Tukwila’s police officers have a new tool to build partnerships with the city’s many diverse communities – their words.
Sgt. Kraig Boyd is leading the Tukwila Police Department’s effort to develop a Community Outreach Strategy based on community policing strategies, with the help of a federal grant.
His research took him to Minnesota, San Diego and closer to home – Seattle. He tailored what he learned to create a community police team and strategy unique to Tukwila.
His efforts paid off: With a federal grant, the Police Department has hired one community liaison officer and is in the process of hiring a second one.
Boyd asked a Minneapolis police officer Carlos Escobar for his advice on how to start Tukwila’s outreach during a visit to that Midwest city to learn what makes its program successful.
This is what Escobar, described by Boyd as a hardcore street cop, told him:
“It’s not that hard. You go into the community and you open your mouth. That’s what you do.”
Boyd uses that quote when he talks with Tukwila’s officers about how to reach out to the city’s diverse communities to build relationships based on trust and to solve problems together.
“Instead of having our steel cocoon of your police car, you have to get out, you have to open your mouth, you have to contact people, and you have to make those connections. And that’s what we are trying to do,” Boyd said.
Tukwila’s officers also must overcome inherent mistrust of police held by some in the city’s immigrant population because of corruption and violence they faced from law enforcement in their home countries, he said.
Boyd’s written strategies were part of the City of Tukwila’s application for a $250,000 federal Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant to hire two community liaisons. Tukwila was awarded the grant in September. The city’s first COPS grant in 2009 was used to hire bicycle officers for the community-policing team.
The Police Department has hired its first liaison, Officer Matthew Valdez, who speaks Spanish. The search is under way for the second liaison; the candidates all have some language skills or experience in ethnically diverse situations, Boyd said.
“We are looking for people who want to work in a very diverse community,” said city Administrator David Cline.
Cline said the city is also committed to having some officers “walking a beat, walking the neighborhoods.”
The city’s goal, said Mayor Allan Ekberg, is “to make sure we reach out appropriately to the diversity within the community.” Taken together, the liaisons and the department’s school resource officer mean “we have three officers who are always engaging with our community and that will just be positive,” Ekberg said.
Because the Tukwila Police Department is small, the department won’t have a liaison for each specific ethnic community, Boyd said. Instead, the two liaisons will reach out to any community, including the city’s large Somali population.
Together, they will form the department’s Community Liaison Team. But Boyd points out that all Tukwila police officers will receive training so the entire department will learn to develop the partnerships.
“I don’t think you can become a good police officer without really knowing the community that you serve, because you are a servant of the community,” he said.
The training began last fall. “The first thing I am trying to teach them to do is get caught doing something good,” said Boyd, such as playing basketball. Unbeknownst to him, Boyd was caught playing basketball on video that received about 5,700 Facebook views.
Boyd himself developed an outreach program years ago with the city’s Somali population. His relationship got off to a rough start, then quickly turned productive.
Years ago, officers chased a Somali youth into the Abu Bakr Islamic Center on Tukwila International Boulevard where Islamic men were in prayer, a “very sacred place,” he said. “You don’t go in there with your shoes on.”
Later, there was a heated exchange in Boyd’s office between Boyd and the mosque’s executive director at the time. Calming down, they talked and searched for solutions to how to protect the sanctity of the mosque and still let police officers ensure public safety.
Boyd asked about an administrative door into the mosque. The executive director made some changes to his office, so now, if necessary, officers can come through that door and directly into his office. He will help solve any issues.
And there are now cloth covers next to the door so officers don’t have to remove their boots.