Seattle Police Chief John Diaz answered questions from East Precinct community members Thursday night in a public appearance at Seattle University that comes as prosecutors decide whether to charge one of Diaz’s officers with a crime in the shooting death of JT Williams and the Justice Department says it has launched a review of violence and racial bias within SPD.
“Sometimes we make huge mistakes,” Diaz said Thursday night. “Those are the ones you have to be held accountable for.”
Diaz appeared at the monthly meeting of a community crime prevention group that may see the occasional television news crew show up but not the throng of reporters and cameras from most major Seattle media outlets that attended Thursday night’s meeting. Many of the East Precinct Crime Prevention Coalition members who usually attend the monthly meetings to ask questions of the East Precinct brass about specific issues and problem streets in the area instead turned their attention to the bigger issues currently facing Diaz.
Thursday night, Diaz was called on to comment on everything from the logistics of the Ian Birk case to gentrification in the Central District — “Gentrification is part of the price of safety,” one community member said as she asked Diaz about what he was doing to build community and reduce “fear of crime.”
The police chief steered mostly clear of specifics saying he expected there to be a decision on Birk “within a month.” Of Ian Birk, one community member who said he had watched the video of the shooting told Diaz, “It’s unfathomable to me that he could still have a job.”
The community meeting, usually held at Seattle Vocational Institute at 23rd and Jackson, was held inside a conference room at Seattle U to coincide with Diaz’s appearance. Security was extremely tight and attendees arriving after the start of the session were turned away because the room was at capacity, Seattle U security staff told CHS. A small number of protesters gathered on the edges of campus near Chardin Hall.
Some of the night’s discussion did focus on East Precinct specific issues. Diaz said e considered the Drug Market Initiative and the focus on reducing criminal activity at 23rd and Union a success calling the effort “a perfect example of fighting crime by including community.” Diaz said he plans to establish another DMI effort elsewhere in the city.
Diaz also said his department is working on a service to better communicate SPD efforts at the community level with more neighborhood specific information sources. In 2010, SPD introduced online access to some incident reports and online mapping tools that document where and how officers are being dispatched.
Two community members called on Diaz to explain what he is doing about the situation around articles in the Seattle Police officer’s guild newspaper railing against City of Seattle’s anti-bias training efforts. Diaz said he fully supports the city’s Race and Social Justice Initiative and admitted he is frustrated by the attention the articles have received.
“It’s bad for the entire organization. It’s bad for the community,” Diaz said. “It’s a stupid thing to do.”