public Safety in Seattle

June 22, 2020

To the Seattle Community:

The last few weeks in Seattle – beginning on May 25th, 2020, when George Floyd was murdered by a City of Minneapolis Police Officer – have been the most transformative and challenging moments, in my lifetime, for our City, and for the Seattle Police Department.

Just a few short months ago, before the full reality of a pandemic, and a social justice reckoning four-hundred years in the making, SPD submitted the last of the reports required under the federal consent decree. Across almost nine years of court-guided reform, SPD developed leading policies in crowd management, de-escalation, and use of force. These policies seem like ancient history now.

The federal consent decree achieved its goals – SPD has the training, supervision, analytics, and external oversights to ensure that the department continuously improves its response to demonstrations, people in crisis, use of force, and its overall transparency and sophistication. These efforts will ensure every event of the past few weeks is extensively reviewed, learned from, and when appropriate, responded to with full accountability.

Clearly, processes and policies are no longer enough to earn and maintain the trust of the community.  What is now required is a complete re-envisioning of community safety and the police department’s role in it. The only way this will be successful is if it is driven by community. To that end, SPD commits to doing this work with community. We have listened for generations, and we will continue to listen, but the time for talk and committees is over. We must act. Together.  

Below, SPD outlines where it thinks these efforts can begin. These are barely first steps, but they are steps nonetheless.  We welcome critical feedback and know this is the first of countless versions. You have my steadfast commitment, and word, that SPD will engage this work, openly and honestly. This will be on-going, but we also know there are immediate changes that must start today.

Sincerely,

Carmen Best

Chief of Police

Seattle Police Department

Re-envisioning Community Safety in Seattle

Initial Ideas and Considerations

The Seattle Police Department knows that a new model of community safety will be completely different than any of the suggestions in this first outline. However, the experiences and perspectives of SPD officers and civilians should be included in whatever final version we all reach. SPD has embraced reform, and internal conversations confirm it is ready to push past the relative comfort of those efforts.

Reinvent Community Engagement with SPD

SPD has worked with community for generations. We have supported advisory councils, liaison officers, Micro Community Policing Plans, Community Policing Teams, Safe Place, and much more. These have been traditional models of formally engaging the community. To truly re-envision community safety, community must do more than advise. They must lead. SPD proposes the following steps:

  • Add a Community member to the SPD Command Staff
  • Launch an on-going series of community collaboration sessions
  • Conduct monthly Command Staff community meetings to receive feedback and respond in real time
  • Create convenient online tools for direct community feedback on policy and operational changes

Reinvest SPD Resources in Community

SPD has voiced, for years, concerns that police officers are asked to play too many roles. Officers have become the safety net for a series of failures by other social systems – many of which are the result of sustained under-investment, as well as systemic racism. SPD is conducting a critical review of the work officers are called to engage in – by the community and by other government agencies. SPD needs to work with community to determine which of these responsibilities can acceptably be passed to other agencies, or completely turned over to the community.

  • Assess non-criminal 911 calls, current outcomes, and alternate responses
  • Determine an appropriate response to misdemeanor violations
  • Reconsider the role of specialty units and proactive enforcement

Redesign the Mission and Structure of SPD

SPD has focused on enforcing the law and maintaining the peace – its responsibility as outlined in the City Charter. SPD must craft, with community, an updated mission. This mission inherently will direct the structure of the department.

  • Align the mission of the SPD to reflect humanization not criminalization
  • Conduct a top-to-bottom redesign of the department to match the mission and goals
  • Identify new metrics of success that reflect community safety, trust, and legitimacy