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Seattle police officer: Policing won’t survive without public approval

Whether it’s in the CHOP, statewide, or nationally, there are a lot of eyes on police departments. A veteran Seattle police officer, referred to as Officer Brett, reached out to KIRO Radio’s Gee & Ursula Show to share his thoughts on the protests and the changes being made in Seattle.

“I’m a little busted up emotionally. It’s upsetting what’s happened, for a lot of reasons,” Brett said.

He was born and raised in Seattle and is a “second generation public servant,” as his dad served as a firefighter for nearly 30 years.

“I still live in the city, I’m one of the few that still lives in the city, my children were raised in the city,” he said. “And this is my dream job, being a Seattle police officer. I feel like a big chunk of that’s been kind of yanked away from me now, and it hurts.”

Brett says he was attracted to the job when he was 14 years old. He delivered newspapers in his neighborhood and would hang out with friends at 7/11, where they befriended three local officers.

“We respected them. They respected us. We knew the rules about how to conduct ourselves in the neighborhood, and we were happy. … That’s why I became a Seattle police officer, that experience was very profound for me.”

Brett says he’s still good friends with two of the officers. The third one has since passed away, but Brett spoke at the officer’s funeral.

“I decided at the age of 14, I wanted to be a Seattle police officer,” he said. “And it just seems like that experience has been has been taken away from us. Even more personally, when I was a patrol officer, … I took what I learned from those officers when I was a kid and brought that with me.”

Leaving the East Precinct

Officer Brett isn’t sure who made the call to leave the East Precinct on Capitol Hill.

“However, I think under the circumstances, there wasn’t any other choice … because they didn’t give us what we needed to win the battle, to defend [the precinct].”

He believes they would have needed more officers, more guardsmen, and would have had to make arrests and get people into custody and out of the area in order to fully defend the precinct, but said that didn’t seem to be the plan.

“It just seemed like we were playing cat and mouse,” Brett said.

Gee and Ursula asked what leaving the East Precinct meant for morale, both for him and his fellow police officers.

“We feel defeated. We lost a police station … and we’re defeated,” he said. “We gave up, … and now we have CHOP.”

Losing access to the precinct isn’t just about the officers, he added.

“It’s about the area that we serve up there, too, and the people in surrounding districts that deserve police protection that aren’t getting the quality police protection they deserve because the precinct’s closed down,” he said.

Capitol Hill businesses, residents are ‘suffering’ as the CHOP continues

Even so, Brett does not blame anyone for the decision. He does, however, hold the chief and mayor responsible.

“It seems like the mayor is making a lot of decisions that the police chief normally would. I have been in this business now for a while, and I’ve never seen a mayor make as many decisions as this one has as far as tactical things like this,” he said. “Usually it’s the police chief making all the calls and the mayor trusts their police chief. And as time has gone on, I’ve seen more and more involvement by the mayor.”

“So I hold them accountable and responsible for making the decisions they did, and I can’t speak for them, obviously, because I’m not a police chief or the mayor, but ultimately they’re the ones … who made the decisions, and we just follow orders.”

Brett agreed with Ursula’s thought that Police Chief Carmen Best seems to be in an almost impossible situation.

“We love her, we care about her, but we think that this has had quite a toll on her,” he said. “And I could see it myself, personally. … I hesitate to say no confidence, but I think this has been overwhelming for her.”

“I think she wants to do the right thing consistently and she tries very hard,” Brett added. “But I also think that there’s a lot of political pressure on her from the council, from the mayor’s office, and from the community, and she’s trying to do do the right thing.”

A change in policing

In the long-term, Brett does expect policing to change, and believes it will need to change in order to earn the public’s trust.

“I think that, ideally, 40-60% of a patrol officer’s time is spent simply interacting with people in a non-enforcement role,” he said. “And we’re not gonna move a mountain overnight.”

Brett said he believes the police essentially belong to the community.

“Over time, the call load has increased tremendously, the amount of time it takes to do the job has increased tremendously, but we haven’t made up for it on the back end,” he said. “And we don’t provide that simple 40-60% of your time, driving around, interacting with people, and getting to know them on a personal level and having them be part of the team, so to speak.”

That’s what, in his opinion, needs to happen.

“We need more officers being seen, interacting with people and earning the community’s respect,” he said. “… It’s not going to be given to us. We have to earn it, and that will take time and sacrifice.”

Brett said the department will need to take steps to restore their credibility in the community.

“I don’t think there’s any other way that American policing can survive without the public buying into and approving what we do,” he said. “That’s going to be easier said than done, but that’s, I think, the only solution.”

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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