Port of Seattle Executive Director Steve Metruck announced Tuesday immediate changes to Port of Seattle Police Department protocols regarding hiring practices, commitment to diversity and use of force.
Metruck also endorsed a proposal by the Port Commission for a comprehensive assessment of police policies and practices and recommendations for reforms, according to a Port of Seattle news release.
The Port of Seattle Police Department, with 112 commissioned officers, provides the primary law enforcement service to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) and the Port’s maritime properties. Port Police also provide mutual aid requests to other jurisdictions and are trained at the same facilities as other jurisdictions statewide.
The commission proposal would create a new Task Force on Policing and Civil Rights to guide the comprehensive police department assessment and report recommendations to the public, according to the news release. The Task Force will include two commissioners, representatives from the Port’s Blacks in Government employee resource group, the Office of Equity, Diversity & Inclusion, Port Police, Legal, Labor Relations, and other Port corporate and business divisions. External representatives on the task force may include community leaders, including civil rights advocates, and experts on criminal justice and law enforcement.
The commission will convene a Public Forum on June 30 from 10:30 a.m.—1:30 p.m. to review its proposal and take public comment.
“The Port can lead by example, by this open review, and by taking swift and meaningful actions as called for,” said Commission President Peter Steinbrueck in the news release. “We are witnessing a new awaking nationwide. We need to answer this historic moment by acting to thoroughly review our own policing policies, training, practices, and oversight that made it possible for police officers in numerous other jurisdictions to unjustly kill Black Americans.”
“The tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Manuel Ellis, and Ahmaud Arbery and too many others compel us to ask fundamental questions about the policies and procedures of our police forces,” Metruck said. “We need to challenge our assumptions and act.” Executive Director Metruck developed these actions through careful consideration with Port staff, particularly representatives of the Port’s Blacks In Government chapter and leaders in our police department.
Delmas Whittaker, President of the Port of Seattle’s Chapter of Blacks In Government, recognized the work of a staff-initiated employee focus group. Blacks In Government joined forces with this group to that submitted recommendations immediate policy changes and urged employees and the public to provide feedback at the June 30 Public Forum.
“We need to take substantive, meaningful actions that improve safety for our community and millions of visitors,” said Whittaker. “I urge everyone to take advantage of this opportunity to shape the next generation of police policy.”
The immediate actions implemented by the Executive Director are:
• An immediate ban on use of vascular or airway neck restraints, termed by the public as “chokeholds,” by our department. These restraint techniques and other questions of use of force should be considered as part of the broader departmental assessment.
• Police hiring evaluation panels shall be diverse in their membership and include at least one person of color. Today, panel diversity is only “strongly encouraged.”
• In recruitment and evaluation of police officer candidates, applicants will be disqualified automatically based on a substantiated finding of the use of excessive force against a member of the public, or a substantiated finding of racial discrimination against another employee.
• The Port is to review police training and ensure that de-escalation training, anti-discrimination training, and “bystander” intervention (where an officer observes another officer acting in violation of the law or Port of Seattle policies), are required for all officers on a regular basis.
• The Port will review the issue of “qualified immunity’’ as it applies to police officer conduct. Qualified immunity is a legal principle that derives from the Supreme Court’s interpretation of federal statutory and constitutional law and is purely a federal matter and applies to all public employees. We will look at situations where qualified immunity is invoked and look at appropriate action, and consider seeking regulatory and legal reforms as part of a legislative strategy.
• The Police Department will ensure officers’ names are clearly identifiable on any uniform worn on duty.
“The commission commends and whole-heartedly endorses Executive Director Metruck’s immediate actions to add civil rights protections to police conduct,” Steinbrueck said. “The proposed commission assessment will review all relevant issues, which may include: recruitment and diversity, training and development, use-of-force, oversight and accountability, budget, mutual aid, and advocacy on potential state and federal legislation and reforms. We appreciate the work of our professional police department and will rely on their feedback to help us improve public safety for all.”
The Port will continue its moratorium on police use of facial recognition technology.
Police Department policies will be visible to public and port staff. All items should be addressed immediately with a status report on implementation to the executive director within two weeks.
In 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018 the Port Police Department reported 25, 27, 29, and 33 “use of force” events. The Port received one complaint on force used in 2015. The Port will review the 2019 use of force report as part of its comprehensive assessment.