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SPD Chief Carmen Best, Seattle police
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Opinion: SPD’s plan for reform is stagnant Seattle politics as usual

Chief Carmen Best unveiling a new website detailing SPD's proposed reforms. (Nicole Jennings, KIRO Radio)

On Thursday, the Seattle Police Department (SPD) unveiled a new website, detailing its own ideas for reform, as it continues to grasp at an alternative to a proposal moving its way through city council.

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That came paired with a cringeworthy promotional video, claiming that “one side isn’t listening,” and touting SPD as “setting the example for a progressive, community-based police department.”

In recent months, though, we’ve seen none of the cooperative spirit SPD claims to possess. In fact, thousands of people have taken to the streets across dozens of protests, citing the numerous and frequent problems the department has failed to fix, and continues to resist addressing. That’s prompted councilmembers to propose sweeping cuts to SPD’s budget, all while the mayor’s office and SPD chief have fought back against the council and community’s proposals nearly every step of the way.

The council’s current plan for the remaining 2020 budget involves cuts to mounted patrol officers, school resource officers, community outreach, the public affairs unit, Harbor Patrol, SWAT, and more. Budget committee chair Teresa Mosqueda estimates that cuts to SPD approved by the council would total 41% if enacted on a yearly basis.

It would also include the removal of 14 police officers from the Navigation Team, the laying off of 32 SPD officers beginning on Nov. 1, and capping the remaining 2020 salary for SPD’s command staff (which would include Chief Carmen Best).

The sum total is the start of an eventual path to completely reshaping the Seattle Police Department. More than that, it represents tangible, concrete action. In a city notorious for its ability to hurry up and wait, it’s impressive in its scope and speed, even if doesn’t meet the 50% defund goal many protesters have called for.

SPD’s proposal is significantly more nebulous.

On SPD’s newly-launched website, there are two sections, labeled “Today” and “Tomorrow.” The “Today” section is a long list of everything that’s not wrong with SPD’s current practices, appearing to make a case for why the department doesn’t actually need to change very much at all.

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The “Tomorrow” section takes a different tact, stating that the department “has embraced that change is necessary, and internal conversations confirm it is ready to push past the relative comfort of its reform efforts that have already been put in place.”

So, what does pushing past that “relative comfort” look like?

Noncommittal words like “assess,” “determine,” and “reconsider” are present throughout the proposal. It outlines promises to hold monthly Command Staff meetings to “receive and respond to feedback in real time,” to “reconsider the role of specialty units and proactive enforcement,” and to “align the mission of SPD to reflect humanization instead of criminalization.”

But in terms of actual, physical changes the plan would enact? It’s tough to identify any, save for the addition of a single community member to the SPD Command Staff.

Seattle’s political machine is notorious for spinning its wheels, in favor of things like “assessing,” “determining,” and “reconsidering” critical issues in need of immediate action. We’ve seen that frequently throughout the years, as described in 2016 by Barbara Poppe, a consultant hired by the City of Seattle, at the time referring to the glacial speed of its homeless response.

“I love all of you in Seattle. You’re great folks — smart strategic providers. But you’re much more inclined toward discussion and planning and process that goes on and on and on,” Poppe aptly pointed out years ago.

“Leadership is oriented toward action,” she added.

SPD’s plan isn’t leadership. More realistically, it’s little more than the latest chapter in Seattle’s long, storied history of slowing the winds of change to a crawl. And with Poppe’s words continuing to ring true years after the fact, ask yourself: Which plan is actually oriented toward action, and which is yet another series of empty promises?

Questions, comments, or feedback? Follow Nick Bowman on Twitter at @NickNorthwest to weigh in, or reach him by email at [email protected]

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