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SPD LGBTQ Advisory Council meetings return

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Photo courtesy of City of Seattle
Photo courtesy of City of Seattle

Relations between Seattle Police Department (SPD) and the larger community have been on thin ice for years, especially after the George Floyd protests in the summer of 2020. Speak to most Seattleites about the SPD, and they can recall moments when tensions were high, and when they felt as though those sworn to protect did not fulfill their duty. Especially those belonging to marginalized communities have critiqued what they view as intimidation and discrimination at the hands of the police force.

But after three years of the advisory council meetings being on hold, they are coming back, and according to the speakers at latest meeting, they aim to rebuild trust.

On May 11, the SPD LGBTQ Advisory Council held its first meeting in years at the Garfield Community Center. It was chaired by Mac McGregor, a Seattle city commissioner, and Officer Dorian Korieo, the SPD's LGBTQ+ liaison officer. Other speakers included Victoria Beach, chair of the African American Community Advisory Board, and Sgt. Ron Campbell of the SPD Education and Training Section.

According to a handout at the meeting, the LGBTQ Advisory Council "was created to work with the department on issues of concern and to share insights and recommendations that could impact relationships between the Seattle Police Department and the community. Council members work together to create their own agendas and strategize ways for making police services more responsive to the needs of the community."

Presenters and audience members formed a circle to help promote open discussion. The chairs quickly filled, and the meeting began with introductions. After the mic was passed in a full circle, McGregor explained that the intent behind these meetings is to "try to reestablish relationships and build trust in the SPD, to ask questions, and to hear some of the changes that have been made in the last few years." He asked those in attendance to "help us let people know" about the meetings.

Officer Korieo explained that because of the Advisory Council's hiatus, its email list is outdated, and the members would appreciate any help spreading the word about the meetings. McGregor added, "This is for the entire community." The organizers hope more people can attend, ask questions, and share their thoughts.

SPD officers in the 2019 Seattle Pride Parade — Photo by Nate Gowdy  

The BTB program
The mic was passed to Sgt. Campbell to speak on the first-of-its-kind Before the Badge (BTB) program. He said this is a "bottom-up" approach to improve the SPD. Forty-five days before their mandatory 720-hour Basic Law Enforcement Academy (BLEA), recruits will first attend the BTB program.

The City of Seattle's webpage for the program states that "this training, launched in May 2022, immerses all SPD recruits in community-based, peer-based, and introspective experiences that will provide them both a lens through which to receive their eventual BLEA training and a foundation upon which to build their careers as Seattle Police Officers. During Before the Badge, SPD recruits will gain a more comprehensive understanding of the people they will eventually swear to serve and protect. Because of BTB, recruits will first build relationships with the people of Seattle — before they receive their badges."

BTB has three main goals: to "meet with community groups to have discussions as individuals about policing in Seattle. [To work] with the Wellness Unit to obtain tools to help with the stresses of the job. [And to learn] about SPD precincts, officers, opportunities, and leadership."

The website also states, "In addition, BTB includes exploration of the policing profession's racist history, gender responsiveness, and the science of relationship-based policing."

Sgt. Campbell also shared that he hopes the program will improve the culture within the SPD "through generation after generation" of recruits who will learn the importance of empathy and understanding for every person. BTB is not just taught by cops but also by volunteers.

Seattle University is currently conducting a study on the effectiveness of BTB. Over several years, they'll be collecting data points from the SPD and comparing them with those from police departments not involved with the program. If BTB is successful, it could be adopted by other departments and help to improve policing as a whole.

Photo courtesy of Victoria Beach  

Challenging the police
Then Beach related how she'd been involved in training recruits and shared her past negative experiences with cops, saying "If you had told me back then [that] I'd one day be friends with a cop, I would've said you are very wrong." She added that those involved with the program "stand up to them [the recruits]."

McGregor, a Trans man, said, "I go in there and challenge them about everything they know about gender and how they were socialized around gender. We have to figure out how to take steps towards how we can learn from each other. So that they know some of us in the community. So that when something happens in the LGBTQ+ community, they know who they can come to ask about what's really going on here."

Finally, the future of the Advisory Council meetings was discussed. The next one will be held on June 7 from 6:30 to 8 p.m.; the location has yet to be decided. It will provide an opportunity for attendees to meet Cap. Jim Britt, the SPD commander for Pride 2023 weekend. There will be a briefing by Capt. Britt about Pride, plus a chance to share concerns and to take part in creating a safety plan.

The meeting ended with the assurance that more would come and the community would be heard. The organizers said that the chief of police has agreed to attend a future meeting to answer questions, although the date is not yet set.

Now that the Advisory Council meetings are back, they are a chance to let your voices be heard.

For more information, contact Henry Liu Community, Outreach Coordinator, at 206-886-5564 or [email protected]