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Seattle Police Loosen Rules For New Recruits

KUOW Photo/Deborah Wang

The Seattle Police Department is preparing to hire more than 300 new officers in the next five years, and it wants to do things differently.

Yesterday, Mayor Mike McGinn announced changes in the city’s hiring practices to attract more local candidates. Currently, only around 18 percent of the department's officers live in the city of Seattle.

The city has promised “to do everything possible to make sure we’re recruiting new officers for our police force who reflect the diversity and values of the community they serve,” said Mayor Mike McGinn.

In the past, there was a long list of prohibitions for recruits. Prospective candidates were not allowed to have visible tattoos. Certain misdemeanors or prior membership in a gang would disqualify them. Candidates would be ruled out if they had smoked marijuana more than 25 times in their lives.

“People would look at this long list of criteria and say, 'Oh, I will never do this, they will never take me,'” said Seattle Deputy Police Chief Dick Reed.

So the department is paring down the list. Now, visible tattoos are not forbidden, they will be judged on a case-by-case basis, as will certain misdemeanors, like traffic violations, and prior gang membership. The department will only ask about marijuana use over the previous year.

The change is meant to broaden the pool of prospective recruits.

“I want people to apply,” said Deputy Chief Reed. “Tell us your history, help us evaluate what are the criteria that make you successful as a police officer, rather than just eliminating the people that would think, oh I can’t do this job.”

In particular, the department wants more applicants from groups that are now underrepresented in the force—primarily African-Americans, Hispanics and Asian-Americans.

“Communities of color have been reluctant to even apply in a system that they feel has historically excluded them,” said Kip Tokuda, a former state representative and community activist who is working with the city on police reform.

Having more police officers who are from the communities they police will make the Seattle Police Department better, said Tokuda.

The Seattle Police Department is holding community-based workshops over the next few weeks. They are meant to prepare candidates for the next round of testing for new recruits on July 13.

Year started with KUOW: 2005