The following editorial originally appeared in The Seattle Times:
How do you feel about policing?
Last month, lawyers representing a group of protesters announced a $10 million settlement with Seattle to resolve allegations that the police department used excessive force during 2020 George Floyd demonstrations. The city did not admit wrongdoing.
This comes on top of about $3 million the city paid out to business owners who claimed police abandoned them during the creation of the Capitol Hill Organized Protest around the same time.
The settlement does not include a handful of businesses that came late to the litigation, including Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream. It’s worth noting that Molly Moon’s posted a sign in its Capitol Hill store during the upheaval warning officers that they were unwanted because they carried guns. Get this: The business later turned around and sued the city for lack of police protection.
This is the Goldilocks of policing — one approach is way too tough, the other too complacent. No wonder cops can’t seem to grasp what the public wants.
For the most part, residents can agree about the need for constitutional, professional policing that reflects the community’s values of tolerance and empathy.
But during the 2020 protests, Capitol Hill’s Seattle Central College — which serves students of color and those with low incomes — was repeatedly vandalized. How should police specifically focus on making arrests for damaging property — including to more than 60 downtown businesses — without harming those expressing their First Amendment rights?
The whipsaw of legal settlements underscores the need for the region’s elected leadership to set a clear course for public safety.
It’s about more than effective, safe and rational responses to protests — though that has remained an unsolved conundrum for years (see: World Trade Organization mayhem of 1999 and the 2001 death of a man at a Pioneer Square street riot).
Effective policing means recruiting, training, and retaining the best officers. It means listening to all voices in the community — those critical of police and those who call police to protect their lives and property.
It means that people charged with even minor crimes must show up for court and fulfill requirements or face consequences. For repeat offenders, jail should be a last resort, but one that offers the opportunity for effective intervention when all else has failed.
Litigation and settlements revolving around the few weeks of extreme protests in 2020 should not be considered a unique circumstance best left to the history books. Instead, it should prompt a commitment by elected leaders to do better on public safety and set a course that both avoids future payouts and creates stronger, safer communities.