The Kent Police Department is working with the Kent City Council, mayor and the community to implement equity and social justice reform.
“I get there’s a lot of fear and anxiety surrounding policing in our country and people want change,” Kent Police Chief Rafael Padilla said to the council during its Aug. 4 meeting. “I get that and we are making it happen.”
Padilla plans to return to the council either Sept. 1 or Sept. 15 with a police reform resolution to specify the proposed changes. He has met, or will meet, with Mayor Dana Ralph, command staff, the seven council members, community groups and the city’s Cultural Communities Board to get input about what changes to consider and implement. Changes also will be discussed with the police union and reviewed by the city attorney.
“This work isn’t being done in a vacuum,” Padilla said in a Aug. 11 email. “Meeting with city council members to get their input is being added to the considerable input I have received from the community in the past few weeks. COVID-19 has made it challenging, but we are working hard to engage our community and get their input directly via cyber meetings. I have conducted four community meetings, attended several stakeholder meetings and one panel discussion electronically. There are several more community engagement events planned.”
The chief said he has met individually with four council members so far and will meet with the other three members in the coming days.
“I am meeting with the council members to get their input on what steps they would like to see the department take in terms of equity and social justice reform and I am also seeking their direction on what they would like the resolution to contain,” Padilla said.
Councilmember Les Thomas told Padilla at the council meeting that he appreciated how the chief has stepped up to make changes.
“I want to thank you for not being a waiter as much as a leader,” Thomas said. “You talked to us before about not using the chokehold. You took the lead way before others across the nation, and in other areas you have taken the lead. Some of these policies may have to wait a little bit for the budget, but I really appreciate the changes you have made to the force. We brag about our city as one of the most diverse in the country, and our police force is very diverse and our council is very diverse, but there’s so much more to be done.”
Residents have been giving the chief lots of suggestions through calls and emails.
“We’ve had input from the community,” Padilla said. “That input is not falling upon deaf ears. We are hearing you. We are responding to questions daily, and a large amount has come in, and the volume exceeds the time we have to return them. But we are taking concerns raised by residents first. The issues are complex and we want solutions with a positive impact.”
Padilla spoke and participated in a peaceful protest attended by nearly 2,000 people June 11 on the downtown streets of Kent. It marked the first protest in Kent after demonstrations broke out across the nation following the May 25 killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
De-escalation and duty to intervene are two policies under review. Padilla said Kent police have practiced de-escalation, but until this year there was no state law that required de-escalation training.
“We looked at our policy to see if it’s reasonable and necessary, and you will see changes very soon,” Padilla said.
The chief recently suspended use of a vascular neck restraint to control a suspect.
“Our technique was different, but we suspended use of that pending federal legislation about whether we should use it and if used, how to use it,” he said.
Padilla started a new website called The Kent PD Way to help provide answers to residents about topics and provide some statistical information.
“We will update that with stats and video about how we approach issues,” said Padilla, who added eventually police policies will be posted to the website.
A big change for new officers to the force will require them to spend the first three to six months getting to know people in the community before they obtain the authority to enforce laws in the city. Officers will need to work with community service programs, whether it’s the YMCA, a school or some other program to get them familiar with the city.
“Officers don’t necessarily live in the community so there is concern about a disconnect,” he said. “They will do this at the onset of their careers, so they will have balance of who it is they are serving. You will start to see this with new officers very soon.”
The police department also will have a new position of a race and social justice coordinator. Cmdr. Robert (“Bobby”) Hollis will take on the new role, so no additional full-time employee will be added.
“He will be a part of the mayor’s internal work group and will help develop enhancements across the city, but will also focus on police specific initiatives,” Padilla said in an email. “We are restructuring commander assignments, moving work around so that Cmdr. Hollis will have time to develop and implement positive change.”
Council President Toni Troutner said she looks forward to a new approach.
“I am very excited to see what the changes look like and making our city a better place to live,” Troutner said.