Call me maybe
Will police-reform superstar Connie Rice take a shine to Seattle?
Civil rights attorney Connie Rice was in town last week to delve into the Seattle Police Department reform efforts, and her presence pleased many who believe the accomplished mediator could be the best thing the mayor has brought to the Seattle Police Department (SPD) in a long time.
“I think this woman is incredible,” said Pamela Stearns, one of three co-chairs of the Multiracial Task Force on Police Accountability, citing Rice’s experience reforming the Los Angeles Police Department. “She could really go to work and reform Seattle.”
But it’s not clear what role, if any, Rice will play in Seattle’s court-mandated police reform.
When interviewed by Real Change, Rice said she didn’t know if she would be signing a contract with the city and needed to meet with community members and come up with a plan for her work here.
“I just need to understand what the consensus is and take the temperature of the whole group of players and actors in this,” she said.
Rice is the co-director of the Advancement Project, a national civil rights organization that advocates for equitable education and public safety.
According to the mayor’s spokesperson, Aaron Pickus, Rice has already started working in Seattle and will advise the mayor on implementing changes in the police department.
There’s plenty of work to be done. The u.s. Department of Justice (DOJ) released a study in December that showed the Seattle Police Department has a pattern and practice of excessive force.
While working on a resolution to the study, McGinn sparred with DOJ attorneys over the cost of reforms and alienated members of the Multiracial Task Force on Police Accountability by not including them in the conversation.
Rice, who is known for making allies out of enemies, could bring the opposing sides together.
She’s got a forceful way of doing it. In Rice’s book, “Power Concedes Nothing,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca said, “Connie sues you to let you know she wants a relationship.”
Rice worked closely with then la Police Chief Bill Bratton, who had gained a reputation in New York and Boston for not working with the community, said Samuel Walker, author of “The New World of Police Accountability.”
In New York City, Bratton encouraged proactive policing, leading to the controversial stop-and-frisk policies.
But when he got to la, “I noticed a distinct change in [Bratton’s] position,” Walker said, attributing that change to Rice’s influence.
In Seattle, people in and around city hall said they’ve been reading Rice’s book and are excited to work with her.
“Her community and civil rights experience in assisting la during their police reform efforts is incredible,” Pickus said.
According to Rice, there’s no deal yet. She said if she works in Seattle, she’ll expect changes. People used to sparring with police officials have to become allies. Churches, families and community groups have to start thinking about their own role in crime fighting.
“They have to learn to think about the police in a different way, and you have to learn to back the police,” Rice said, “which is hard to do when you’ve been fighting them.”
Rice said it’s ultimately up to McGinn to decide whether her plan for the city works.
“If we can do it in la, we can do it anywhere,” Rice said.
But even after closed-door meetings with McGinn and Rice, task force members are still unsure exactly how much Rice can — or will — do to reform SPD.
“Her role is very unclear,” Stearns said.
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