Seattle Candidates’ Views on Policing

Thursday, July 22, 2021
ACLU of Washington is comprised of two different entities—one focused on lobbying and legislative advocacy, and the other on litigation and research. Both are dedicated to non-partisan defense and advancement of civil rights and civil liberties. With rare exceptions, the ACLU does not endorse or oppose candidates for any elective or appointive office. Instead, we analyze and inform the public on positions candidates have taken on ACLU issues, and share our assessment of how these views may advance or undermine equal and equitable enjoyment of civil liberties and rights by all. In this blog post, we’ll focus on what candidates for Seattle’s mayoral, council and city attorney positions have said (or not said) on local policing issues. We are aware there are other important races in other cities around the state. As a major urban center with multiple candidate races, and policies that often impact other areas of the state, we are focusing on Seattle in this blog post.

Election Day is August 3rd

Ballots have dropped, meaning you’ll soon have the power to decide who you believe should be elected to serve our city. Through this blog post, we’ve aimed to inform you about the issues we’re fighting for day-in and day-out and what your local candidates are saying about them. This blog post is not comprehensive of the candidates as a whole and does not elaborate on issues outside of policing and accountability, ACLU-WA also prioritizes many other issues related to the civil rights and civil liberties of people in Washington State. We implore you to do your research to find the best candidate that suits your values and vision for the City of Seattle.
Before jumping into what candidates are saying, it is important to understand what powers related to policing lie in which office. When tension is thick and the rubber hits the road, it’s easy for candidates to point fingers and assign blame. Understanding who has authority to make what decisions creates a clear and efficient accountability feedback loop.

Roles of Seattle’s Legislative and Executive Branches in Setting the City’s Policing Policy

In the City of Seattle, the council and mayor are co-equal branches of government and work together in service of Seattle’s residents, with the power to propose, pass, and execute policies. The council is the city’s legislative branch, proposing and passing bills that become ordinances when signed by the mayor, when returned by the mayor to the council without either signature or disapproval, or when the time for the mayor to act has elapsed. The mayor has the power to veto bills passed by the council, in whole or in part. The council can override a mayoral veto with a two-thirds majority vote.
Two key areas of legislation through which the council and mayor set Seattle policing policy are through the city’s budget, as discussed in a prior post, and through creation and amendment of the city’s accountability system.
The council and mayor also shape policing policy through the nomination and confirmation of the police chief (nominated by mayor), community police commissioners (nominations are split between mayor, council and community police commission), director of the office of police accountability (nominated by mayor) ,and the inspector general (nominated by council). All appointments are confirmed by the city council.
A critical factor impacting the effectiveness of Seattle’s accountability system is the collective bargaining agreements the city enters into with its two police unions, the Seattle Police Management Association (SPMA) and the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG). The Seattle Municipal Code provides that the mayor and city council jointly create a Labor Relations Policy Committee that negotiates these contracts, and a majority of the council must confirm them. The last two contracts, ratified by the council and signed by the mayor in 2017 and 2018, undermined implementation of Seattle’s accountability ordinance. Both contracts have expired, and the next agreements will be negotiated by the candidates, or people appointed by the candidates, currently running for election.
The city attorney is an independently elected official who acts as the City of Seattle’s lawyer, advising both the executive and legislative branches on legal issues, prosecuting misdemeanor crimes, and conducting or supervising all litigation brought by or against the city. For example, the city attorney represents Seattle in the consent decree case. The city attorney also represents the city in judicial enforcement of police disciplinary decisions.
More details about various roles the mayor, city council, and city attorney have played in shaping how police have shown up in Seattle’s communities over the past decade is available here.
  • The mayor is elected at-large (city-wide). This seat is up for election this year.
[Go to mayoral race]
  • Councilmembers represent either a specific district or serve at-large, meaning they represent the entire city. The Seattle City Council is comprised of seven district seats and two at-large seats. Both at-large seats are up for election this year.
[Go to city council race]
  • The city attorney is elected at-large and is up for election this year.
[Go to city attorney race]
Now that you know who is responsible for what, let’s dive in.

Seattle Mayor Candidates

A wide range of candidates are running for the open seat. Candidates include Council President M. Lorena González, former Council President Bruce Harrell, architect Andrew Grant Houston, Deputy Mayor Casey Sixkiller, former CEO of Chief Seattle Club Colleen Echohawk, and former State Representative Jessyn Farrell. As a reminder, the mayor is responsible for proposing the annual budget and nominating department heads, including the next chief of police.

SPD Leadership Role in the 2012 Consent Decree
Seattle Police Department (SPD) has been under federal oversight through an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice called a consent decree. The consent decree, which Seattle entered in 2012, is intended to ensure that SPD corrects a pattern of using unjustified force and racially biased policing, among other reforms. The mayor plays an important role with regards to the consent decree. As the chief administrator of the city, they are responsible for the administration of basic city services, including public safety. The mayor fulfills that responsibility by nominating a candidate to lead SPD. How the mayor receives feedback is entirely up to them. Once confirmed by the city council, the chief of police is responsible for setting policy and procedure within the SPD to ensure it is fulfilling the requirements established by the consent decree. Please take note the consent decree, and the politics surrounding it, are very complicated. We simply do not have the time or space to elaborate on it in this post. If you’d like to learn more about the history and timeline of the consent decree, you can learn more here. Here is what candidates are saying about how they’re hoping to tackle this issue:

Andrew Grant Houston
  • “If it’s possible for the chief to actually be someone from the community — whether a member of the Community Police Commission (CPC) or a longtime police accountability activist — that would be my first choice. But if it has to be an officer, I want someone who is committed to reform and accountability for the long term.” Source.
  • “We have been under a federal consent decree since 2012—that has failed. We tried accountability reforms in 2017—that has failed. We appointed a new Chief of color from within—that has failed.” Source.
M. Lorena González
  • “I think that choosing the next police chief is really important, and I also think it’s going to be very challenging. It’s going to be challenging because the universe of individuals who can serve as a chief of police of a major city like Seattle is very limited. These individuals know each other, they have come up through the ranks together, and they tend to have the same mode of thinking in terms of the role of law enforcement and how far they are willing to go to challenge the status quo of the role of law enforcement in our communities. So I am looking for a candidate who is willing to challenge the status quo from within, someone who is not afraid to say, no, we’re not going to do that body of work.” Source
  • “I think the department could benefit from an external candidate.” Source.
  • “The culture change, we are pushing for and have been pushing for since the consent decree has failed to materialize.” Source.
Casey Sixkiller
  • “Casey Sixkiller, another first-time candidate who worked as a deputy to Mayor Jenny Durkan, sees the new chief as a sort of change-agent finisher. He hopes they will concentrate not only on reforms but reverse an exodus that has seen the departure of approximately 270 officers in the past year and a half, which he said has resulted in increased response times and crime.” Source. [Note: ACLU-WA research did not discover any direct quotes from Casey Sixkiller on this topic.]
Colleen Echohawk
  • We need to reset this police department… I believe Chief Best made some strides toward accountability but clearly there is more work to be done.” Source.
  • “We have significant structural racism in our police department. The latest contract with the Guild, negotiated by the Mayor and approved by the council, resulted in many reforms being rolled back to the point where Seattle was no longer in compliance with the consent decree. Black citizens are arrested at 6 times the rate of white citizens, the 2nd worst disparity in the nation. As Mayor, I will usher in a new Chief, a new contract and a new culture.” Source.
Bruce Harrell
  • “And the question becomes how do you change the culture? A consent decree, like the one we are under now, which was mandated by the court to put certain processes in place to require de-escalation in certain instances to measure the type and manner with which force is used to communities of color and all people arrested by the police. All of those policies would not change the culture. Even proper leadership and the proper training will not change the culture.” Source.
  • “Reforms passed through Congress or the Legislature, imposed under federal consent decree, or enacted by a Mayor will have minimal effect unless and until we change the culture of SPD.” Source.
Jessyn Farrell
  • “[Her pick for chief] will be someone who will be focused on the values that every person has worth … That every person should feel safe.” Source.
  • “Part of it is because no one in a leadership position in Seattle laid out a broad vision of what public safety should be … If the mayor wasn’t going to lay out that vision, certainly the council president could have.  And instead, quite frankly, we had a lot of chaos and a lot of lost opportunity.” Source.
Police Divestment/Reinvestment
The mayor is responsible for proposing and delivering the budget to the council every year. When proposing the budget, the mayor essentially sets the tone for how they believe the SPD should be funded and where the money should go. Candidates range from “defunding the police by 50%” to “increasing the budget for the hiring of more police.” The ACLU-WA has joined community partners in support of divestment from SPD to re-invest in preventative community-based alternatives, as part of the many actions necessary to address severe policing problems.

Andrew Grant Houston
  • “SPD’s budget is nearly double what it was 10 years ago, and we are not twice as safe. Defunding SPD by at least 50%, and investing in community and alternatives to public safety, is necessary. The time is now.” Source.
  • Reform of the department is necessary, however we must build public safety alternatives outside of the department for true public safety.” Source.
M. Lorena González
  • “Who are we creating safety for? And I continue to believe that there are better ways to prevent crime from happening in the city than hiring a thousand new officers.” Source.
  • “As public safety chair over the last four years, I have taken votes to expand the footprint of law enforcement in a way that didn't recognize the need to have equal or greater amount of investments in community programs around education, affordable housing, health care systems that really help BIPOC community members be resilient and successful. This is a moment for us as elected leaders to acknowledge when we've created harm through our policy choices and decisions. And I think it's appropriate to do that. And I hope that other elected leaders in Seattle and across the state take an opportunity to reconcile past policy decisions and acknowledge that now is a moment to move in a different direction.” Source.
Casey Sixkiller
  • “The data is telling us that we don’t have enough cops.” Source.
  • “We need to move away from minimum staffing levels for police officers and instead rightsize the force so we can reduce 911 crisis response times and transition to a micro-policing model that gets officers out of their cars and back to building relationships in the communities they serve.” Source.
Colleen Echohawk
  • “I understand why the 50% number was put out there because the community was angry and frustrated. We’ve got to defund, I don’t know if it’s going to be at that 50% level.” Source.
Bruce Harrell
  • “I don’t have the data to know what the percentages of an increase or decrease should be… But I will say generally, if you are trying to make a department world class, masters of de-escalation, effective, and efficient, you don’t starve them of resources. You make sure your investments are the right ones. So, we will open up the data.” Source.
Jessyn Farrell
  • [In response to a question about defunding the police and by how much] “What that means to me is continuing to invest in those things that are working. I look at the domestic violence unit that is not a crisis response unit but is tasked with implementing our extreme risk protection order law. It was passed by voters to take guns out of the hands of abusers, for example. That work is really important and literally hundreds of guns have been removed from the hands of abusers. And yet, there are functions like our crisis response system that are not working and are dangerous. There are a variety of programs that are working that we need to scale up. Including Health One, which is run by the Fire Department. There are community crisis response programs like Community Safety Hubs. I’ve been on the board of Community Passageways for the last 12 or 13 months. Crisis response that is really informed by the community — those programs really matter. We need to build budgets around those.” Source.

Arbitration and Bargaining
In 2017, in an effort to respond and act on reforms expected through the consent decree, the Seattle City Council passed the Police Accountability Ordinance to mend Seattle's police accountability system. The legislation implemented a three-pronged oversight system comprised of the existing Office of Police Accountability (OPA), a new Office of Inspector General for Public Safety (OIG), and a now-permanent Community Police Commission (CPC). The legislation also set forward several critical reforms, among them, transparency in discipline and disciplinary appeal.

In late 2018, the City of Seattle was set to renew their labor contract with the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG), one of the unions that represents Seattle Police Officers. The contract that was ultimately agreed to by both parties not only rolled back reforms established in the 2017 Ordinance, but also included language that explicitly indicated that in matters of interpretation or in the absence of language, the SPOG contract would prevail. Despite pushback from the ACLU-WA and other heavily involved community organizations, the Seattle City Council approved the contract.

Several months later, U.S. District Judge James Robart found the city had fallen partly out of compliance with the consent decree agreement, criticizing the city’s longstanding inability to address officer accountability.

How does this relate to the mayoral race? As the city’s executive, the Mayor’s Office plays a role in the bargaining process, as well as appointing other members of the bargaining team, including the human resources director and the City Budget Office director.

The SPOG contract expired December 31, 2020, meaning the City of Seattle is set to return to the bargaining table very soon. The next mayor will have an influence in the next contract, and the opportunity to hold the line and push forward on critical reforms, or cave against the pressure.

The Seattle Times recently asked candidates if they believed “…police unions should be allowed to engage in collective bargaining over accountability issues?” All candidates answered “no”. A handful of candidates have expanded on their thoughts, which are cited below. It is worth noting that candidates M. Lorena González and Bruce Harrell, as sitting councilmembers at the time, voted in favor of the 2018 SPOG contract.

M. Lorena González
  • “The challenge will be to reform our arbitration system that allows for that outcome to happen and make sure the deck isn't stacked in favor of police officers who have been disciplined but who are getting two, sometimes three bites of the same apple to their benefit. The next mayor is going to have to be willing to stand up to the very powerful police guild and to stand on the side of accountability." Source.
Colleen Echohawk
  • “I will renegotiate the union contract to ensure that it is equitable and fair, following best practice labor and workplace standards. This has to be done in conjunction with state lawmakers who have recently sent a series of accountability and reform measures to the Governor’s desk. As a member of the CPC, I was against our current contract years ago because I believe we can do better. I will ensure that the City manages secondary employment of officers. Additionally, I will revisit the City’s accountability ordinance, ensuring that it is in compliance with the new contract and statewide reforms.” Source.
Jessyn Farrell
  • “We must re–envision crisis response to remove police when possible and stop negotiating away accountability in our contracts.” Source.
  • “Particularly with that 2018 contract, there was some backsliding on accountability that was really hard-won. And both the mayor and the council at the time were complicit in that backsliding.” Source.

Seattle City Council, Positions 8 and 9

Candidates running for Position 8, which represents the entire city, include Teresa Mosqueda, Kate Martin, and Paul Glumaz. Teresa Mosqueda is the incumbent and was first elected in 2017.

Candidates Nikkita Oliver, Brianna Thomas and Sara Nelson are running for Position 9, which also represents the entire City of Seattle.

Collective Bargaining
The city council plays a significant role during the bargaining process, as councilmembers are a voting majority block of the Labor Relations Policy Committee (LRPC). The LRPC is responsible for reviewing proposals made in negotiations and ultimately adopting the strategy or position to be taken by the city to fulfill its obligations during the collective bargaining process. Whichever candidate is elected in either seat could have an opportunity to directly shape the next contract. Through our research, we found that only a couple of candidates had directly commented on their approach in future negotiations, which are shared below.

Teresa Mosqueda, as a sitting councilmember at the time, voted in support of the 2018 SPOG contract.

Teresa Mosqueda – Position 8
  • “Accountability is not a working condition, it shouldn’t be negotiated. This time, we will not bargain away accountability in the contract.” Source.
Brianna Thomas – Position 9
  • “We need a contract that adheres to the accountability metrics laid out in the 2017 Police Accountability Ordinance (PAO), particularly around discipline and amendments to the arbitration process. Without the inclusion of these changes, the retention and promotion of officers with documented histories of unacceptable behavior will continue. The culture of policing needs to change from within, and it is my hope that members of SPOG and SPMA call for these changes from their leadership.” Source.
Police Divestment/Reinvestment
In July 2020, a supermajority of city councilmembers committed to defunding SPD by 50% and reinvesting those funds back into the hands of the community. By the time the budget was finalized in late November, SPD’s budget had been cut by only 17 percent, with the promise of more cuts down the line.
The city council is responsible for revising the mayor’s proposed budget and ultimately adopting it. Through their appropriation authority, they have the power to influence and shape the city’s priorities, including how they choose to approach, and invest in, public safety.
Teresa Mosqueda – Position 8
  • “I am committed to downsizing SPD and investing in alternatives that emphasize community health and safety so fewer folks ever have to interact with armed officers.” Source.
  • “I will continue to work towards scoping the SPD budget to reduce their responsibilities where an armed officer isn’t needed, and redistribute essential revenue toward improving the safety, prosperity, and well-being of our Seattle community.” Source.
Paul Glumaz – Position 8
  • “…a state of increasing lawlessness is taking over the City. In this context the Seattle City Council voted to defund the police, rather than increase its budget to meet Seattle’s increased law enforcement needs and responsibilities.” Source.
Kate Martin – Position 8
  • “Support, fully fund and continuously improve the police force.” Source.
Nikkita Oliver – Position 9
  • “Seattle spends far too much of its revenue on cops and courts, while our communities lack basic necessities. City policies can change to invest in human needs. We must address the root causes of harm, invest in culturally responsive community-led care solutions, and stop punishing people for the failures of the system.” Source.
Brianna Thomas – Position 9
  • It’s going to take a little bit longer than [4 years] to make sure we’ve got a new public safety structure that’s in place, that has the sustainable funding for community-based alternatives, which I do believe—I do not believe everything has to be a gun and badge response.” Source
Sara Nelson – Position 9
  • “Defunding the police without a plan and without broad consensus is the wrong approach because good policing takes more money for anti-bias and de-escalation training and adequately funding effective community policing.”  Source

City Attorney Candidates

Pete Holmes and Nicole Thomas-Kennedy are running for this seat. Holmes is the incumbent and was first elected city attorney in 2014, and Thomas-Kennedy is a former Seattle public defender.

Consent Decree
As the city’s head lawyer, the Seattle City Attorney is responsible for defending and representing the city in court, including in this case. There are many understandings about the role that the consent decree plays in the future of public safety in Seattle. Some believe it spurs change, while others argue that it provides an excuse to maintain the status quo. Many hold beliefs somewhere in between. Here’s what the candidates have to say about the consent decree:
Pete Holmes
  • “Since entering into the Consent Decree initially in 2012, I have had my hands full discerning a consensus City view of police reform objectives, supporting a full, transparent and vigorous public debate that is evolving even now, especially in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder and the tremendous societal challenges laid bare by the pandemic. Perhaps most remarkable has been the revelation that not only is there great diversity of opinion among City leadership and community, those views have changed since 2012–sometimes completely flipping positions on such basic questions as whether it’s time to exit the Consent Decree. … I am committed to fearlessly posing the hard questions to all stakeholders, insisting only that we no longer kick the can down the road.” Source.
Nicole Thomas-Kennedy
  •  “The Consent Decree, which was put in place many years ago, is often being used as a shield by SPD. When we’re talking about defunding the police they say, ‘Oh you can’t defund us because then we’ll fall out of compliance with the Consent Decree.’ I think it’s wholly ineffective and it was on display for everyone to see this last summer.” Source
  • “The biggest impediments to change that have emerged are SPD/SPOG and the monitor/federal judge. I think the consent decree is a failure, and we should disengage from this ineffective and expensive experiment. I do not expect SPD/SPOG to be on board with the types of change (aka reduced policing) this City needs. I don’t expect them to like me in the role of City Attorney, but they don’t have to like me in order to negotiate with me. They don’t like Pete Holmes either.” Source.
Last summer the City of Seattle wrestled with the idea of divesting funds from SPD’s budget and re-investing in community-based alternatives. The city attorney does not have budget appropriation authority, but does have the ability to determine which misdemeanors the law department chooses to prioritize and prosecute. Here’s what the candidates have said about divestment/reinvestment:
Pete Holmes
  •  “If the City Attorney’s Office can help with ‘chronic neighborhood problems,’ for example, Holmes said, then that lightens the load on police and can lead to a “better resolution.” Source.
Nicole Thomas-Kennedy
  • “I think getting rid of most misdemeanor prosecutions is an easy and obvious first step. The less we deal with issues like social problems and issues of public health [using] cops and the carceral system, the better we’re going to be at solving those problems. The whole carceral system just reinforces all the injustices that we see from officers. I know there is this idea of ‘Oh we can prosecute cops,’ but how often does that happen? It’s so rare, it’s like a fairy tale. The one most heinous cop of all time gets prosecuted. It’s not an adequate system for dealing with that, and it’s not an adequate system for dealing with poverty, racism, disability, addiction.” Source.

Make a Voting Plan!

Election Day is right around the corner, make sure to return your ballot via mail (free postage!) or drop box by 8pm on August 3rd. If you forgot to register by the online deadline, no worries – you can still register in person. We will endeavor to keep this page updated so you have the most up-to-date information about what your candidates are saying. Until then, happy voting.

Want to learn more about where Seattle and King County candidates stand on policing issues? Check out the People Power Washington 2021 Voter Guide, created by People Power activists! People Power is volunteer-driven and activists do not work for or officially represent the ACLU.
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