Ever since last year's quadruple murder of four Lakewood police officers and the murder of a Seattle police officer, law enforcement agencies throughout the state have been well within their right to be on edge.
But that doesn't mean a blind eye should be turned toward police misconduct. In fact, the Seattle Police Department needs a department-wide change. The scale tipper occurred Aug. 30 when Seattle officer Ian Birk shot and killed John T. Williams near downtown. Williams, a totem carver and a member of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Dititdaht First Nations people, was carrying a three-inch folding knife and some wood when Birk saw him and ordered him repeatedly to drop the knife. Williams, who was a chronic inebriate and reportedly hard of hearing, did not yield. Birk shot him not once but four times.
Could additional officers have helped? What about non-lethal means of enforcement like a taser or mace? Birk had only been on the force for two years, but his training should have set him up to use other, non-ultimate means.
And then there was Seattle Det. Shandy Cobane, who in April used racial epithets and came close to stomping a citizen (video shows him kicking the prone citizen's hand down again - not his head - an act that was widely misinterpreted by media). Never mind the man was cleared as a robbery suspect and let go. The racial epithets were indefensible. It doesn't matter that Cobane's brother claims his brother is not a racist. The indefensible, in our society, is defended everyday. We should demand more from our police officers.
And though officer Ian Walsh had a right to defend himself from a 17-year-old girl who was coming to the defense of a friend who Walsh was trying (with little success) to arrest for jaywalking, punching her in the face was bush league.
What's worse is leadership that allows this to happen - and these instances are only what has been reported or caught on tape. At the heart of the matter is the canyon-like disconnect between police and the community it serves. If newly appointed Chief John Diaz wants to instill real change, then he needs to bring more foot and bike patrols into Seattle neighborhoods. He needs to consider innovative methods of service that promote the department as a source of assistance and not something to be feared.
In crime-ridden West Charleston, N.C., for example, police partnered with clergy members who served as liaisons to calm tensions and discourage vengeance killings; police held monthly meetings with the citizenry; police established a transport unit to ferry suspect to jail so officers could remain on the streets.
Diaz has been steeped in 30 years of traditional police service, and the odds of him making fundamental changes are unlikely.
But a change needs to come.[[In-content Ad]]