With a majority of the Kent City Council preferring to wait to approve a race and equity resolution, the seven members postponed a vote on the measure to a undetermined date.
Council members Marli Larimer, Brenda Fincher, Zandria Michaud and Satwinder Kaur voiced concerns during the Tuesday night (Oct. 6) remote meeting about wanting more time to rewrite the resolution written by city leaders in response to protests locally and nationally against officer-involved killings of people of color.
Council President Toni Troutner and members Bill Boyce and Les Thomas supported the resolution. Boyce made a motion to support the resolution and Troutner seconded it. But after much discussion, and without the four votes to move the measure forward, Boyce later withdrew the motion. The council then voted unanimously to postpone a vote on the resolution.
“I will not support this tonight (Tuesday),” Larimer said. “I’m not centered on the defunding (of police) but on section 6 (of the resolution). It’s time to go back to the drawing board and engage with the community.”
Section 6 deals with what the city wants the state Legislature to address, including funds to pay for mental health professionals to work alongside police officers and to establish universal use of force reporting requirements for all law enforcement agencies in the state.
“We are going to add that to our legislative agenda and it’s a benefit if the state takes it on, but if it doesn’t, we have not made a commitment,” Larimer said.
Several members of the group ForFortyTwo, named for the number of Kent public schools, spoke during the public comment period in opposition to the resolution. They claimed the proposal isn’t strong enough to make any difference and that it keeps too many police officers. The group wants a 50% cut in officers and more funds to support Black, Indigenous and people of color and youth.
Komalpreet Kaur Sahota, a member of ForFortyTwo, told the council it’s false that a reduction in police officers is a threat to public safety as emphasized by Kent Police Chief Rafael Padilla at a council meeting last month about the resolution.
“It’s not true,” Sahota said. “Larger police forces do not lower the crime rate. …larger forces do target people of color. …the city must support our demands rather than release resolutions that do not support the community.”
Sahota said the council should defund police by 50%, eliminate the officers in schools program, invest in Black, Indigenous and people of color, youth and students, and find alternative emergency responses to (mental health case) incidents that do not involve police.
Councilmember Kaur said the city needs to do more rather than waiting to see what state leaders will do.
“We are putting it all on the Legislature,” Kaur said. “We need to show commitment to mental health support and other things we have talked about. I’m in favor of holding it (the resolution) for now.”
Councilmember Fincher agreed.
“There is more work to be done,” Fincher said. “I support putting a hold on it. I have read it many times so I felt it was sufficient, but I would like to take another couple of reads.”
Fincher emphasized what she’s looking for in a resolution.
“One of the things I’d like more clarity on are the types of programs we are putting back into the community and how we use the funds,” Fincher said. “I am not for decreasing police, but for adding things to help their jobs, decrease the number of people they have to serve, keeping people out of the justice system and to make sure there is money to help organizations doing that.”
City Clerk Kim Komoto read numerous emails during the public comment period that were sent to the council. Several were against the resolution and others supported it, wanting to make sure there is no defunding of the police department.
Councilmember Boyce backed the resolution and opposes any reduction in the police force.
“If we cut it in half, we would have 75 officers for the sixth largest city in the state,” Boyce said. “To defund from 150 to 75 with the population we have doesn’t add up to me. I think the resolution addresses a lot of issues with recruiting, and training is spelled out. Our focus is on accountability.”
Padilla, Chief Administrative Officer Derek Matheson and City Attorney Pat Fitzpatrick wrote the proposed resolution after numerous one-on-one meetings between council members and the police chief about what changes they would like to see. They rewrote it after discussion at a meeting last month with the council.
Matheson summarized the potential next steps after listening to the council debate.
“Council members have concerns about how it comes down to budget issues and how to deal with the Legislature if it doesn’t fund it, and the programs the city can or cannot provide,” Matheson said. “I suggest you table it until after the city budget (process), take it up again or wait until we have an equity manager, and have a more robust version of what the resolution is trying to accomplish.”
As part of the 2021-2022 budget, the city plans to hire an equity manager to help the city focus on equity in its projects, programs and service delivery. Larimer also suggested that person could help make the resolution stronger.
“What I’m hearing from the community is expectations are not being met,” Larimer said. “This is an opportunity to be crystal clear of what our expectations are.”
Editor’s note: The name of the speaker from ForFortyTwo and the city officials who wrote the resolution has been corrected.