Submitted by Jason Whalen, Deputy Mayor, City of Lakewood.
Over the past two weeks our community has been rocked to its core—first with COVID-related struggles and losses for many of our businesses and families and now with heated racial tensions brought to the boiling point after the horrific killing of George Floyd in Minnesota, as well as our own recent officer-involved deaths in Tacoma and Lakewood. As an elected leader, I felt it was important to stand with our black and brown friends, neighbors, and community members who are rightfully angry and frustrated at their politicians, their police departments, and their government institutions.
I walked this past Sunday with Council Members Moss and Farmer at a peaceful march in Lakewood, ending at our Lakewood Police Department. While I received an earful, the angst and frustration expressed was real and heartfelt. I learned much by just being present to listen. While we must recognize that institutional racism exists in our society, we also must acknowledge that we, working together, have the power to make necessary, peaceful, and lasting change.
However, to be united, we must now act united, and treat each other with greater love and respect. We are a nation of laws and our law makers and law enforcers must do better to instill trust and confidence that the laws, created by the people and for the people, are uniformly and fairly enforced. We can expect no less if we expect the laws to be obeyed.
I believe we are making positive steps in the right direction.
This past Monday, your City Council reviewed a draft of the Pierce County Force Investigation Team (PCFIT) Agreement, drafted to comply with recent additions to state law (via Initiative 940), including the Washington Administrative Code, WAC 139-12-030 (Law Enforcement Training and Community Safety Act—Independent Investigations Criteria). The mission and purpose of this Team is to conduct independent, thorough, accurate, appropriate, open, and unbiased investigations, in compliance with the Law Enforcement Training and Community Safety Act, RCW 10.114.011 and WAC 139-12, for all officer-involved use of deadly force incidents that result in death, substantial bodily harm, or great bodily harm occurring within Pierce County. The goal is to conduct professional, multi-jurisdictional investigations of incidents of deadly force by law enforcement while promoting public trust through transparency and consistency. Lakewood’s Police Department will be a Member Agency subject to this Agreement, along with the police departments of Bonney Lake, Buckley, Dupont, Eatonville, Fife, Orting, Pacific, Puyallup, Roy, Fircrest, Gig Harbor, Milton, Ruston, Steilacoom, Sumner, Tacoma, the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department and the Washington State Patrol.
Importantly for all Member Agency communities, the Team will include non-law enforcement community representatives. Each Member Agency shall appoint at least one civilian to fulfill duties as assigned by state law, WAC 139-12-030. There will be a transparent process for soliciting names and creating a roster of individuals willing to serve in this capacity. Details will no doubt unfold as the Agreement is executed and put into practice.
I believe this is a positive step in the right direction toward rebuilding trust and confidence in our public safety systems and institutions. As Mayor Don Anderson noted in his June 6 message to the Lakewood Community, the May 1 death of Mr. Said Joquin, who died in an officer-involved shooting, is undergoing an investigation conducted by an independent agency, consistent with this new state law. But—hold us accountable to this greater goal of independence and transparency. The proof will be in the pudding, as they say.
I do not have ready answers to heal society’s racial tensions, manifested in dramatic ways these past weeks. I cannot promise particular solutions or outcomes, and, while I can only speak for myself here, I am confident your entire Council is committed to listening to you in order to better work with you, as well as with the many dedicated men and women working in our Lakewood Police Department, to make needed and lasting change. This will require hard work from all of us—listening to one another AND committing to making necessary change—in our institutions, but also, in our individual hearts. Our nation’s motto, E pluribus unum, “Out of Many, One”, demands our collective best.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.