Seattle city officials will soon begin sifting through applications for police watchdogs. Last month, the city put out a call for citizens to serve on a new community police commission. It’s being created as part of an agreement with the US Department of Justice to reform the Seattle Police Department.
Nearly a hundred people applied to serve on the volunteer panel by the November 21 deadline. Next, Seattle officials will start winnowing the list to just 15 people.
Bruce Harrell heads the Seattle City Council’s public safety committee. He has high expectations for this oversight panel. “If we can make this work," Harrell says, "then this will get us at the heart of using reasonable force and biased policing, in terms of how to prevent it.”
A Department of Justice report earlier this year blasted SPD’s use of excessive force, especially against minorities and people who are mentally ill.
The mayor will make the final nominations for the commission, but the council will have some input along the way. Harrell says the goal is to enlist a diverse group of people of different races, ages and backgrounds. He also wants to see at least one member who has had a confrontation with the police and even possibly a criminal record.
“One demographic I’ve made it clear that I would like is a person that’s actually experienced what they would perceive as unreasonable force," Harrell says. "We’ll have people that will be very supportive of the police department – hopefully all of them will be – but we want people who actually have some life experiences in this regard.”
Harrell says the group’s task is to help ensure SPD makes changes related to use of force and biased policing. He expects a big part of the job will be to listen to the public and represent their concerns. The commission will also include two members from Seattle police unions.
The mayor’s nominations are due to the City Council in early January.