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Role of Seattle police looms large in candidate forum

caption: Seattle City Attorney candidates Ann Davison, left, and Nicole Thomas-Kennedy spoke about police and prosecution at a Seattle Human Services Coalition forum Sept. 16.
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Seattle City Attorney candidates Ann Davison, left, and Nicole Thomas-Kennedy spoke about police and prosecution at a Seattle Human Services Coalition forum Sept. 16.
photos courtesy of campaigns

The general election season is getting underway. In a forum convened by the Seattle Human Services Coalition Thursday, candidates made clear that the types of calls requiring a police response will be a central issue in their campaigns.

In the race for Seattle City Attorney, moderator Marcus Harrison Green asked the candidates about strategies they support “outside of police response and incarceration.”

Former public defender Nicole Thomas-Kennedy, who has previously pledged not to prosecute most misdemeanors if elected, said the role of police in Seattle should be dramatically reduced. She said police don't need to handle traffic violations or low-level crimes like shoplifting or theft, and may not be the best response for domestic violence calls.

“For misdemeanor domestic violence it doesn’t always need an armed officer to respond,” she said. “We need to have community-based systems of violence interruption as well as respite centers so people can have a range of options beyond calling the police, because that is not an option for everyone.”

Her opponent is attorney Ann Davison, who noted misdemeanors include offenses such as assault, discharging a firearm and reckless endangerment. She said, “these are not low-level crimes, these are crimes that we must be talking about.”

Davison said she would focus on reentry programs for people being released from jail, as well as strengthening diversion programs where people get services instead of a criminal record.

“I believe there’s a lot of improvement in our ways of diverting people from jail time especially in programs that intervene even before an offense occurs,” she said.

Davison said she would also focus on the needs of crime victims. Thomas-Kennedy said she would seek to establish a victim compensation fund, possibly outside the city attorney’s office.

City Council position 9

The two candidates for Seattle’s open council seat (Position 9) also discussed how they would address the issue of gender-based violence, which includes sexual assault and trafficking.

Candidate Sara Nelson, a small business owner and former city council staffer, said she would increase funding for flexible financial assistance “to enable survivors to exit their dangerous situations, preferably before engaging law enforcement. So I promise to allocate $4 million to expand that work being done by the Coalition to End Gender-Based Violence.”

Candidate Nikkita Oliver proposed directing up to $50 million in funding away from police and toward services outside of law enforcement, saying, “we can use reclaimed funds from Seattle Police Department to create and expand shelters, housing, rape crisis centers, mental health services, and programs that combat gender-based violence.”

Oliver directs the nonprofit Creative Justice and has worked as an attorney and educator.

Thursday’s forum also included questions for candidates for mayor and King County Executive. You can view the entire event here.

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