Over the past couple of weeks, it has been suggested that Seattle police officers should not be present at “anti-Trump protests” or instances of nonviolent civil disobedience. Further, the idea has been raised that police officers should be deployed to prevent federal officers from making immigration arrests in the city.
This approach to policing is deeply troubling because it imposes a content or ideological filter over what should be independent, objective decisions to preserve public health and safety. Imagine if the mayor in another city believed that protestsagainst immigrants, or white nationalist demonstrations, should not have police presence. Take the case of the U.C. Berkeley protests against a planned appearance by former Breitbart contributor Milo Yiannopoulos that resulted in violence and vandalism, or the University of Washington protest against Yiannopoulos that resulted in a shooting. Police presence at demonstrations should be about maintaining safety and rule of law for everyone, regardless of ideology or personal preference.
Denying police services—and using the police as the Mayor’s or Council’s paramilitary body—is a dangerous and irresponsible approach that undermines the essence of policing in a free society. The police should do their work in a fair, professional, and constitutional manner without regard for ideology or any politician’s personal preferences.
Sir Robert Peel, the founder of the Metropolitan Police in London in 1829, is credited with crafting a set of key principles for just and fair policing. Three of Peel’s principles apply specifically to this issue of political ideology or personal preference driving policing decisions. Here they are:
- Police depend on the approval and trust of the public to effectively do their jobs.
- Police must be unwavering in their duties and adherence to the law, maintaining impartiality and avoiding the temptation to be swayed by public opinion.
- Police must maintain the public favor and cooperation by providing impartial and independent law enforcement services, as opposed to succumbing and pandering to the whims of the public. They must extend the same courtesy and respect to everyone, regardless of economic or social standing.
Peel was right, of course. Today, perhaps more than ever because of our current political climate, we need to reaffirm Peel’s sage counsel. The issue with police presence at protests is not whether they should or should not be present at this protest or that one, but rather that they should help maintain public safety at all protests. We should never base our police services on whether we agree or disagree with a particular political message or motive. Police services need to be based solely on fairness, professionalism, and the Constitutional mandates we all cherish.
City government has been laboring under a federal court mandated consent decree since 2014 to improve police services, reduce the use of force, and remove any hint of bias or prejudice in the delivery of police services. We’ve spent millions of dollars to comply with the federal court’s requirements and will likely spend millions more before we are in full compliance. We’ve revised training for officers and we have tripled the amount of training officers receive. We’ve hired more supervisors. We’ve changed accountability and reporting requirements. We’ve improved transparency. Deploying police services through a political ideology or personal preference filter would run directly counter to this reform work and represent a huge and dangerous step backward.