Police officer rails against city’s anti-bias initiatives

In a December article in the Seattle Police union newsletter under the headline, “Just Shut Up and Be a Good Little Socialist,” Officer Steve Pomper calls the city’s 5-year-old Race and Social Justice Initiative an attack on American values and calls its supporters “the enemy.” The column is renewing concerns about the culture of the police department and officers’ willingness to address racial bias.

(SEATTLE TIMES)   A Seattle police officer, writing in his union newspaper, disparages the anti-bias training the city employees are required to take, and calls city leaders a “quaint socialist cabal.”

Under the headline, “Just Shut Up and Be a Good Little Socialist,” Officer Steve Pomper calls the city’s 5-year-old Race and Social Justice Initiative an attack on American values and calls its supporters “the enemy.”

He expresses contempt for a “Perspectives in Profiling” class that department members were required to take last year to raise awareness about racial profiling, and he questions at what point he and other officers should say “Hell no!” to the city’s attempts to “indoctrinate SPD in social justice culture.”

The column, appearing in the December issue of The Guardian, is renewing concerns about the culture of the police department and officers’ willingness to address racial bias.

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn said the officer’s apparent hostility to the city’s anti-bias efforts adds to public concerns over a series of highly publicized incidents in which officers are accused of using excessive force against minorities.

“The question is a serious one. How widely or deeply held are these views? How do we make sure that anyone in city government reflects the values of not discriminating against people? Even one officer holding these views is not appropriate,” McGinn said by phone last week from Washington, D.C., where he attended a meeting of The United States Conference of Mayors.

Police officials said the column expresses only the views of the author and not the department as a whole.

The Guardian is published monthly and contains articles about police work written by and for officers, said Sgt. Rich O’Neill, president of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild. O’Neill defended his members’ right to say whatever they want in the publication.

“Officers don’t give up their free-speech rights when they put on a badge,” he said. “We have left-leaning officers; we have right-leaning officers. We try to publish a range of opinions.”

The Guardian is mailed to members and to Seattle elected officials, but concern about the article only surfaced earlier this month after the weekly newspaper The Stranger published a story about Pomper’s article.

McGinn said his office is in “active discussion” with the U.S. Department of Justice over calls by the ACLU and 34 other organizations in December to investigate “patterns and practices” of Seattle police officers’ confrontations with people of color.

City Councilmember Tim Burgess, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, said he didn’t think Pomper’s views represented the police department.

The comments are “not consistent with the values of the police department or the rules of behavior the department sets for our officers,” Burgess said.

In 2005, then-Mayor Greg Nickels started the Race and Social Justice Initiative to examine city practices and policies that might be barriers to racial equality in the community.

Since then, the city has added translation services for non-English-speaking residents, engaged in greater outreach to minority communities and tried to provide more contracting opportunities to women and minority-owned businesses, said Glenn Harris, manager of the initiative within the city Office of Civil Rights.

Additionally, more than 8,000 employees have taken a class based on a three-part PBS series “Race: The Power of an Illusion.”

In 2008, the office conducted a survey of city-employee attitudes toward the initiative. About 30 percent of city employees responded, but just 9 percent of the police department, Harris said. He said that while more than 80 percent of all respondents said the program was important to their work, the responses weren’t broken down by department.

Kathryn Olson, director of the Office of Professional Accountability, which examines allegations of police misconduct, said the police department wanted to offer anti-bias training specific to police work.

She and now-Chief John Diaz previewed the “Perspectives in Profiling” course, which was developed by and for law enforcement. It was first offered in Seattle in 2010.

Olson said nearly half of participants rated it very highly and another quarter were neutral. She agreed Pomper’s views don’t reflect the majority of police.

“My experience is that officers are very receptive to any relevant training that makes them more effective in dealing with diverse populations,” Olson said.

Sean Whitcomb, police department spokesman, said the training involved vignettes of police stops. Officers attending the class voted anonymously, based on the partial information they were presented, about how to proceed. Their vote directed the unfolding incident and showed the consequences of their choices.

Whitcomb said the training suggests that decisions are based on a complex range of factors, including training, upbringing, the school you attended and your circle of friends.

“Whether we issue a warning, issue a ticket or don’t make a stop in the first place, we’re usually not conscious of all that goes into the decision. The goal is to treat people fairly, not based on assumptions, but on real-life information,” Whitcomb said.

Pomper joined the Seattle force in 1992, and he has written regularly for The Guardian.

In 2009, he earned $96,696, according to city records. He has his own website, with a picture of him on a motorcycle and a headline that identifies him as “Author/Libertarian/Cop.” He blogs regularly about police and political issues from his home in Brier, Snohomish County.

Pomper referred an inquiry about The Guardian article to the police department.

City Council member Bruce Harrell said he was concerned Pomper’s article labeled city leaders who endorsed the city’s Race and Social Justice Initiative as “the enemy.”

Harrell said, “If you have an ‘enemy mentality,’ it affects how you do your job. He (Pomper) doesn’t understand that the playing field is not equal yet. Injustice clearly exists.”

Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or lthompson@seattletimes.com


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