THE Seattle Police Department’s recent proactive meeting with black community leaders in hopes of averting a Ferguson, Mo., scenario here was smart.
Police would show even greater intelligence and foresight if they extended the same amity to other Seattle communities of color that have had contentious histories with law enforcement.
Such an expansion would be in the spirit of the federal consent decree imposed after the fatal police shooting of an unarmed Native American woodcarver and the police stomping of a prone Latino man four years ago.
A federal investigation of the incidents found that the SPD “engaged in a pattern or practice of excessive force that … could result in discriminatory policing.”
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Several reforms were undertaken. Several reforms still need to be made.
Still, it wasn’t consent-decree pushback or the focus on Ferguson — where police fatally shot an unarmed black teen earlier this month and sparked riots — that spurred Seattle Police to initiate the conversation with black leaders. It was the city’s new police chief, Kathleen O’Toole.
Though O’Toole acknowledges the work of other officers who had undertaken community-engagement efforts before she assumed her post in June, she personally reached out to the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle three days into the job. That directly led to this week’s productive meeting.
“Policing is a messy business and inevitably we’re going to have challenges along the way,” O’Toole said Thursday. “That makes it even more important to have these relationships of trust.”
It would be a mistake for O’Toole to limit the conversation to black leaders, particularly in a city with many racial moving parts.
Historic tensions exist between police and black, Latino and Native American communities. Public safety is also an ongoing concern in the Chinatown International District.
And recently arrived immigrants of all stripes can often find themselves the subject of police attention.
So it’s in the city’s best interest for the SPD to enthusiastically craft and maintain sound community relationships that were woefully absent in Ferguson.
Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Jonathan Martin, Erik Smith, Thanh Tan, Robert J. Vickers, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).