The national debate over equity, social justice and policing is now an Edmonds debate. My Edmonds News has launched a series of stories to examine what is at stake and how the dialogue could change the city’s approach to policing, equity and social services.
You can read Part 1 of this series here.
The issues of equity and social justice surfaced during Edmonds’ 18-month bruising struggle to find a new police chief. In our second report: we take an in depth look at four officers who represent the Edmonds Police Department.
Lou Daniels, Josh Hwang, Erick Martinez and Ashley Saunders are on the front line in the Edmonds Police Department
Here is the snapshot of the Edmonds police force today:
2020 Edmonds police staffing:
- 74 total allotted (There are eight current vacancies, including three commanders)
- 58 officers
- 3 command staff
- 13 support staff
Of the 11 new hires Edmonds has made since 2018, 10 are women and minorities. Among the Edmonds police staff, 28% are people from various racial and ethnic backgrounds. That’s a higher percentage than the Edmonds community, which according to the most recent census is 23% non-white.
In 2020, Edmonds police responded to:*
- 28,000+ calls
- 1,190 arrests
- 3,200 traffic stops
Edmonds arrests by race (2019):
- 1,388 total
- 1088 – 78% were white
- 378 of those 1,088 arrests were Edmonds residents
- 180 – 13% were Black
- 38 of those 180 arrests were Edmonds residents
*(All data from Edmonds Police Department records)
- 80% White
- 8% Asian
- 8% Hispanic/Latino
- 6% Black
- Less than 1% Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander/Native American
The numbers of those arrested of white, Asian or Hispanic backgrounds closely matches or is less than the percentage of population. Arrests of Black people show higher percentages when compared to census data.
Police records show that hate crime complaints are rare in Edmonds. Last year, Edmonds police investigated five complaints listed as “hate/bias.” In three complaints, the victims were identified as Black; in the two others, one victim was listed as “gay” the other as “Christian.”
Prosecution for hate crimes is also rare. Last summer, police investigated the case of an Edmonds man who defaced a Black Lives Matter art installation on the chain-link fence at Civic Field across from the city’s police and fire stations. The Snohomish County Prosecutor did not file hate crime charges. Senior Prosecutor Matthew Baldock wrote that “the suspect offered an explanation for his actions that had nothing whatsoever to do with the artist’s race.” Baldock said the suspect was upset about the way police were being treated. Malicious mischief charges were recommended instead, and Edmonds resident Richard Tuttle was sentenced, through an Edmonds Municipal Court pretrial diversion agreement, to probation and community service.
A second high-profile case, this one in 2018, involved two Black teens threatened outside Harvey’s Tavern on Highway 99 in Edmonds. One teen told police a Harvey’s employee confronted them with a baseball bat, yelling racial threats.
Edmonds police referred charges to the county prosecutor, who declined to file it as a hate crime. Prosecutor Adam Cornell said that video from the scene shows the employee holding the bat and directing racial slurs at the teens, but, said Cornell, “the bat was not brandished in a threatening way and the video proves that.”
When it comes to complaints against police officers, in the past seven years, Edmonds Police Department records show a total of 23 complaints against individual officers, an average of just over three complaints a year. A number were complaints about “rudeness.” Last year, of the 28,000 calls Edmonds handled, complaints were filed against the actions of four officers.
Citizen complaints against Edmonds officers (2020):
- 4 complaints against officers
- 3 citizen complaints
- 1 Internal Affairs investigation
- 2 officers received written reprimands
- 2 complaints dismissed after investigation
In January, Mayor Mike Nelson’s Equity and Social Justice Task Force Report acknowledged Edmonds police for “working to hire a more diverse force,” but criticized the department for not having “consistent, on-going training working with marginalized populations, specifically communities of color.” Task force members also reported a “lack of insights into the perspectives and concerns of many in the community they serve, especially communities of color,” stated that training in community outreach and engagement is lacking and said that “many residents of color do not feel safe in Edmonds.”
The police department is now the most diverse department in city government and one of the most diverse police forces in the region. The four officers we interviewed all believe they are very much a part of this community, and that they and their colleagues serve the needs of all in Edmonds. They understand that policing is changing, and that the national debate about race, equity and police reform apply to them and the future of police work in Edmonds.
Ashley Saunders joined the Edmonds department four years ago. She started on graveyard — 12-hour shifts, four days on and four days off. She is now dayside, is a field training officer and has worked with the sex crimes unit. She is studying for her master’s degree in global studies and international relations, with a focus on conflict resolution; a focus she believes will help make her a better officer.
Saunders said that “change (in policing) is inevitable; you can’t move on without change. We have to do our best to stay open to that.
“We want change,” she added. “We want to do this passion we have, this love for the job to help people.”
Now 42, Lou Daniels began his police career at age 40. After a decade running a youth sports development and mentoring program in Seattle’s inner-city high schools, Daniels wanted a change. He told his wife, while she was in labor with their youngest, “Hey, honey, I want to be a cop.” It was, he admits, bad timing on his part, but her response surprised him: “Why didn’t you do this sooner?” she asked.
As a Black man, Daniels says he grew up seeing violent situations. What brought him to police work, he says, is the desire “to leave things better than when I found them.”
“I think,” adds Daniels, “that people of color see the narrative and it looks like overall they are not being treated equally. A white person shoots people and they are escorted out of the building where a person of color sells cigarettes and gets killed (by police).”
Josh Hwang had just started at the University of Washington in 2001 when he watched the 9-11 terror attack unfold live. He decided college was not the path he wanted. Hwang joined the Marine Corps, spent four years in uniform, and as the war on terror began to wind down, thought “maybe I’ll go back and do the ‘normal’ life.”
So he got his degree in accounting and finance, worked as a CPA, but says it was boring; lots of sitting at a desk, and asked himself “What can I do to use the skill sets I have?” Then came the Ferguson, Missouri protests after the death of a Black man, Michael Brown, shot by a white police officer. Hwang thought, “I wanted to do something that can affect people’s lives, can help people; I wanted to be part of the change.” In, July 2015, he joined the police force in Edmonds.
Hwang is a K-9 officer. With his Belgian Malinois partner, Ace, he’s been on graveyard shift since 2016. The pair patrols Edmonds and often provides support for neighboring communities. He has seen the changes. “Back in the day,” said Hwang, “it was arrest, protect, traffic safety and preventing crimes.” Now, his job involves “a lot more need for mental health resources, drug addiction and homeless resources” — and that means “the role falls on the first responders; police are a reflection of society.”
Hwang said his experience shows that many suspects “shoplift, can’t pay for food; we arrest them, take them to jail; they can’t house these people; they are out on ‘personal recognizance’ and they’re out on the street again. We see the exact same people for the exact same crime.”
Erick Martinez came to policing the long way around. Born in El Salvador, Martinez and his parents moved to Alaska when he was 13. They moved again to South Snohomish County for his senior year at Lynnwood High in 1998. He became a young parent just out of high school and at age 20 started working at Swedish Edmonds Hospital. Martinez had an 18-year career in the hospital emergency room and was promoted to one of the lead techs. It was a good career but, “I thought I could do more,” he shared. “I wanted to give back to the country.” Martinez became a U.S. citizen as he went through the police training academy.
At the age of 39, he was a rookie. Just eight weeks into his patrol job, Martinez was one of the first officers on the scene at the Boo Han Market triple shooting last September on Highway 99.
The department honored all four officers who responded. The citation reads: “These officers bravely ran into the chaos that afternoon and provided critical lifesaving aid.” Martinez’ ER experience paid off in what he calls the most difficult case he has faced.
He said he understands feelings of animosity and distrust some people of color feel toward police. “I want to be part of a change. I’ve been able to talk to victims, suspects in their own language, to explain their rights, their options,” added Martinez. “It’s a way to pay it forward.” He said he wants to be more involved, reaching out to the community and using his medical expertise to engage with all residents.
Acting Police Chief Michelle Bennett said her career with the King County Sheriff (she recently retired as a major) has taught her that transition and changes are always difficult. But, she added that “the opportunities for evolution and transparency in law enforcement are real,” and she believes that Edmonds is well positioned to plan that future.
In a recent interview, she talked about race, equity and social justice. Bennett has read the report from the Mayor’s Task Force on Equity and Social Justice and said “there is always room for improvement… we should never shy away from scrutiny.” She believes change is about leading with equity and dignity. She is meeting residents, groups, business people. “I want to hear people’s experiences within Edmonds, said Bennett, “and if there is something we can do differently, we’re an open partner and it takes all of us.”
Lou Daniels said that the concept of equity “is a new thing” to him. “Until the last year and a half, it’s something as a person of color I never thought of.” Now, he believes that equity is “for everyone to be starting from the same place; to have the same vantage point.”
Daniels said he is no stranger to racism. He shared a story of being in uniform, coming out of a local grocery store, when a white man stopped him. The man looked Daniels up and down, then asked, “They hired someone like you?” Daniels responded, “What do you mean?” then spent time with the man in an effort to give him a new perspective. Most whites, he said, might not think of that as racism, but Daniels said that it is racist; subtle, but still racism.
“Despite the upheaval of the past year, we still want to provide good quality service,” added Daniels, “helping people through whatever crisis they are having despite what the conversation is.”
Daniels is a member of the Edmonds Police Community Engagement Team. The COVID pandemic sidelined most of their interaction, but Daniels hopes to get Engagement Team back out in the community soon. He sees his impact coming through his history working with kids; to engage with them more; to spend time at the Edmonds Boys and Girls Club; go to sports practices; talk with the kids.
“When I made that decision to become a police officer, there were certain ideals I had,” he said. “I’m very family focused so when I go out and represent the City of Edmonds and Edmonds police, I want to present it in a way that my kids would be proud of.” No. matter what is happening at the national level, or locally in the Edmonds Police Department, Daniels says officers still want to provide good service; help people through whatever crisis they are having.”
As a Korean-American, Josh Hwang said he believes policing should be a reflection of the people he serves, and noted that the department is more diverse than the city’s residents.”
“There is racism everywhere; this has to be a national conversation,” he said, adding that the Edmonds department is doing “the right things to address this,” with mandatory training, hiring people of color, male and female. Hwang said community members should “come to me, bring to me what you would like to see changed and we can address that.”
Ashley Saunders said that police officers “have this ability to see people at their most vulnerable… usually at their worst… we go in behind the curtain and see what’s going on and the consequences of what’s going on.” There is a lot to her job, she says, that is unseen. It’s reminder of the emotional toll of police work she said, adding that “every call you go to takes a piece of you.”
On some calls, Saunders said, people “argue they are not being heard” or don’t feel like they have “a seat at the table.” In most of those interactions, people “feel failed or let down by health care, education, unemployment.”
Members of law enforcement “get just as frustrated as the community does,” said Saunders, adding that said a lot of frustrations for officers come because “we’re not a part of the discussion.”
“We’re open to change, and we want change,” she added. “Officers often feel change doesn’t come as a collaboration with us, but as orders to us. Where are the sit-downs with us that involve planning together rather than an interrogation of us? Hopefully we can all be a part of the conversation.”
She described the “uptick in negativity to us; people follow us, flip us off,” acknowledging it’s a reaction to the job and uniform. Edmonds police are “really good men and women who’ve chosen to do a job in which we face things that are abnormal; we want to be part of the change of the community,” she added.
— By Bob Throndsen
As we continue this series of articles, we will explore the following:
— Part 3: Edmonds policing will change. New state laws, new strategies will impact the way cops do their job.
– Part 4: Police and social workers — who is on the new “front line”?
– Part 5: Searching (again) for a police chief.