Police meeting leaves some APA leaders skeptical

By Charles Lam
Northwest Asian Weekly

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Members of APDC meet with Connie Rice, the Mayor’s advisor on the Department of Justice settlement reforms of the Seattle Police Department. (Photo by Charles Lam/NWAW)

Local members of the Asian and Pacific American community believe that they are not receiving adequate attention and engagement from the Seattle Police Department.

The Asian Pacific Directors Coalition (APDC) met with Connie Rice, Mayor McGinn’s adviser, on the Department of Justice settlement reforms of the Seattle Police Department (SPD), on Monday, Dec. 17. They discussed SPD issues central to the Asian Pacific American community.

Connie Rice, who has successfully won multiple discrimination lawsuits against police departments, was involved in the police department overhauls in Los Angeles, New York, New Orleans, Chicago, and several other cities. She was brought to Seattle after the SPD was subject to a Department of Justice investigation in December 2011. The investigation found that SPD officers had violated the 14th Amendment and the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 and had a pattern of excessive use of force that violated the Constitution. This finding follows several highly publicized police actions, including the kicking and verbal assault of two detained Latino men and the killing of First Nations woodcarver John T. Williams, both in 2010. In July 2012, the city and the DOJ reached a settlement agreement, requiring the setting of new guidelines for the use of force and the creation of a community police commission to increase community input.

Originally planned for one hour, the meeting attended by 25 ran slightly over time. Highlighted during the discussion were the needs for increasing recruitment of Asian Pacific American officers, addressing the fact that APA officers are often looked over for promotions, and increasing cultural training of police officers.

“As far as we’re concerned, the police guild is not advocating for Asian and Pacific Islanders to get promoted,” said Frank Irigon, former Executive Director of Washington Asian Pacific Islander Families Against Substance Abuse. “We see the police guild as our enemy and that’s why we have problems with getting our people promoted. We don’t have enough representation of Asians in the police force.”

According to 2009 data, the SPD sworn personnel is 76 percent white, 9 percent Black, 5 percent Hispanic or Latino, 2 percent American Indian, and 8 percent Asian. However, Seattle’s population overall is 70 percent white, 8 percent Black, 7 percent Hispanic or Latino, 1 percent American Indian, and, most importantly, 14 percent Asian, making APAs the most underrepresented minority.

“Former Assistant Chief Harry Bailey, part of Mayor McGinn’s team to implement his 20/20 plan is here, and he’s really trying to recruit, and some of the others are trying to recruit more minorities into the police force and that’s good,” added Al Sugiyama, Executive Director of the Executive Development Institute. “But a lot of the people you try to recruit will say ‘there’s no upward mobility.’ ”

Rice said that the situation in Seattle was workable, especially compared to the situations previously found in Los Angeles, and that progress would be made. However, she stressed that they would take time, originally stating that change might take “15 to 20 years.” She later said that the 15- to 20-year time line was based off a situation like that found in LA. She continued on to say that realistically, change in SPD would come faster.

Also at issue was the importance of cultural understanding.

“If this is going to take 15 to 20 years, our kids are going to die,” said Mark Okazaki, Executive Director of Neighborhood House.

He continued, “I’m going to ask the mayor’s staff to consider some funding that goes to Asian Pacific Islander organizations to teach our children what to do when they get stopped by the police. I understand they do that in the African American Community. I’d like to do that in our community.”

The need for police to better understand and engage the APA community was also stressed.

In a 2010 report from the Washington State Committee on Asian Pacific American Affairs, the first policy recommendation on crime was to “provide resources to train police officers, probation officers, and other law enforcement agents with regard to cultural competency regarding APA communities.” Rice agreed with the popular opinion.

“Cross-cultural competence in cities like LA and Seattle and all cities that are going to end up like LA and Seattle with this level of global diversity and immigrant diversity, because immigrant diversity is even more complex, is absolutely essential,” she said. “Police officers don’t even know how to deal with Black people and we’ve been together for over 400 years.”

However, despite the meeting, skeptics remained in the room.

“The APDC was started 30 years ago because there was gang violence,” Okazaki said. “The city put together a strategy, and they didn’t include us. They didn’t think we had a problem and we had to demand to be at the table and to be part of the strategy. Thirty years ago, and we’re still here.”

He continued, “I’m sorry. I wish I could feel more confident, but I don’t.” (end)

Charles Lam can be reached at charles@nwasianweekly.com.

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