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Seattle's Next Mayor Will Continue Work On Police Reform

Will James
A boy lights a candle at a June 20, 2017, vigil for Charleena Lyles

It's been seven years since Native American woodcarver John T. Williams was shot and killed by Seattle Police. His death sparked the city's 2012 agreement with the federal government over use of force and biased policing.

Whoever is elected mayor of Seattle will be responsible for continuing to oversee changes in the police department.

Seattle officials, the Community Police Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice have asked a judge to find the city in "full and effective compliance" with its Consent Decree. But both Jenny Durkan and Cary Moon agree the work doesn't stop once the city is in compliance.

"We saw with the death of Charleena Lyles that there's still some core things that need to be done on how we approach people when they're in crisis," Durkan said in an interview with KNKX.

Lyles, 30, was shot and killed by Seattle Police officers in June. She had called to report a burglary at her Magnuson Park apartment, but police say she had a knife when they got to her door.

Lyles' family members have pointed to her previous encounters with police and documented mental health issues. They have asked why officers didn't seem to have the training to handle those issues and why they didn't use less-lethal force.

Durkan helped craft Seattle's Consent Decree while she was a U.S. Attorney. If a judge agrees the city is in compliance, Seattle still has two years to prove it will be able to maintain its progress.

Durkan says this time is important. She identified changing the culture in the police department as the next big topic to tackle, saying it's time to take police from a "warrior" culture to a "guardian" culture.

"Cultural reform is the hardest to get, and that takes top-to-bottom reform," she said. "You've got to change policies and procedures. You have to change training, but mostly you have to change their approach on the street."

She said the city has done a good job of putting structures in place to track officers' behavior and get civilian input. As mayor, she said her next steps would be to look at the discipline process and find a way to get mental health counselors available for training and for analyzing encounters after they happen.

Ultimately, it will be up to the mayor to lead the charge on how the city approaches law enforcement. Durkan phrased the city's efforts in the form of a question.

"How do we make sure that when people see a police car, they think that's help, not that they're afraid?" she asked.

Her opponent, Cary Moon, outlined a similar vision for policing in Seattle.

"I think when we get to the point in our city where everybody feels safe calling the police, that will be the sign that we got there," she told KNKX in an interview.

Moon has training as an urban planner. Until now, she was most known for her activism against the tunnel replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct and her advocacy for changes to the Seattle waterfront. 

She said policing became a salient political issue for her a few years ago as the Black Lives Matter movement was gaining momentum. 

She said she was "late to the game," but, "Now that I'm here, now that I see it, I think it is one of the most essential things to solve. It is the place where the systemic racism of our liberal white Seattle is most visible.

Moon's biggest concern is making sure officers are able to spend time in communities outside of crime enforcement. She says she wants to find ways to build that into officers' schedules. She also wants to look at incorporating more civilian staff, such as social workers and mental health counselors.

She emphasized wanting to get all parties to the table, officers and civilians, to make sure everyone is buying into the efforts.

"I want people to feel like this is our shared responsibility to build a more just world," Moon said.

Both candidates have also endorsed Initiative 940, a statewide initiative that would improve de-escalation training and change the standard for use of deadly force.

Andre Taylor is an activist whose group Not This Time is helping gather signatures to get the initiative on the 2018 ballot. He echoed a lot of what both candidates had to say.

"I think probably one of the biggest problems is the lack of understanding because sometimes it's a cultural thing as well. So unless officers are going into the community and having some type of relationship with the communities that they police, this has the potential of continually being a problem," Taylor said.

Taylor said he expects that kind of advocacy from Seattle's mayor.

"I think there is advocacy outside of the city. Seattle has 1,200 police officers, so people look to us," he said.

A Seattle native and former KNKX intern, Simone Alicea spent four years as a producer and reporter at KNKX. She earned her Bachelor's of Journalism from Northwestern University and covered breaking news for the Chicago Sun-Times. During her undergraduate career, she spent time in Cape Town, South Africa, covering metro news for the Cape Times.