SPD address hiring and recruitment at community meeting

By Charles Lam
Northwest Asian Weekly

Leaders of the Asian Pacific American community met with representatives of the Seattle Police Department on Wednesday, Jan. 16, in a follow-up to the community’s meeting with Connie Rice earlier in December. In attendance were approximately 20 people, including Lieutenant Carmen Bess, Arlene Oki, Al Sugiyama, Doug Chin, Kim Long Nguyen, Linh Thach, Linh Thai, Tom Vu, officer Ryan Lancaster, Sergeant Christie Robin, Rebecca Chan, Rick Takeuchi, and Thomas Le. Wednesday’s meeting was proposed by Assistant Police Chief Mike Sanford to address issues that were left on the table in  2012, including the recruitment and promotion of Asian and Pacific American officers.

Recruitment and hiring practices have long been a hot button issue.

“We started this discussion probably 20 years ago, but it keeps getting renewed and disappeared and renewed,” Al Sugiyama, executive director of the Executive Development Institute, said.

Sanford acknowledged that sentiment. Still, he was optimistic that the reforms required by the Department of Justice settlement with the city would finally result in changes that the community has long been searching for.

“The DOJ settlement gives us a, what I like to call, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us to make an organization that is our police department, one that is representative of our community,” said Sanford. “None of us want to be at the same table talking about the same things in 10 or 20 years.”

The discussion focused mainly on promotion and how better promotion practices would improve recruitment.

Currently, promotion to command levels of lieutenant and sergeant are based almost solely on an officer’s performance on a civil service exam, with little weight being given to other responsibilities, such as community work. This, combined with the assignment of many minority officers to community relations roles, has adversely affected their chances of promotion, especially considering that their schedules may not offer them as much time to prepare as other assignments.

“We take our best and brightest people and we put them in positions where they’re in the community every single day,” said Sanford. “They’re out, they’re in meetings, and they’re around. We make them so busy doing the work that, really, every police officer should be doing, that they don’t have the time or the assignments for career development. We’ve taken a group of people who are incredibly skilled and we’ve put a narrow field, and make them incredibly busy.”

Suggestions were made that increased weight could be given to officers whose assignments include community outreach.

“They’re doing incredibly important work, but other people can do that work,” Sanford continued. “We need to do a better job in the department of preparing people, of mentoring people. The day-to-day interaction needs to be the path to promotion.”

It was agreed that better promotion practices and more APA officers in command positions would lead to better recruitment, as youth would see advancement possibilities.

“If our community doesn’t see Asians at all levels, you’re going to have problems,” said Sugiyama. “People become bank tellers because they can see Asians at all levels of finance, even president. They wouldn’t become tellers if they thought that being a teller was as high as they could get. They won’t become police officers if they thought patrol officers would be as high as they could get.”

Also suggested was a program that would mentor individuals who were interested in joining the police force, but who were deemed unqualified.

The police department left the meeting with numerous suggestions and a promise to release additional information about their internal processes to the community for additional comment.

“I want to find a middle ground where we can all agree that the Seattle Police Department is an organization that we can say is our police department,” said Sanford, “because our sons and daughters work in it, work with it, and run it.” (end)

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

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