‘Whole Picture’ to Be Weighed in Seattle Police Hiring

Steve Miletich, Seattle Times, May 6, 2013

Past gang membership, tattoos and a record of driving while intoxicated will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis in screening applicants for the Seattle Police Department under new policies designed to boost diversity on the force and hire officers who reflect the makeup of the community.

“We’re trying to do everything we can to smooth out those bumps in the road,” Assistant Police Chief Dick Reed said at a news conference Monday at the social-justice organization El Centro de la Raza as the city unveiled changes in minimum hiring standards.

Mayor Mike McGinn said the new approach grew out of the city’s “20/20” police-reform plan adopted last year, calling for 20 initiatives over 20 months, and is designed to lift technicalities in the hiring process.

The reform plan was adopted last year after a U.S. Department of Justice finding that Seattle’s police officers have too often resorted to excessive force and displayed troubling, if inconclusive, evidence of biased policing. The city later entered into a settlement agreement with the Justice Department to address the issues.

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One goal is to attract applicants through community-based organizations such as El Centro, the Atlantic Street Center and Filipino Community of Seattle, along with career-promotion efforts in Seattle’s community colleges.

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Felony and domestic-violence convictions will continue to be automatic disqualifiers, Reed said.

But misdemeanor convictions and past misconduct will be evaluated on an individual basis under background checks that, overall, will examine challenges which applicants might have faced, lessons they have learned and changes they have made in their lives.

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In addition, the marijuana-use policy has been revised to require that new hires have not used pot in the past year rather than fewer than 25 times overall.

The department also is eliminating some language regarding applicants’ driving records that might have disqualified some.

Visible tattoos already are allowed for officers working on the force, and confusing language in application papers regarding their acceptance has been removed, Reed said. Tattoos will now be reviewed case by case, along with marks from deliberate scarifying, and the department will eliminate a policy restricting dental ornamentation.

Recent statistics show the Police Department has 86 percent male officers, compared with a Seattle population 50 percent female; 75.3 percent white officers compared with a 69.5 percent white population; 8.6 African-American officers compared with 8.0 percent; 5.1 Hispanic officers compared with 6.6 percent; 8.5 percent Asian/Pacific Islander officers compared with 14.2 percent; and 2.3 percent Native-American officers compared with 0.8 percent.

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