EDMONDS, Wash. — Most people in Washington want police reforms to address racial inequality. That's the finding in a new exclusive KING 5 News poll.
Sixty-eight percent of people surveyed said they either support or strongly support it, while 21% said they either oppose or strongly oppose it. One percent of those surveyed said they're not sure.
One of the ways police departments are addressing racial tensions is through diversifying their ranks.
According to Edmonds Police Department (EPD), the focus on recruiting and hiring more diverse officers started before 2018. Before George Floyd’s murder sparked protests around the world.
“Edmonds honestly has been ahead of the game in a sense of diversity and what we're doing to basically bring more diverse officers,” said EPD Detective Julie Govantes.
Govantes was hired by Edmonds police in 2015.
During the hiring process, Govantes felt confident that EPD was the right choice for her after seeing another Black woman was part of the interview panel.
“For me, especially when I was applying to the department, I felt comfortable knowing that there was a person of color that was there,” said Govantes. “I felt as though that I wasn't going to be treated or mistreated, you know, because the department is diverse.”
She joined the recruiting team in 2018.
“I know that people of color would feel more comfortable when they see that it's not just a white male that's out there,” she explained.
That recruiting team has made a big effort to diversify the department.
Edmonds police hired 11 new officers since December 2018, and 10 of those new hires are women, Black, indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) or part of the LGBTQ community.
In total, 28% of its officers are BIPOC.
Comparing that to census data for the city of Edmonds, 23% of Edmonds' population are people of color.
“There's been a new kind of wave of officers over the last seven, eight years, and we continually get praise about not only their customer service skills but their de-escalation skills, how they handle people in crisis, how they just treat people on a daily basis,” said Sergeant Josh McClure.
The EPD is the most diverse department within the city of Edmonds and one of the most diverse police departments in the Puget Sound region.
That representation is something Govantes thinks is crucial for fair and just policing.
“If I make contact with a Black person, a Black male out in the street, I have four brothers, OK, I know their experiences, right? I am more, I would say empathetic to them being angry at me at first, or whatever it may be, or, you know, being short, or having an attitude with me at first, because I know the experiences that they have gone through,” explained Govantes. “Even though my white police officers never experienced that or don't know anybody who has experienced that, me telling my story, or me telling my experiences to them opens their eyes up as well. I think just conversations within a diverse group of officers to be able to share those experiences is going to only open up other officers’ eyes to be able to understand more.”
“As somebody who lives here, if you see an officer that has characteristics like you, whether it's a person of color, female, bilingual, whatever the case may be, if you encounter somebody that shares some traits that you have, you're going to be put at ease,” said McClure.
Edmonds police will continue to focus on diversity moving forward.
“We make sure our interview panels are diverse,” said McClure. “So, whenever an applicant walks in the door or sees us on Zoom, they see a variety of faces, a variety of people that might be reflective of them. I know that we have a lot of areas in law enforcement as a whole to work on, there's a lot that can be done.”