Asian Pacific Islanders say not enough Seattle officers reflect their community

by: Siemny Kim Updated:

Loading

SEATTLE - Almost a year after Donnie Chin, a crusader for the International District, was gunned down, activists in the Asian Pacific Islander community say his unsolved slaying highlights a much larger problem in the Seattle Police Department.            

© 2017 Cox Media Group.

They say there aren't enough officers who reflect their community on the streets or in positions of leadership

“Are we invisible or what? you would think being the largest minority in the city we wouldn't be,” community activist Al Sugiyama said.

It's a double blow for the International District -- where Chin served as the unofficial security force for nearly 50 years.

They’re streets that many in the Asian Pacific Islander community, or API, have long argued needs more police presence.

“It's a bunch of bull when things happen to our community,” Frank Irigon added.

Chin's unsolved killing infuriates long time community activists Irigon and Sugiyama.

They say it underscores a tense relationship between the API community and the Seattle Police Department.

“If a police officer doesn’t speak the language or isn’t culturally aware it is a problem,” Irigon said.

KIRO 7 asked SPD Chief Kathleen O’Toole if the department has been falling short.

“Well, in order to be effective we need to reflect the community we serve,” O’Toole said.

KIRO 7 began requesting an interview with O'Toole several months ago.  

We wanted to discuss the complaints of lack of diversity leveled by members of the API community.

Just recently, she gave KIRO 7 a few minutes before a community meeting in Belltown.

KIRO 7 asked how she responds to critics who say she hasn’t done enough to recruit or outreach to Asian and Pacific Islanders to the Seattle Police Department.

“Well, we're working hard on it,” O’Toole answered. “And we've met with the community on several occasions and we've appealed to them for their assistance.”

KIRO 7 dug into numbers and found that Asians are the most underrepresented minority in the SPD.

  • The force is 74 percent white, while the city's population is 66.7 percent white.
  • Eight percent of the officers are black, which is just a little more than the 7.2 percent of the city who are black. 
  • Two percent of Seattle's police are Native American, which is slightly more than the 0.5 percent of the population. 
  • Hispanics or Latinos are also underrepresented. They account for 4.7 percent of the department, but they make up 6.4 percent of the city. 
  • Pacific Islanders make up 0.9 percent of the force, and 0.4 percent of the population. 
  • Asians are 6.9 percent of the SPD, compared with 14 percent of the city's population. 

 

KIRO 7 asked community activist Doug Chin what he thinks it says to members of the community when they don’t see officers that look like them.

“It’s not a priority,” Chin said. “I'm convinced if they want to do, if Chief O'Toole wanted to do it, she would have did it. It's really as simple as that.”

“We've increased the diversity of our candidate pool by 30 percent just in the last year and a half or so. So it's a work in progress,” O’Toole added.

For Sugiyama, the problem goes beyond efforts to recruit talent.  

He said there's not enough diversity near the top.

“That’s one of the reasons we are looking so closely at the command staff,” Sugiyama explained. “We felt that if there was somebody up there that had the sensitivity, then we would get a little bit more play.”

O'Toole was sworn in in June 2014.

For the first time in more than 35 years, the chief had the power to hire anyone to her command staff , rather than only promoting people already within the department.

No one of API descent was appointed.

“We attracted a great diverse candidate pool but we only had one representative of the Asian community who applied and that person didn't meet the minimum criteria for the job,” O’Toole said.

KIRO 7 also asked Irigon if the chief should have ignored the minimum requirements set for the job.

“We are not asking for preference. most people will say, you guys are asking for preference. what we are asking for is the opportunity to compete, compete fairly and be recognized for that,” Irigon said.

The two highest ranking members in the SPD of API descent are Capts. Eric Sano and Ron Mochizuki. Both have more than 30 years with SPD and oversee some major units in the department. But they are not considered "command staff."

O’Toole maintained that diversity is a priority for her.

“I've worked in all corners of the world. I worked in Europe, Boston, now here. I’m really trying hard to diversify our police services. There's nothing more important to me.”

KIRO 7 asked Sugiyama if the case of Donnie Chin's slaying would be any different if there was a top ranking Asian American on the command staff.

“I don’t think there is any question about that,” he answered.

O’Toole strongly disputes that assertion about Donnie Chin's murder.

She said there are two detectives of API descent on the case who were close friends of Chin that are absolutely committed to finding his killer.