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Opinion: No more reform — it’s time to rebuild Seattle policing

A protester stands before the police line on Capitol Hill. (Getty Images)

Another weekend of protests culminated in violence between police and protesters. And despite platitudes and promises from Mayor Jenny Durkan and Chief Carmen Best, what we saw was proof positive that it’s time for massive, wide-scale changes to how we police our city.

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On Friday, Durkan announced a 30-day pause on the use of tear gas. Just two days later, police authorized the use of tear gas anyway.

That came just hours after she admitted that police had not properly de-escalated a conflict on Saturday night, and had been too hasty in deciding to use dispersal methods like flash bangs. Sunday night ended in police again deciding to use those dispersal methods.

Suffice it to say, the cognitive dissonance from City Hall has been deafening. As the mayor’s office continues to promise deescalation, the city’s police force continues to sprint full-steam in the opposite direction.

What this all makes glaringly clear is that it’s time for more than incremental reform.

We’ve tried to institute a 30-day pause on tear gas — it took just two days to end. Seattle even has three separate police oversight committees. And yet, half measures like these have proven ineffective in managing a department either incapable or unwilling to fix itself, much less admit it needs to change anything at all.

On Monday, we saw the tipping point among Seattle city council members, who labeled our current system as “tainted,” “fundamentally broken,” and in need of radical transformation.

So, what comes next? What we do know is that it’s going to take more than better training or promises to try harder.

First, it’s time to ban the use of tear gas, flash bangs, rubber bullets, and other violent crowd control measures we’ve seen abused in recent weeks.

To insist that we need these weapons is to admit we’re unable to de-escalate a situation without them. More than that, if police aren’t interested in peacefully resolving conflicts, then we need to invest in an infrastructure that will.

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Second, we need better information on how the department is spending its over $400 million budget, so we can ensure that any funding cuts are targeted and moved toward programs that need them most.

Third, we need to demilitarize the department, stop using weapons of war in the streets of our city, and focus on deescalation as a core, foundational principle, rather than a suggestion.

All this is designed to do one thing, and that’s to ensure that our law enforcement works for our community — especially our people of color — and not against it.

Thankfully, it sounds as though Seattle council members are preparing to work at achieving just that. The question remains whether other city leaders will be up to the task.

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