Tacoma Candidates’ Views on Policing 

Thursday, July 22, 2021
ACLU-WA is a non-partisan, nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to the defense and advancement of civil rights and civil liberties. The ACLU does not endorse candidates for elective or appointive office. The purpose of this blog post is to analyze and inform the public on what their candidates have said (or not said) on local policing issues.

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. The 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 Tacoma.
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 decisions creates a clear and efficient accountability feedback loop.

Separation of Powers

The City of Tacoma is the third largest city in Washington State. Tacoma operates under a Council-Manager form of government.  The city council is comprised of a mayor and eight council members elected to serve four-year terms, with five council members representing councilmanic districts (districts associated with a specific council member) and three at-large seats (council members who represent the entire city). The mayor and council positions 2, 4, 5, and 6 are up for election this year.
Council powers include:
  • Passing ordinances and resolutions
  • Reviewing and approving the annual budget
  • Modifying the city’s charter
  • Regulating public health and safety
  • Creating city positions and setting salaries
  • Appointing the city manager
  • Appointing citizen boards, committees, and commissions
  • Confirming department appointments made by the city manager
  • Borrowing funds
Council members are responsible for confirming members of the Community’s Police Advisory Committee, which is “a policy-focused board that helps to ensure transparency and accountability in the way that the City of Tacoma Police Department operates.”

The mayor is the presiding officer of the city council with the same right to speak and vote as any other council member. The mayor is the official head of city government for purposes of ceremony and military law and upon declaration of an emergency or disaster. (See Tacoma’s city charter)

The city manager (appointed by the city council, not elected) is accountable to the council for the administration of all units of city government under the manager’s jurisdiction, including the Tacoma Police Department (TPD). The city manager has the authority to appoint department heads, including the chief of police of the Tacoma Police Department.

Tacoma’s long history of excessive force

In March 2021, the Tacoma News Tribune published a story digging into TPD’s use-of-force data collected from 2015-2019 that showed Tacoma police used force disproportionately against people of color, and very few officers were disciplined.

Unfortunately, this had been happening for several years prior. Back in 2017, ACLU-WA sent then-mayor Marilyn Strickland and the chair of the Citizen Police Advisory Committee Ryan Webster a letter relating to concerns of excessive use of force, biased policing, and civilian complaints and oversight. Civil rights groups like the Tacoma NAACP and the Black Collective also have a long history of requesting independent review of police use of force complaints.

Through a public records request, ACLU-WA received records from January 2010 to September 2015 detailing numerous incidents where unnecessary force was used against civilians, yet the TPD almost always concluded the amount of force was justified. The department’s unwillingness to document race-related information and acknowledge implicit bias was also a problem. Lastly, there did not appear to be an effective avenue for community member complaints to be addressed, as it was the police themselves — the Internal Affairs unit of the police department — who were responsible for investigating community misconduct allegations and recommending to the chief what should be done about them. This pattern of excessive force and lack of accountability broke trust between Tacoma Police and the people they serve.

Then, in March of 2020, Manuel Ellis was murdered. Mr. Ellis was restrained, deprived of oxygen, and ultimately killed by three Tacoma police officers – two of whom have now been charged by the attorney general with second-degree murder; the third officer was charged with first-degree manslaughter.  The November 6, 2018, passage of Initiative 940, the Law Enforcement Training and Community Safety Act, required an independent investigation of Mr. Ellis’s death, and the rules for how such investigations were to be conducted were finalized December 16, 2019. The investigation of Mr. Ellis’s death was originally handled by the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office.

The investigation met delays and mishandlings, including of Manuel Ellis’s autopsy. Months later, it was revealed that Pierce County Sheriff’s personnel were involved in Manuel Ellis’ detention. Even if they were not the officers who used deadly force against Mr. Ellis, their involvement in the arrest called into question whether they truly could be considered “completely independent” members of the independent investigative team. The discovery lent weight to the argument that police simply should not investigate other police at all, and momentum to the passage of HB 1267, Washington’s new independent investigation law.

The attorney general’s charging documents also allege that officer statements about the Manuel Ellis killing are rebutted by outside evidence, raising questions about whether Tacoma’s political leaders intend to address such serious credibility problems with their city’s police department. 

To some, the charging of Christopher Burbank, Matthew Collins, and Timothy Rankine, the officers who killed Manuel Ellis, is a step towards accountability; others believe we have a long way to go before we have a fair and just accountability system. Your local leaders play a huge role in determining what the future of public safety looks like.  Let’s dive in.

Tacoma Mayoral Candidates

Victoria Woodards, Jamika Scott, and Steve Haverly are running for this seat. Victoria Woodards is the incumbent and was first elected in 2017. Woodards was formerly a city council member and architect. Jamika Scott is a writer, filmmaker, and co-founder of the Tacoma Action Collective. Steve Haverly has had a 27-year career in construction and construction management.

Independent Investigations
After the botching of Manuel Ellis’ investigation and continued mistrust in the Tacoma Police and Pierce County Sheriff’s Departments’ ability to conduct truly independent investigations, the City of Tacoma and their leaders lobbied the Washington State Legislature to pass HB 1267, which authorized the creation of an independent, state-level office of investigations. Tacoma’s next mayor will have the opportunity to further fine-tune this policy and, alongside the city council and city manager, move the needle towards true accountability.  Here is what candidates have to say about the matter:
Victoria Woodards
  • “The Ellis family specifically requested an independent state investigation, and I want to thank the Washington State Patrol and the Attorney General’s Office for their efforts in fulfilling that request. Moreover, the City Council and I are grateful to Gov. Jay Inslee and Rep. Debra Entenman who heard us and worked to make independent, state-level investigations a right that is available to every Washington family impacted by officer-involved deaths. And I hope – in the next legislative session – we will add independent, state-level prosecutions as well.” Source (full statement).
As of July 19, 2021, Jamika Scott and Steve Harley had not explicitly commented on independent investigations.
Changing the Culture within TPD
After years of abuse and dishonesty, and data confirming racially biased policing, department and city leaders say they hope to rebuild trust with their community. It’s going to be a long road, but your candidates have the opportunity to influence the conversation, though some believe that police and their actions cannot be reformed.
Victoria Woodards
  • “More police do not make every community feel safe. That distrust also has been passed down from generation to generation. You see it on TV, you hear it. You have people in your family who've experienced situations with police officers. So we've got to focus getting at those other issues, which is why programs like Project PEACE (Partnering for Equity and Community Engagement) were erected in Tacoma.” Source
Jamika Scott
  • “Officers like Steven Storwick [officer who responded to Ms. Scott’s 911 call] should not be allowed to continue to ‘serve’ the community after breaking trust in such a way. Officers like him should not be allowed to freely continue their broken and traumatizing police practices in our communities. The Tacoma Police Department has an obligation to protect and serve the people. It is an obligation they have failed to meet on numerous occasions, and since they are unable to police themselves, it is up to the citizens, as it has always been, to bear witness to each other’s stories and hold the police accountable for their actions, as well as their inaction.” Source.
As of July 19, 2021, Candidate Steven Haverly had not explicitly comment about culture change within TPD.

After the murders of Manuel Ellis and George Floyd, national discourse around policing and public safety erupted, prompting leaders to think twice about the size of their police budgets and where specifically the money is going. Tacoma’s next mayor, as a member of the council, plays a role in developing the city’s budget, including for TPD.  Here’s what the candidates had to say:
Victoria Woodards
  • “… The other thing that we talked about as mayors is that reform is expensive because all of these things that we want to put in place, like body cams, cost money. I think there's got to be real conversation about when we say ‘defund the police,’ what that really means and what things are included in that. I get the sentiment of what it means. But I don't think there's anybody in the country who wishes there were no more police on the street. So as we think about what we mean when we defund the police, I would hope that body cams are not in the conversation. But we'll have to be able to continue to educate our community and do what's right for Tacoma.” Source
Jamika Scott
  • “Scott said there are many issues she feels are important to tackle in Tacoma, a top one being the re-imagining of public safety. Scott said that means looking at where the police budget is overflowing and at areas where the police force is overworked and ill-prepared, then allocating funding toward resources and programs that can be a better use of money. ‘We should be giving that money and supporting the system that is going to allow for the proper mental health advocates, proper mental health professionals, to come in and address those situations,’ she said.”  Source
Steve Haverly
  • “’I don’t buy into ‘defund the police,’ but I do think there needs to be some police reform.’ Haverly said he feels police shouldn’t have to act as social workers and that he supports looking at ways to change what calls police respond to. ‘The police department can’t be the cure-all for everything,’ Haverly said. ‘It’s not fair to them, and it’s not fair to the public. The public’s not getting the best help if all we can do is send an officer who may or may not be equipped to handle that particular problem.’” Source

City Council Races

Council Positions 2, 4, 5, and 6 are up for election this year. Tacoma’s candidates include:
District 2: Sarah Rumbaugh and Kelly Blucher
District 4: Catherine Ushka (incumbent), Israel James McKinney, and Nolan Hibbard-Pelly
District 5: Joe Bushnell, Treyvon Dunbar, and Anne Artman
District 6: Klara Daniels and Brett Johnson
Changing the Culture within TPD
City council members play a role in developing and passing ordinances that can contribute to culture change and rebuilding trust between law enforcement and the community. See what Tacoma’s local candidates had to say:
Sarah Rumbaugh – District 2
  • “I support our law enforcement, and the use of force is a concern when there has been a climate of discrimination and intimidation based on skin color. I don’t have great detail on our police force’s record of use of force, or the use of force policy. It might not matter that they wear body cameras, but behavior does change when a visual record is kept.” Source.
As of July 19, 2021, Kelly Blucher (District 2 candidate) has not explicitly commented on community mistrust and culture change.
Catherine Ushka – District 4
  • “In June 2020, the Tacoma City Council passed Resolution 40622. This resolution formally acknowledges that the City of Tacoma’s existing systems [including policing] have not adequately served the needs of everyone in our community and, in particular, have not adequately served the needs of Black community members and other community members of color.” Source
As of July 19, 2021, Israel James McKinney (District 4 candidate) has not explicitly commented on community mistrust and culture change.
Nolan Hibbard-Pelly – District 4
  • “Hibbard-Pelly feels the city’s efforts to create an anti-racist city and transform the Police Department aren’t enough. He doesn’t feel placing body cameras on officers is changing their behavior and feels the city’s anti-racist Heal the Heart efforts are just reacting to community response to the death of Manuel Ellis in 2020 and should have happened long ago.” Source.
Joe Bushnell – District 5
  • “I believe that our police force wants to and should make our community feel safe; part of that means addressing systemic racism and use of force policies to ensure that no one is put in greater danger because of a police response. Our officers should be a reflection of our community and represent the best of Tacoma.” Source.
Treyvon Dunbar – District 5
  • “Dunbar believes that the case of Manuel Ellis, a Black man who was killed in March 2020 by Tacoma police, is a ‘dark spot on the name of Tacoma,’ and was unimpressed with what he feels was a lack of City Council response to the issue. ‘(Council) didn’t feel like it was a thing until (the community) made them acknowledge it. It would have easily been swept under the rug, and that is a problem,’ Dunbar said.” Source
As of July 19, 2021, Anne Artman (District 5 candidate) has not explicitly commented on community mistrust and culture change.
Kiara Daniels – District 6
  • “When it comes to public safety, Daniels said Tacoma has a long way to go, and the city will not ‘policy our way out of racism.’ Daniels said she often feels the conversation about police reform becomes about whether someone hates or loves the police. ‘It has absolutely nothing to do with what we love or hate — it is about the return on investment,’ Daniels said. ‘We need to make sure that if we are paying into a system, that, number one, we are counted in that, that we are protected, that we feel safe in that system — and that’s everybody.’” Source
Brett Johnson – District 6
  • “We cannot continue to turn a blind eye facilitating the deterioration of our fellow citizens and the deterioration public safety must stop immediately.” Source.
As the budget-appropriating authority, the council has the power to decide where money goes and how much is allocated. Read below to see what Tacoma candidates had to say about divesting from the traditional “gun and badge” approach to public safety and reinvesting it in other alternatives.
Sarah Rumbaugh – District 2
  • “Rumbaugh said the city needs police but supports looking at alternative methods to responding to emergency calls. ‘It seems to me that there are things that possibly the police don’t want to go to. Maybe they don’t want to go to a homeless encampment to talk to somebody who’s suffering mental illness — maybe someone else should be called to that,’ she said.” Source.
Kelly Blucher – District 2
  • “Blucher said she supports police reform in Tacoma, including working to see which emergency calls can be diverted from armed police officers to community responders or mental health experts. ‘We need to send out more community service workers and have people, again, with those lived experiences out there helping members in our community,’ she said.” Source.
Catherine Ushka – District 4
  • “’You need mental health professionals to respond to mental health crises, for instance,’ she said. ‘There is a deficit of mental health resources in this county, in the state — that is nothing new.’ At the same time, she said law enforcement is needed in Tacoma, as indicated by local crime rates. Homicides skyrocketed in 2020 compared to previous years. ‘I understand the call for slashing the budget, but I interpret that as transformation,’ she said. ‘... We can’t change the past; we can only change the future.’” Source
Israel James McKinney – District 4
  • “’We definitely are not in the position of defunding the police,’ McKinney said, ‘But there has to be some accountability, and I believe we’re going in the right direction. But that doesn’t change overnight. We’re excited to see the direction that the city and the state is going but we want to continue in that effort.’ When asked for his thoughts on the city’s recent study on diverting some 911 calls from police to other types of response teams, like a citizen-led mental health team, McKinney said he’s open to review the option but said more data needs to be evaluated.” Source.
Nolan Hibbard-Pelly – District 4
  • “’There’s like so many other things, like the library and fire departments and activist programs that should be funded. And reallocating their money is my form of reform,’ he said…’I just think the city needs to cut its ties with the police,’ he said. ‘I know they’ll always be around in some form, but just figuring out a way to just not support all the awful stuff they’ve been doing.’” Source.
Joe Bushnell – District 5
  • “When asked about the city’s efforts in police reform, Bushnell said the current system of policing isn’t working, saying that even those who are against defunding the police feel they don’t always respond to calls. He supports looking at how the city can better prioritize its spending on public safety. ‘There’s clearly some sort of disconnect there,’ he said. ‘I’m not supportive of a blanket 50 percent reduction in the police funding — to me that’s irresponsible. We have to make sure that we’re prioritizing our values.’” Source.
Treyvon Dunbar – District 5
  • “When asked about the city’s efforts in police reform, Dunbar said an audit of the Tacoma Police Department’s budget should be done to determine where money might be overspent, and then reallocate that funding elsewhere. Dunbar feels there should be sub-tiers within the police department with officers who are trained to respond to a specific crisis.” Source.
Anne Artman – District 5
  • “She mentioned the case of Manuel Ellis, who died after being restrained by police in March 2020. His death happened in District 5. Artman said that perhaps if the right people had responded to help him, rather than the police, the outcome could have been different. Artman believes there needs to be police reform. She would like to see community liaison officers or an alternative response team responding to non-emergency calls.” Source.
Kiara Daniels – District 6
  • “Daniels said she is interested in the study recently conducted by the city that looks at which calls could be diverted from police to an unarmed civilian response team. ‘I think that is a benefit to people of color, that is a benefit to folks experiencing mental health crises, a benefit to everybody in the community to have a holistic response team,’ she said.” Source.
Brett Johnson – District 6
  • “When asked about the city’s efforts for police reform, Johnson said that for years police have been asked to do a lot. He said he supports looking at alternative responses to calls that can not only help alleviate burden on police but also make sure the people responding are best equipped to handle the situation. ‘The more we can get the right tool, or the right entity to respond to a call, the higher success we’re gonna have for everybody… ,’ he said.” Source.

Make a Voting Plan!

Election Day is right around the corner, make sure to return your ballot via mail or drop box by 8pm on August 3rd. If you return your ballot via mail, you do not need to pay for postage. 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.
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