Kent City Council won’t defund Police Department

‘Reducing the number of officers in Kent will not improve public safety’

There won’t be any defunding of the Kent Police Department under a proposed resolution the City Council will vote on Tuesday, Oct. 6, in response to protests locally and nationally against officer-involved killings of people of color.

Council members emphasized that law enforcement agencies in the state already have fewer officers per 1,000 residents than other states.

“Some have called for defunding of police departments around the nation, with a specific call to reduce the number of police officers employed,” according to the proposed resolution. “The state of Washington ranks last in the nation in officers per capita. Based on 2019 statistics, Seattle, Everett, Auburn, Tacoma, Federal Way and Bellevue have more officers per 1,000 residents as compared to Kent (Renton has the same number).”

Seattle has 1.9 officers per 1,000 residents while Kent has 1.24.

“The council recognizes that reducing the number of officers in Kent will not improve public safety and may draw resources away from community engagement,” according to the resolution.

Police Chief Rafael Padilla highlighted the rate during a report Tuesday at the council’s Committee of the Whole meeting when the council discussed the resolution for about 40 minutes.

“Kent is the lowest in the region,” Padilla said. “They all have more officers per capita than us. And we have more priority one emergency calls. The statement recognizes if we reduce the number of officers and the impact that will have to public safety.”

Mayor Dana Ralph had considered sending a measure to voters this fall to increase property taxes to pay for about 3o more officers, but dropped the proposal due to COVID-19 and some residents already struggling to pay bills.

While the council won’t be cutting the police department staff or budget, the resolution also includes steps it wants the police chief and administration to take “to eliminate even the appearance of inequality in the provision of services citywide, and in particular, in policing.”

“Recent events throughout the country involving police uses of force in contacts with people of color have brought particular attention to the need for an examination of police training and tactics to reduce the potential for the use of excessive force and ensure that a person’s race or ethnicity is not a factor in an officer’s determination of whether force is applied or the level of force that is applied,” according to the resolution.

The council requests that the police chief establish or amend use of force and duty to intervene policies.

Padilla told the council that staff is looking at models and working on a final draft for a duty to intervene policy that will require an officer to report any violations of law or use of force in their presence. He said changes also will be made to the use of force policy and that he expects federal legislation could be coming out about use of force from a national committee of law enforcement agencies and representatives from people of color groups.

The police department will rename its Diversity Task Force to the Police Race and Equity Advisory Board. The group will take on a larger role with a written charter and the ability to review applicable police department policies and the dissemination of information about and discussion of significant police incidents.

Ralph, 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.

“This is a good first draft,” Councilmember Bill Boyce said. “This is a journey we are on and there are a lot of good things in here. The changes look pretty reasonable to move forward. I would like to see us bring it back in six months or so if we need to make adjustments. These are deep changes we are making and we don’t want to rush this through.”

Council members Brenda Fincher, Zandria Michaud, Marli Larimer and Satwinder Kaur each asked Padilla and Matheson to strengthen the language in the resolution in an effort to recruit more officers of color.

“I want it to say that we are trying to recruit a more diverse police department that reflects our community,” Michaud said.

The resolution calls for a lot of support from the state Legislature for police reform, including:

• Assist in funding of mental health professionals to work alongside police officers in Kent and across the state to bring needed resources to people in crisis and reduce the number of incidents to which police officers need to respond

• Establish universal use of force reporting requirements for all law enforcement agencies in the state

* Provide funding for robust data analytic systems for the Kent police and law enforcement agencies across the state to capture call response data and to identify and address racial disparity

The resolution also is part of a larger plan by city leaders to declare equity a foundational requirement not just of the police department, but of all city services. Ralph will discuss those plans further when she releases her 2021-2022 city budget to the council, including funds to hire a equity manager.

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