The Nickels Way

The mayor rejects City Council's plan to address racial profiling.

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels ran for office last year talking about consensus politics and promising to be open and inclusive. He also ran as someone who would rebuild trust between the police and the citizens. But as Nickels has taken on the city's debate over what to do about racial profiling, those two promises have clashed, with some suggesting that he's not seriously listening to community testimony over issues of police accountability.

"You're ignoring the people who did all the work," Bob Boruchowitz, a member of the city's citizen-led Racial Profiling Task Force, told Nickels representative Edsonya Charles at the last task force meeting.

"We've been used," added David Bown, another task force member. "We came forth and did what you asked us to do. Now we're getting slapped in the chops for it, and that's not cool at all."

The Rev. Harriett Walden, a longtime activist with Mothers for Police Accountability, was even more direct with Charles about her frustration: "It's time to unelect people who just want to do process. This is a citizen drive. Who do they work for?"

The task force was created by the City Council two years ago. After the council appointed its 20 members, the task force met 30 times, organized six intense community meetings, and worked regularly with police. At the City Council's request, the task force formulated a plan to collect additional data that could help the department better understand why so many people of color are pulled over and what can be done about it.

On data collection matters that ran contrary to police desires, the City Council did not follow the task force's recommendations. Then the council cut the data collection program's budget in half in order to pay for putting 25 more cameras in police cars. When the council passed its scaled-back version of the task force's data collection plan—a plan that would have required police to fill out a 17-question form for every traffic stop—Nickels shot down the nonbinding resolution in a June 27 letter he sent to the council. The first time Nickels made his concerns known to the council about the resolution was the morning of the full council vote on June 17. Police chief Gil Kerlikowski first raised his concerns about the resolution on June 5.

"This has been on the table for 18 months," notes City Council member Jim Compton, the chairperson of the Police Committee who oversaw the council's data collection planning efforts. "They really decided to pull the rug out from under us at the absolute last minute, and that's really regrettable. We were trying to keep faith with the community and hard work of the racial profiling task force. We simply had to honor that and can't walk away from it."

Nickels' spokesperson, Marianne Bichsel, has said that "the task force was a council committee," not the mayor's. Nickels will now try to do in two weeks what the council took two years to do, and will announce his own plan to address allegations of racial profiling next week.

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