Cops and campaigns
Should members of the public’s police watchdog group be free of political allegiances?
A commission meant to scrutinize the actions of the Seattle Police Department and the mayor who oversees them includes political allies of Mayor Mike McGinn.
The Community Police Commission is a 15-member panel created as part of a settlement to resolve a December 2011 Department of Justice report that showed the Seattle Police Department has a pattern and practice of excessive force.
Members of the commission aren’t yet confirmed, but already some see it tilting toward supporting McGinn, who is up for re-election. The commission’s members include Kip Tokuda, a former state representative and current co-chair of McGinn’s campaign, and three people who have endorsed McGinn’s campaign for re-election.
The Seattle City Council must approve members of the Community Police Commission, and some are skeptical that some nominees can be objective.
“I think [McGinn] has picked people who are very knowledgeable, but clearly there are some people here who have worked for him, who do work for him and who have received funds from the city, and that’s a problem,” City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen said.
In his re-election bid, McGinn faces challengers Bruce Harrell and Tim Burgess, both on the council.
Bruce Harrell chairs the council’s Public Safety and Civil Rights Committee, which will discuss the proposal to appoint the 15-person commission in mid-March. The commission will issue reports, hear from the community and work with an independent monitor over a three-year process to reform the Seattle Police Department.
Harrell has been critical of the mayor on the issue of police reform; to underscore his concern, he has called for the reconfirmation of Seattle Police Chief John Diaz.
With regard to Tokuda, Harrell was reluctant to call out the mayor himself but said he’s received at least 25 calls from constituents asking about Tokuda’s appointment. He said they are right to have concerns about whether Tokuda can be critical of the mayor’s leadership while at the same time co-chairing his re-election campaign.
Tokuda brings experience to the commission. He spent eight years in the state House of Representatives for the 37th District in Seattle, spent a year as the interim director of the city’s Human Services Department and served as executive director of the Washington Council for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect. He also sits on the board of the statewide Task Force on Race and the Criminal Justice System and on the advisory board for the Center for Children & Youth Justice.
McGinn’s spokesperson, Aaron Pickus, said Tokuda has also advised the mayor on police reform. He helped craft new recruiting and hiring practices and cultural competency provisions within the mayor’s SPD 20/20, a planned 20 reforms that McGinn will make at the department in 20 months.
Pickus said it’s important the commission include both supporters and critics of McGinn.
In terms of supporters, the commission includes Asian Counseling and Referral Service Executive Director Diane Narasaki and Mothers for Police Accountability Director Rev. Harriett Walden, both of whom have endorsed McGinn for re-election, according to McGinn’s campaign website. Four members, including Tokuda and Narasaki, donated to his 2009 bid for mayor, although their contributions were small.
Harrell said because the commission is in a position to be critical of the mayor, council and police department, its members must be independent. And, he pointed out, members of the police department already hold two commission seats, ostensibly tilting the balance toward the police.
Rasmussen also said he hopes to see commission members who are in a position to act impartially and wants the city council to consider the political donations and affiliations of each member.
“I think that the public expects that the commission will be representative of the public: open, objective, independent,” Rasmussen said.
Seven of the members have made campaign donations to city council and mayoral candidates in Seattle since 2000. Six of those donation were to people currently holding office. Rasmussen himself received donations from Tokuda.
Not every councilmember feels the need for such scrutiny.
“It’s the mayor’s commission, so he gets to choose who he wants,” said councilmember Nick Licata, who was particularly happy to have former city councilmember Tina Podlodowski on the commission. “I think the rest of the group looks like it’s well-dispersed in opinion and geographically. It seems like a well-balanced commission.”
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