Bruce Harrell emphasized his belief in the power of community relationships and M. Lorena González touted her opposition to status quo policing as they explained, in a mayoral candidate forum Sunday afternoon, how they would strive to make all residents feel safe in the city.
Harrell and González are facing off frequently ahead of their Nov. 2 election, taking questions from neighborhood, religious and other groups. The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, Black Action Coalition, Puget Sound Sage and Choose 180 hosted Sunday’s forum, posing questions that touched on misdemeanors, police accountability, gun violence and nonpolice alternatives for public safety.
Harrell referenced his experiences growing up and later volunteering in the Central District, showing photos of a childhood baseball coach and of college classmates with whom he served as a neighborhood tutor. Under his leadership, City Hall would invest in mentorship programs while building “a new kind” of unarmed safety officer to complement the police, he said.
González cited her own experiences, too, saying she has lost family to police violence. She also concentrated on drawing a contrast between her vision and Harrell’s, repeatedly mentioning that her opponent has said he would seek to hire more police officers. González has said City Hall should be moving dollars from the Police Department to other approaches.
González is the City Council’s current president and has been on the council since 2015. Harrell was on the council from 2008 to 2019 and was president from 2016 to 2019.
Asked about the disproportionately high rate at which Black people are arrested in Seattle for misdemeanors, González said: “It is a byproduct of institutionalized racism and elected leaders continuing to go back again to the status quo of looking at hiring more police officers as being the solution to our public safety issues.”
Harrell pointed to a culture in the Police Department that he said must be changed. “This is personal for me and my family. This is real stuff that I’ve been dealing with in Seattle for decades,” he added, noting endorsements from a number of Black community leaders.
The candidates agreed that there is white supremacy within the ranks of Seattle’s police force; González said City Hall must ensure that “white nationalist sentiments can be a cause for immediate termination.” Harrell said he would “put the right people in positions of power,” with a diverse set of leaders in his administration.
Asked whether Seattle should maintain pandemic-related restrictions on misdemeanor jail bookings in perpetuity, Harrell said he wanted to learn more but his general aim would be to reduce bookings. González said City Hall should carry forward “lessons from the positive impacts of these restrictions.” She said she would “support alternatives to jail, whenever possible.”
González said Seattle spends “entirely too much” of the city’s budget on “punitive systems that are designed to produce consequences, as opposed to restorative justice.” Harrell said spending on public safety likely needs to increase, in order to hire and train unarmed officers.
Harrell said his priorities in bargaining a new contract with the Seattle Police Officers Guild would include more time for investigations of officer misconduct, more civilian investigators of officer misconduct and more duties for unarmed responders. González said her priorities would include eliminating arbitration for cases of officer discipline and changes to protect victims of police brutality. She also said “absolutely no city money should go to” the Guild’s president.
González is becoming “increasingly concerned” that court oversight of the city’s federal consent decree — a decade-old agreement with the U.S. Justice Department, intended to reduce excessive force by Seattle police — is blocking City Hall from further reducing the Police Department’s budget. Harrell disagreed with that take.
The candidates agreed they would, as mayor, be ultimately responsible for the Police Department’s actions. But González said a mayor “should not be delegating critically important decisions like public safety,” whereas Harrell said, “You hire the best of the best … You afford them some discretion to make their decisions.”
Harrell said he would work to overcome a state law that prohibits cities from regulating guns. He said he would like to ban guns from parks, among other steps. González said she would work with Public Health – Seattle & King County to address gun violence.
Asked where City Hall should invest to advance public safety outside policing and prosecution, González mentioned mental health, housing and jobs. Harrell mentioned education, mentorship, art programs and health care.