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caption: Left to right: Seattle Mayor candidates Lorena González and Bruce Harrell
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Left to right: Seattle Mayor candidates Lorena González and Bruce Harrell
Credit: Courtesy of the campaigns

González vs Harrell: Seattle's policing and criminal justice

Seattle voters are being asked to choose between Lorena González and Bruce Harrell for Seattle mayor in the November 2021 elections.

Both are Democrats and have spent time on the City Council. To help distinguish themselves on the issues, each candidate sat down with a panel of KUOW journalists, producers, and community engagement staff to discuss their approaches to the city's challenges, such as policing and criminal justice.

Harrell on policing

Harrell says that some people should not be police officers in Seattle, particularly those who do not break a code of silence or who use unreasonable force. When it comes to organizations that are calling for defunding the police, he wants to get coffee with them.

“Let’s have this discussion about what outcome you are trying to drive.”

“I would say to the abolitionists and the defunders that we need to drive outcomes and invest in outcomes that we want. We want culturally competent, de-escalating officers who take their oath of office in such a way that they will protect all communities. This is a unifying effort in the city.”

Harrell believes 900 police officers are not enough to respond to Seattle’s level of 911 calls. He would like to recruit and train differently than in the past, though acknowledges that may cost the city more money.

“I’m not afraid to use math … I want 1,300 or 1,400 officers, which is an admiral goal, one that can be accomplished. Imagine a new kind of officer though. Imagine some of those officers can be unarmed officers. And also think of a changed culture.”

“You start to change culture when the informal leaders start to take over and the leadership embraces the culture from within. The mayor is the coach, if you will.”

Harrell aims to achieve gradual “victories.” To him, that means an officer can walk into a community event “and they are not booed. They are embraced and you see more people in the department that come from the communities themselves.” Progress would be measured by polling and speaking with communities and organizations that have emerged around policing.

Harrell also points to the Seattle Police Officers Guild and argues it “has to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.” He said that Seattle police should have come forth in the wake of George Floyd’s murder to say that kind of policing would not happen in their city. He felt SPOG should have embraced police reforms coming out of Olympia recently.

“… and their silence is deafening when they do not embrace the reforms in Olympia. That is deafening. That will change under my leadership.”

Part of Seattle’s law enforcement extends to the city attorney’s office, which is up for grabs this election. He says he hasn’t decide on that race yet. Harrell said both candidates present great opportunities for growth and present challenges.

“I have to be prepared to work with either one," he said. "Clearly they have total different approaches … I don’t want either one of them to come in thinking that I didn’t support them as human beings or strongly disagreed with their ideas.”

González on policing

Last year, Seattle’s City Council cut nearly 20% of SPD’s budget — a move favored by González. She says she will further favor additional cuts as mayor. Those cuts happened amid ongoing protests for police accountability and ultimately led to Chief Carmen Best retiring from SPD.

Moving forward, González told KUOW she would like to “continue to engage in that analysis around bodies of work that are appropriately handled by the police department and bodies of work that are more appropriately handled by a non-armed law enforcement division of the department.”

She would also like to scale up the community service officer program and would consider moving that program to a civilian-led agency within the city.

“I think investing in those alternatives in law enforcement at the scale needed and quickly is going to be important to my vision of allowing the police department to focus on the most serious crimes in our city, which are issues related to domestic violence, to homicides, to assaults that are occurring in our city. If we scale up these alternatives that include the community service officer program, that include things like crisis response teams, the Health One mobile unit or the Triage One pilot project … then we can effectively allow the police department to focus on the serious work of both solving for unsolved crimes and dealing with the more violent issues in our city.”

Seattle has experienced a rise in violent crimes and shootings over the past year. The city is on track to break previous years’ records of shootings and gunfire cases.

“What we are doing right now, it’s really an issue of efficiency. We know that many of the service calls that our current police department is dealing with, a little over 60% of those calls are low level, noncriminal, nonviolent crimes. That really does put an incredible amount of pressure on our police force who is trying to figure out how to prioritize.”

“If we take away some of that busy work that is not in need of an armed law enforcement response, then we free up their resources, which is time, to actually focus on crime prevention and community policing.”

González was also asked about her stance on Seattle’s city attorney race.

RELATED: Stark differences on crime electrify race for Seattle city attorney

“I’m a life-long Democrat. I’m a progressive Democrat. I am voting for the only Democrat in that race, which is Nicole Thomas-Kennedy. I don’t agree with her on every single one of her policies, but I believe if the city votes for a Republican — who became a Republican after Trump was elected — is the wrong choice for this city.”

Interviews with candidates Lorena González and Bruce Harrell were conducted separately with a panel that included KUOW Reporters Amy Radil and David Hyde, Producer Brandi Fullwood, Director of Community Engagement Zaki Hamid, and Web Editor Dyer Oxley.