After a year of comprehensive interviews and analysis, the Port of Seattle’s Task Force on Port Policing and Civil Rights has released its final assessment, the Port announced Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021.
The report, by consulting firm 21CP, covers the Port of Seattle Police Department (POSPD)’s policies, protocols, and procedures impacting issues of diversity, equity, and civil rights. External stakeholders, consultants, and staff identified opportunities for the POSPD to meet the highest national standards achievable for public safety, transparency, accountability, and oversight.
“We started this work to answer the national call for a close examination of current policing practices, civil rights, and racial equity,” said Peter Steinbrueck, Port of Seattle Commissioner and Task Force member. “With the help of national consultants and an engaged panel of diverse community experts, we learned the Port of Seattle Police ranks highly among peer police departments, but there are also things we can do that will improve accountability, public trust, and safety for all. I hope to see more police departments around the country follow our lead and move towards higher standards.”
“It was our responsibility as a task force to review everything through an equity lens; provide useful and sustainable recommendations to ensure civil, equal and fair treatment for customers, stakeholders, and staff; and identify and address areas where bias and unfair treatment exist in any forms,” said Delmas Whittaker, Port of Seattle’s Chapter President of Blacks in Government and Director of Marine Maintenance. “I am very proud of the Port of Seattle Police Department and their partnership throughout this process. Our commanders, unions, and other subject-matter experts were invaluable in our pursuit for information and data to formulate solid recommendations moving forward.”
The assessment came from a motion first adopted by the Port of Seattle Commission in July 2020 in response to the intense national focus on police use of force and calls for major reform to policing. The July motion endorsed immediate steps taken by Executive Director to reform Port police policies and practices such as a ban on chokeholds and ensuring officers receive regular de-escalation training, bystander intervention and anti-discrimination training, directed this assessment, and established a Commission Task Force on Port Policing and Civil Rights to lead the assessment and develop recommendations for action.
The assessment covered nine categories:
- Diversity in Recruitment and Hiring
- Training and Development
- Use of Force
- Oversight and Accountability
- Police Union Participation
- Mutual Aid
- Advocacy and Budget
- Roles and Equipment
Two primary conclusions resulted from the assessment:
- First, the POSPD is already operating to a great extent in alignment with the Commission’s goals. The POSPD has fair, thorough, and comprehensive policies and procedures, a robust training program, and a clear commitment to mission and goals. Use of force is infrequent and, with few exceptions, reasonable, necessary, and proportional.
- Second, there are opportunities for growth and change that will bring POSPD even closer to the Commission’s vision of a world-class police force that not only sets a high standard for performance and community service, but also centers equity and civil liberties as core values in its work.
Consulting firm 21CP highlighted three priority areas for consideration: 1) the need for the POSPD to focus on internal procedural justice (which includes a focus on objectives such as enhancing collaborative decision-making, employee inclusivity and empowerment, and effective communications) to address perceptions of inequity experienced by many, but particularly employees of color; 2) how increased organizational transparency can improve perceptions about the POSPD, and 3) supporting the POSPD’s move away from a traditional police response on homelessness.
In recent months, the Port has already begun implementing significant changes in its response to homelessness at the airport.
“The Port of Seattle Police Department began piloting a Crisis Coordinator role full-time as of August 1,” said Mike Villa, Port of Seattle Acting Police Chief. “For at least the next six months, the Crisis Coordinator will support crisis response and work with the Port of Seattle SEA Cares Initiative, a cross-department project launched this spring, to help people using the airport particularly for emergency shelter to connect to regional services.”
Overall, 21CP in collaboration with the Task Force offered a full list of more than 50 recommendations across seven categories, based on the work of the subcommittees as well as its engagement efforts with the POSPD, other Port staff, and external stakeholders (link). The Executive Director will propose a work plan to begin implementing recommendations within six months. The Task Force co-chairs and staff will continue working with commissioners, the Executive Director, and the POSPD during this period.
The Task Force was composed of two Commissioners, representatives from the Port’s Blacks in Government chapter, the Port’s Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, Port Police, Legal, Human Resources, Labor Relations, other Port corporate and business divisions, Port employee resource groups, and external representatives, such as community leaders, civil rights advocates, union representatives, members of the Civil Service Commission, and/or experts on criminal justice and law enforcement. The Port of Seattle Police Department has 115 commissioned officers.