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Former Seattle Police Chief Urges 'Radical' Changes to Policing

Norm Stamper was Seattle police chief during the 1999 crackdown on WTO protesters. He calls it a painful learning experience. (Seattle Municipal Archives/Flickr)
Norm Stamper was Seattle police chief during the 1999 crackdown on WTO protesters. He calls it a painful learning experience. (Seattle Municipal Archives/Flickr)
June 8, 2020

SEATTLE -- A former Seattle police chief says American policing needs sweeping change.

Norm Stamper was head of the Seattle Police Department from 1994 to 2000, including when police cracked down on World Trade Organization protesters in 1999. Stamper says his officers' actions contributed to conflict between police and demonstrators and calls it a painful learning experience.

Two decades on, Stamper says he's appalled at the video of George Floyd's death in Minneapolis and is calling for major policing reform.

"But reforming the existing arrangement is really not the answer," he stresses. "I think the answer is fundamentally more radical than that -- and many within the American protest movement are making that argument."

Since leaving the Seattle Police Department, Stamper has authored two books, including "To Protect and Serve: How to Fix America's Police." He's also on the advisory board for the Law Enforcement Action Partnership.

Stamper says he opposes defunding police departments, as some activists urge. But he says departments should share their budgets with the public so community members are directly involved in policing decisions.

"Should the community be involved in policy making and program development and crisis management and the education and training and, indeed, in the selection of police officers in the first place?" he raises. "For me, the answer to those questions is yes."

Stamper says citizen boards also should be involved in personnel investigations and oversight of policies and practices. He says the increased transparency would provide greater trust with the public.

Stamper says it's important for police and community members to understand each other. For officers, that includes accepting that many black Americans don't feel safe around law enforcement.

"In general, police enjoy a pretty solid relationship with white, middle class Americans," he states. "The same cannot be said for young people, poor people and people of color. We've always had our work cut out for us -- never more so than at this moment in history."

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA