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Seattle police chief unveils next steps for ‘re-envisioning’ public safety

Seattle police hope to increase community engagement, reassess use of resources and restructure the department’s mission.

SEATTLE — After weeks of protests over racial justice, Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best unveiled a series of next steps that the police department hopes will re-envision public safety in the city.

“These are barely first steps, but they are steps nonetheless,” Best said Tuesday in a letter to the community. “We welcome critical feedback and know this is the first of countless versions.”

The move comes after thousands of protesters marched through Seattle over the death of George Floyd demanding a radical transformation of policing.

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In the letter, Best outlined a three-pronged approach to increase community engagement, reassess use of resources and restructure the Seattle Police Department’s (SPD) mission.

Best proposed adding a community member to the department’s command staff, launching on-going community collaboration sessions, conducting monthly community meetings with command staff and creating an online tool for the community to give feedback.

One of the calls from protesters has been to defund the police department and instead divert the money to social programs. Best acknowledged police officers play too many roles and “have become the safety net for a series of failures by other social systems.”

To address that, SPD said it would work with the community to pass some responsibilities to other agencies. SPD would assess outcomes and alternate responses for non-criminal 911 calls, determine an appropriate response to misdemeanors and reconsider the role of specialty and proactive enforcement.

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Finally, Best said SPD would update its mission to align with “humanization not criminalization,” and it would redesign the department to match that mission.

“Clearly, processes and policies are no longer enough to earn and maintain the trust of the community,” Best said in the letter. “What is now required is a complete re-envisioning of community safety and the police department’s role in it.”