Mayoral candidates debate, share vision for future of SPD

SEATTLE — Seattle voters are already casting their ballots in the 2021 election, and the race for mayor is heating up.

A Sunday debate hosted by the Washington State ACLU focused on public safety, with the main topic centered around the future of the Seattle Police Department.

Seattle has seen record crime this year as the police department struggles to retain its force.

To reduce similar crime, Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez says she wouldn’t hire officers, but rather divert funds to social programs which she says would increase capacity for community-based organizations that will be better equipped at preventing crime before it happens.

Former Councilmember Bruce Harrell says he would hire more officers, but invest in completely changing the culture at the Seattle Police Department, saying, “We will examine everywhere a gun and badge goes, and we will take an inventory of the officers we have now and may require extensive retraining.”

Systemic racism within the force was a major topic during Sunday’s debate, with both candidates sharing their perspectives on how to end racial discrimination.

“That includes making sure that our hiring practices have background checks into white nationalist affiliations, memberships or admiration, to avoid the hiring of these people in the first place,” says Gonzalez.

Harrell says, “Not only will we change the narrative, but quite frankly, we will put the right people in positions of power, and under my administration, you will see probably one of the most diverse set of leaders in our city’s history.”

Both candidates say they want to demilitarize the police department and create an unarmed division within the SPD to respond to certain cases.

Harrell says he also wants to hire a more diverse force. “I will recruit and train and retrain officers to protect our young folks such that they can thrive,” he said.

Gonzalez believes those reforms wouldn’t go far enough and fears minorities would continue to be targeted by police. “Officers make arrests, arrests lead to bookings, not to diversions, and that is disproportionately going to affect Black, brown and poor people”.