Former Kent City Councilmember Dennis Higgins called for Kent Police Assistant Chief Derek Kammerzell to resign immediately.
Higgins, who served 10 years on the council from 2010-2019, read a passionate statement about the Kammerzell matter during the public comment period at the Jan. 18 Kent City Council meeting. The assistant chief has yet to respond to a Jan. 4 request by Mayor Dana Ralph to the Kent Police union for him to resign from the force after a public outcry over his posting of a Nazi insignia on his office door and other misconduct.
“Derek Kammerzell – on many ride-alongs, I saw you do a lot of good work for our citizens,” Higgins said about the 27-year veteran of the department. “I don’t think you’re actually a Nazi, but surely you can see – you made some stupid mistakes, and the damage is done.
“Please do one last good thing for our city and for the department where you spent your career. To you, to the KPOA (Kent Police Officers Association), I ask you, please, do the right thing and resign – without protest – today. Help the healing and the rebuilding of trust begin – today – right now – in our police department.”
Kammerzell and Wayne Graff, president of the Kent Police Officers Association, have not issued any statements since Ralph’s request more than two weeks ago. Graff and Kammezell have not responded to numerous emails from the Kent Reporter over the last couple of weeks.
“I do believe in redemption and I hope you will pursue healing, education and peace,” said Higgins, who was council president in 2012 and 2013. “But our police department isn’t the place for you to do that. Derek, reclaim some of your honor and let KPD get to work on re-earning the public trust.”
Voters elected Higgins to the council in 2009 when he defeated Ralph. He was reelected in 2013 when he ran unopposed. He decided for family reasons in 2017 not to run for a third four-year term. But when voters elected then-Councilmember Ralph as mayor in 2017, the council appointed Higgins to fill out the rest of her term through 2019.
Police Chief Rafael Padilla suspended Kammerzell in July 2021 for two weeks after an outside investigation into the Nazi issue. A co-worked reported the incident. City and police officials didn’t release any information about the suspension.
The matter came to light in December 2021 when a citizens watchdog group No Secret Police released documents to the media that it had acquired through the Public Records Act. The documents included Padilla’s discipline report.
“This hurts so bad,” Higgins said when he began his comments via Zoom to the council and mayor. “We’ve worked so hard to build up our police department, and KPD has so many good people in it.”
But Higgins said the department needs to do better.
“To our police – this is why your conduct behind closed doors is so important,” he said. “How you act in private will come out in public one way or another. We expect you to be our guardians, not soldiers. You are not at war with our community. You are part of our community – a very important part.”
Higgins thanked the people who reported and released the information about the incident.
“God bless and protect the reformers and the whistle blowers in KPD,” Higgins said. “Thank you for standing up to the old destructive ways of American police culture. We, the citizens of Kent, who hired you, we demand our police department lead the way, toward better policing. We must train guardians, not warriors. That is the only way to rebuild our trust.”
Higgins said that trust is hard to earn, and even harder to earn back.
“To be clear, I believe Derek Kammerzell should have been terminated on day one; if he chose to appeal, he should suffer in the court of public opinion,” he said. “As a council member I learned for myself, that sometimes inside city hall, the right thing to do is obvious – and then something comes up from legal or elsewhere.”
The former council member supports changes in state law.
• “Let’s set police accountability and discipline standards in state law. Accountability should not be set by what can be ‘won’ through city-by-city collective bargaining. Consistency and high standards should be uniform in every police department.”
• “Let’s repeal the state law that gives police officers special appeal rights, allowing for delay, secrecy and a lack of accountability. Private appeals to a secret arbitrator destroy public confidence. Police officers should have the same appeal rights as all other public employees.”
Higgins said these reforms were recommended in a 2020 article by Tim Burgess, a former Seattle City Council member and former police officer. Higgins said current Senate Bill 5677, sponsored by Sen. by Jesse Salomon, D-Shoreline, includes these reforms.
“Let’s urge our legislators to pass the bill,” he said.
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