Port of Seattle launches task force on Port Policing and Civil Rights

Nine areas of focus will guide effort over several months, recommendations expected in 2021

The Port of Seattle Commission launched an agency-wide task force on Policing and Civil Rights to lead a comprehensive assessment of the Port of Seattle Police Department.

The year-long effort aims to ensure the Port of Seattle Police Department is aligned with the highest national standards and best practices related to policing and civil rights, according to a Sept. 10 press release. The identified areas of focus for the assessment are:

Diversity in Recruitment and Hiring; Training and Development; Use of Force; Oversight, Accountability, Racial Equity and Civil Rights; Police Union Participation; Budget, Roles, and Equipment; Mutual Aid; and Advocacy.

The Port of Seattle Police Department provides the primary law enforcement service to Sea-Tac Airport and the Port’s seaport properties. The department was created in 1972 and consists of over 115 commissioned police officers and 40 non-commissioned personnel. The Port police are the primary first responders for all reported crimes and incidents within its jurisdiction.

The tragic killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Manuel Ellis, Rayshard Brooks, and Ahmaud Arbery are only some of the most recent in a long history of unjust killings of Black Americans at the hands of police, reflecting a deeply disturbing pattern of systemic racism in our country that continues to severely impact our cities, communities and essential institutions, according to the press release. Black Lives Matter and the nation are calling for an end to racial injustice, police brutality, killings and dehumanizing of Black Americans, and major reform of policing in the United States.

While there have been no incidents or actions on the part of the Port Police to prompt this action, the Port is taking responsibility by doing its part to respond to the call of history at this seminal moment.

The task force will be led by Commissioner Peter Steinbrueck, Commissioner Ryan Calkins, Delmas Whittaker, senior manager of Fishing Vessel Services and president of the Port’s chapter of Blacks in Government (BIG), and Bookda Gheisar, Senior Director of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. The task force will include both internal staff and outside experts, and will be assisted by a consultant team with national experience in policing reviews.

“In the context of the Black Lives Matter movement and intense national attention around police use of force, the Port of Seattle has initiated its own assessment of policing practices within the Port Police Department,” Steinbrueck said. “We are proud of the high-quality service provided by our Port police but see this broad review as a necessary step toward ensuring our policing practices while protecting public safety are the best they can be and are responsive to the clarion call nationally for policing reforms.”

“We owe it to the people of King County, and to everyone who uses our facilities, to feel confident that our law enforcement officers live up to the police department’s mission to fight crime and to protect and serve our community,” Calkins said. “While our department has been exemplary among its peers, there is always room for improvement, and this task force will provide the Commission with sound policy recommendations.”

The recommendations will be delivered in three phases starting in February and continuing through July 2021. The first recommendations will focus on Use-of-Force, Oversight, Accountability, Racial Equity & Civil Rights, and Mutual Aid. The other two phases of recommendations will be forthcoming as those subcommittees conclude their efforts.

“I am excited to co-chair this groundbreaking and innovative effort at the Port of Seattle,” Whittaker said. “This is a great opportunity to improve law enforcement for the betterment of all communities we serve.”

Judge Anne Levinson (Ret.), former judge and deputy mayor to Norm Rice who has led a wide-range of system reform initiatives and for the past decade provided independent oversight for Seattle’s Police accountability system, will be applying her knowledge and expertise to the Task Force’s Oversight, Accountability, Racial Equity and Civil Rights subcommittee.

“I applaud the Port of Seattle for initiating this important law enforcement review effort,” Levinson said. “This work is critical and will enhance the trust, respect, and confidence of those the Port serves.”

21CP Solutions will be the consultant team for the Task Force. 21CP is a national consulting firm that aims to help communities and organizations address public safety challenges and was formed as an offshoot of President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. The firm is a collective of national experts with a history of working to bridge the gap between officers, their communities, and the policies that determine the relationship.

The Port of Seattle Commission passed its first motion establishing the police assessment task force back in July. Read the full list of task force members.


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