The Port of Seattle will ban its 110-officer police force from using potentially lethal chokeholds and will initiate an external review of the department’s use of force, Executive Director Steve Metruck announced during a Port of Seattle Commission meeting Tuesday.
The Port police, who patrol Seattle-Tacoma International Airport as well as Port-owned cargo terminals, marinas and the Port’s commercial real estate holdings, have not drawn any recent complaints over their use of force, according to Port officials. But the move follows widespread recent protests over police brutality and racism.
“These actions are in no way a reflection of the past conduct of Port police,” said Port of Seattle Commission President Peter Steinbrueck. “It’s a reflection of the time we’re living in … we want to be on the right side of history.”
Who will conduct the review of the department’s use of force has not been decided.
During 2017 protests at Sea-Tac over President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, Port of Seattle police and officers from a handful of other local agencies, including the Seattle Police Department, used pepper spray and bicycles to clear the remnants of the 3,000-person crowd. They arrested 34 protesters, ultimately releasing all but one of them.
The Port reviewed officers’ use of force in that instance, as it does in each instance involving the use of force, according to spokesperson Peter McGraw. It found the actions of the Port police officer who had used pepper spray — a team leader on the department’s Crowd Management Unit who had been deployed to the previous three May Day protests in Seattle — were “consistent with training and policy.”
Seattle’s City Council last week banned police use of chokeholds, though the legislation won’t take effect until next month.
The Port is also changing how it hires police officers. It will immediately disqualify candidates who have a history of misuse of force, discrimination or corruption; will ensure at least one person of color is on its police hiring and evaluation panels; and has asked its office of diversity and inclusion to review police hiring practices.
“This is our opportunity to expect that the practices and policies that govern the work [police] do reflect accurately on the Port values we hold dear,” said Delmas Whittaker, who oversees the port’s fishing and commercial vessel operations and also serves as the president of the Port’s branch of Blacks in Government.
Port of Seattle police Chief Rod Covey was placed on administrative leave two weeks ago over workplace-misconduct allegations.
In the early 2000s, Covey faced allegations of racial and sexual discrimination from former employees at the Arizona Department of Public Safety, where he worked before joining the Port of Seattle in 2009. One case was settled out of court; the other was decided in Covey’s favor.
McGraw declined to comment on whether the new police hiring policies could affect Covey, citing an ongoing personnel investigation.