Local police departments say they have been working to address national concerns over police discrimination.
Protests erupted across the country and worldwide last May after Minneapolis man George Floyd was killed in police custody.
Since then, people around the world have voiced concerns over the treatment of people of color by police.
Burien’s Chief of Police, Theodore Boe, said that his department has heard these concerns, and is continuing to listen.
“Our council is currently undertaking a listening period that started with a special meeting of the council to allow people to provide feedback on policing, future funding, and areas for improvement,” Boe said.
During this period, Boe said community members could give input anonymously via the department’s website.
“We have just closed the time for feedback and our communications team is compiling a report on the feedback provided by our community members,” he said.
Burien’s community has had some protest activity since last May, but Boe said it has all been wholly legal.
One such protest took place in the city last June, when Burien youth led a march on City Hall in support of equality. Burien’s mayor, Jimmy Matta, marched with protesters, and city police officers facilitated the event.
“We have had no riots or criminal behavior, just peaceful protest activities,” Boe said.
In addition to listening, Burien police have been working to address the community’s concerns, Boe said.
“We worked with 8 Can’t Wait to assure our policies were consistent with their guidance and research,” he said. “This required us to modify a couple of our policies to be in compliance, which we have done.”
8 Can’t Wait is a self-described “campaign to bring immediate change to police departments.” It campaigns for police departments to adopt a list of eight policies with the intent to restrict police use of force.
Of those policies, the organization’s website shows that King County — which Burien contracts with for its police services — has adopted all eight.
Boe said those policies, as well as all of the department’s others, can be found on the King County website.
“We also have put our department manual, use of force dashboard, and complaint dashboard online for the public to view in an effort to be fully transparent,” Boe said.
Going forward, Boe said that his department will focus on engaging with the community to ensure that everyone in it feels safe around the police. “Listening, transparency, and voice are key,” he said.
“We partner directly with multiple service organizations in our community to assure we are supporting alternatives to engagement in the criminal justice system,” Boe said.
Boe also said that continued support of officers will help build trust in the community.
“This means they need positive engagement, support, recognition and training,” he said. “It also means a community that appreciates them and takes the time to smile and say ‘hi’ at Starbucks.”
Kent, being among the top 10 most ethnically diverse cities in the country, has likewise heard concerns from its community in the past months.
However, Kent Chief of Police Rafael Padilla said that very few in his community have voiced concerns about their police department.
“Most of the conversation has been about the incidents that they have seen at the national level,” he said. “There have been very few complaints specific to Kent P.D.”
Padilla said that he and his officers, along with Kent Mayor Dana Ralph, participated in a large June protest following the death of George Floyd.
“We met with the organizers and were able to put on an event in which over 1,000 people’s First Amendment right to protest was supported by the city and police department,” Padilla said.
That protest, he said, remained entirely peaceful,
“This large protest had zero violence and zero property damage, not even a broken window. It was a historically important event,” Padilla said.
Despite the lack of specific complaints directed at his department, Padilla said they got to work right away on implementing changes the community had called for.
“We have a Diversity Task Force and a Cultural Communities Board in the city that are made up of community leaders and faith-based leaders who represent people of color in Kent,” he said. “We have met with these two groups several times since Mr. Floyd’s death.”
“We have embraced the opportunity to improve, having the humility and open mind to seek better ways to do things,” Padilla said.
Moving forward, Padilla said the Kent Police Department wants to emphasize working closely with its community.
“We engage our community in a multitude of ways and we seek to be a part of our community, not just an entity who enforces the laws,” he said.
As protesting continues to occur around the country and in the local area, both police chiefs said that they hope their communities can focus on bringing about change peacefully.
“First off, we fully support our community exercising their rights and work closely with organizers whenever possible to assure a safe event for everyone involved,” Chief Boe said. “If you have never participated in a peaceful protest, please do.”
“If you are participating in an event, avoid criminal behaviors that tend to escalate the ‘energy’ of the crowd,” Boe said. “If you start to feel an event is escalating or feel unsafe, it may be wise to leave.”
Chief Padilla echoed much the same sentiment as Boe.
“It takes a commitment from everyone, police and protesters, to keep the event peaceful,” Padilla said. “I don’t have advice or guidelines, other than to please be safe.”