Target: Ed Murray, Mayor of Seattle
Goal: Place more women and people of diverse cultural backgrounds on police forces.
The city of Seattle has for some time been considering implementing a system to correct racial and gender imbalances in the Seattle Police Department (SPD). The system has to do with “preference points,” which are advantage points typically awarded to veterans on civil service exams. Veterans receive five preference points for their service, and ten points if they were in a war zone. To be sure, there is nothing wrong with thanking or rewarding military veterans for their service – however, the fact that the U.S. military is about 75% male and 75% white leads to some racial skewing when veterans are the only ones who receive a preference.
The proposal for SPD is to add points for different skills on the civil service exam – skills that would value different cultural experiences and sensitivities, and hopefully lead to a more diverse police force, with a better understanding of marginalized groups. For instance, points could be awarded for speaking multiple languages, experience in social work or community service.
As appealing as this sounds, the reform was proposed shortly after Mayor Ed Murray took office in 2014, and still no action has been taken. Instead, after toying with the question for months and tossing it around from department to department, the Seattle Department of Human Resources has commented that “the city continues to look into other ways to utilize preference points to achieve greater workforce equity. That said, no decisions about expanding the use of preference points… have been made at this time.”
Expanding preference points to be more inclusive of different identities and backgrounds is hardly a panacea, but it could at least be a move in the right direction for police reform. The mayor’s hesitancy to move forward with this is disheartening. With ever-mounting pressure from activists and concerned citizens to address racial bias in police forces, we would hope to see the mayor of a progressive city like Seattle taking bolder steps to set a positive example. Tell Mayor Ed Murray to expand the preference points system, and push further to create a diverse, thoughtful, and well-balanced police force.
Dear Mayor Murray,
I am writing to urge you to take action on police reform. I understand that for some time now you have been considering expanding the “preference points” system on the civil service exam to include not only veterans, but people with skills and experiences representing a more diverse set of backgrounds and identities. As you may know, the U.S. military is approximately 75% male and 75% white, so a system that preferences veterans alone is bound to lead to a homogenous police force.
Awarding preference points to people who speak multiple languages, have engaged in community service or social work, and other experiences that represent cultural literacy could benefit the force, as well as public perception of police. This is not a terribly dramatic change – it will disadvantage no one, and could be at the very least a start in correcting racial biases in law enforcement.
Seattle has been lauded as a model for positive police reform. If you are to live up to this praise, you must not hesitate to take bold actions in addressing the admittedly complex issues of police bias and systemic racism. I hope you will act quickly in enacting this and other reform measures to diversify the police and fire departments.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Hollywata