Seattle police union's ultimatum: Officers need to accept diversity, or leave

The Seattle Police Officers Guild tells officers they need to adjust to changing times and exhibit tolerance if they want to stay on the force. Is this a big step or an empty promise?

David Ryder/Reuters/File
People yell at police in Seattle during a demonstration against a grand jury's decision in the Ferguson shooting of Michael Brown, Nov. 28, 2014.

For officers unwilling to accept diversity and an attitude of tolerance, the Seattle Police Officers Guild suggests they find employment elsewhere.

In light of negative comments and posts to social media, the largest Northwest police union reminded its 1,250 officers that they are held to a higher standard, and therefore will be held accountable for what they say and how they respond to the call of duty in their diverse city.

“Times have changed and we must also change to adapt to societal expectations,” the police union posted on their Facebook page. “We are held to a higher standard by those who entrust us with their safety and who call us when they need help in their darkest hour. The more apolitical we can be, the smoother the path forward shall be.”

Union president Ron Smith expanded on what the union expects of the officers it represents. In an interview with The Stranger, a Seattle based publication, he addressed Seattle officers:

"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 . . . We need to treat everyone the same. Regardless of race, gender identity, economic class—all the same."

In 2011, the US Department of Justice conducted an investigation of the Seattle Police Department that found the department “engaged in a pattern or practice of excessive force that violates the Constitution and federal law.” The investigation also raised concerns that certain policies and practices, especially those related to pedestrian encounters, could “result in discriminatory policing.” At the time, SPD pledged to improve the situation and community relations.

Smith informed The Stranger that officers underwent multiple four-hour sessions of “bias-free policing training” between October and December last year, and that it was some of the best training he had experienced during the year.

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

While announcements like the one made by the Seattle Police Officers Guild are encouraging, many are quick to point out that Seattle has fallen short of their promise. The Guardian reported that last July, an elderly African-American man was arrested for using a golf club as a walking stick, and this January, black high-school teacher Jesse Hagopian was pepper-sprayed after peacefully leaving a Black Lives Matter protest on Martin Luther King Day.

FBI director James Comey said Thursday that the issue of police conduct in minority communities is a conversation that needs to continue. In what the Associated Press described as the director’s “most expansive take by far” on race relations, he addressed the need for better understanding and approaches taken by officers in the communities they serve.

"The first step to understanding what is really going on in our communities and our country is to gather more and better data related to those we arrest, those we confront for breaking the law and jeopardizing public safety, and those who confront us," Comey said.

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