A Seattle crowd hears a pitch about a Cincinnati program to improve police-community relations, then asks why change is so slow in Seattle.

Share story

An Ohio consultant who used a collaborative process to help fix the Cincinnati Police Department’s relationship with its minority community says he could do the same thing for Seattle.

But a skeptical audience of about 150 people questioned whether the city needs a process-oriented fix to its policing issues. They called for greater police accountability and said the department was not moving fast enough to respond to charges of excessive police force. Some also called for Police Chief John Diaz to step down.

The public meeting was held Tuesday night in a Seattle University ballroom and hosted by the Seattle Police Department’s Professional Accountability Review Board, which provides community oversight and awareness of Seattle Police Department practices.

For the first hour, the audience sat patiently as consultant Jay Rothman, president of the Aria Group of Ohio, described a collaborative, community-based process he developed and used in Cincinnati after a police shooting caused citywide race riots in 2001.

Rothman described it as a “deeply inclusive and participatory process” that identified common themes and complaints from thousands of community members and ended with “one set of overarching goals to improve policing for the entire city.”

Developing a similar process in Seattle would probably cost about $500,000, Rothman said. In Cincinnati, the program was funded with City Council money and grants from private foundations.

Former Cincinnati Police Chief Tom Streicher said he was initially skeptical of Rothman’s process but came to see its value. “I started out as his greatest critic; now I’m his greatest ally,” Streicher said.

But once the audience took to the microphones, the tone of the meeting changed. Many said they thought the department was moving too slowly in responding to a federal civil-rights investigation that found routine and widespread use of excessive force by officers.

The U.S. Department of Justice’s investigation focused on the use of force and allegations of biased policing against minorities.

“Process does not equal change,” said Ernest Saadiq Morris, who said he was a civil-rights attorney. Morris said he grew up in Seattle and had been harassed by police when he was young.

An audience member who identified himself as Tara Tsunami said Rothman’s ideas were filled with corporate buzzwords and questioned whether “all this fancy language is being used as a means of deflecting responsibility.”

Many audience members mentioned the fatal shooting of First Nations woodcarver John T. Williams in August 2010 by Officer Ian Birk. The shooting was found to be unjustified and Birk resigned. One angry participant shouted that Birk should have been jailed.

Katherine Long: 206-464-2219 or klong@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @katherinelong.