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Bellevue Police Chief Mylett says it’s time to get the conversation started

Bellevue Police Chief Steve Mylett on May 31, 2020 in Bellevue, Washington. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

In the midst of the darkness this weekend, there were sparks of hope. Bellevue Police Chief Steve Mylett joined hundreds of peaceful protesters in the middle of the street, took a knee, and listened.

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“I don’t want anybody, anybody to look at what I represent, the uniform I wear, or the color of my skin in this uniform, and fear that I’m going to harm you because I’m not going to,” Mylett said at the protest.

Mylett clarified that he and the Bellevue officers supported the protesters who were exercising their right to free speech and their First Amendment rights. But he also made clear very early on that what was happening with the looting, and the violence, that those were not the people who were doing the right thing or trying to move forward, to make the positive change that we need.

“What happened to George Floyd was wrong. It was a crime. The officers that were involved need to go to prison for justice for George Floyd, and the entire African American community,” Mylett said at the protest. “We’re with you. We are with you. We are not against you. I’m telling you, the vast majority of law enforcement, and I could tell you 100% here in Bellevue, when we saw it, we condemned the behavior. We make sure that that is never going to happen here. We embrace all of you.”

Chief Mylett joined the Gee and Ursula Show on KIRO Radio Monday to talk about his actions.

“I was stepping back from having dealt with the criminal element that was not there to honor George Floyd, or they had no interest in advancing civil rights or anything like that,” Mylett said. “… Then I came to this crowd, and then I started listening … and in the conversation that they were having I saw the emotion, I saw the anger, I saw the frustration. And I saw an opportunity to engage.”

Chief Mylett’s father was a New York City police officer. The motto of the New York City Police Department’s training academy when his father started was “at your service.” Mylett recalled what his father told him when he first went into police work.

“You serve everybody. Doesn’t matter what they look like. Doesn’t matter who they love. Doesn’t matter — and this is, you know, back in the 1980s, and that stuck with me,” he said. “And I have seen injustices in my career, and every opportunity that I have to use whatever influence I have to overcome those and change it, I do.”

“We’ve all been hearing for the last how many years that we need to have this conversation,” he added. “And I get frustrated because when are we going to have it?”

Mylett recognized that the necessary conversations and actions are past due.

“We have a tragic event happen, and then we rally, we start talking, and then all of a sudden, three years later, here’s another event and the conversations … they haven’t happened.”

Mylett says he’s seeing police officers nationwide embracing the people who are coming out to raise their voices, express their anger, their frustration, and their hurt, and hopes this leads to something good.

“And you’ve seen chiefs of police, I saw it last night when I got home, this image of several chiefs of police taking a knee in solidarity with the crowd,” he said. “And in my view, if we don’t seize upon this opportunity to start that conversation that should have been happening for the last several decades, then shame on us, all of us.”

The majority of law enforcement across the county, at least what Mylett is hearing, acknowledges what happened to George Floyd was wrong.

“That was wrong. That does not represent me,” he said is the stance of most officers. “And I think, if nothing else, that’s a good launching point for us to be united … and get the conversation truly started.”

Going forward, Mylett plans to continue to speak up and have difficult conversations.

“I think what I take away from this is when I looked in the eyes of the protesters, the legitimate protesters down there yesterday, young, hurt, dismayed, looking at me in my uniform as someone that they cannot rely on, somebody that is the enemy. I’m going to do everything in my power to change that,” Mylett said.

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Mylett recognizes that he is fortunate to have a voice locally in Washington state as a member of a number of police and sheriff associations, and at the national level.

“And I have been using that voice, and there has been movement,” he added. “And there’s been a lot of things that are going on behind the scenes that the public and the communities may not know about. Changing training, changing mindset — implicit bias, and recognizing that we’re all carrying it — wherever it comes from — it can impact an interaction between people.”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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