The future of policing in Edmonds: Part 3 — New state laws, new strategies will impact the way cops do their job

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 and Part 2 here.

Sue Rahr, former head of State Criminal Justice Training Commission.

“We are at the beginning of the next era of policing.”

With those words, the recently retired Executive Director of the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission, Sue Rahr, helped set the stage for changes we will see in Edmonds and across the country — changes in equity, social justice, racism and policing.

“It’s communities like Edmonds who’ve said this is not our issue for so long and have thought this is not our issue,” Rahr told My Edmonds News.

A small sign of that coming era: Edmonds police last year changed how officers handle some suspended driving license cases. In most of these incidents, police no longer file a criminal charge for third degree driving while license suspended. One-third of all prosecutions in Edmonds Municipal Court have been Driving Without License 3 cases. Now, when officers cite drivers who do not have a valid license, it is a civil violation.

Edmonds Mayor Mike Nelson

At the time police made that change, Edmonds Mayor Mike Nelson said, “Criminalizing the stand-alone offense of Driving While License Suspended in the Third Degree can lead an individual down a spiral of debt, inability to drive, loss of job, and worse.” That downward spiral, Nelson said, hits those who are low income and people of color hardest.

Much more change is coming. Twelve new laws on police practices passed the Washington State Legislature this session. Governor Jay Inslee said they create the strongest police accountability system in the nation: “The crises of the past year have unmasked long-standing inequities in our society,” the governor said.

Among the many requirements, the new laws create an Office of Independent Investigation to oversee police use of excessive force; mandate more thorough internal reviews of officer misconduct; prohibit chokeholds and neck restraints; limit the use of tear gas and require that officers who witness excessive use of force must report that. All police, statewide, must make these changes — some by July 1 this year.

See more details of this legislation in our summary here.

State Rep. Strom Peterson

One of the new laws, sponsored by State Rep. Strom Peterson of Edmonds, requires that all jail, police and prison suspect interviews must be electronically recorded if the suspect is a juvenile or if the interrogation relates to a felony. Peterson, a Democrat who represents the 21st District, said the new law will help re-establish trust in communities:

“At its most basic, recording interrogations will keep innocent people out of jail and prison,” he said. “This is especially true when it comes to young individuals who might not fully understand their rights.”

The local impact of George Floyd

The murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and the subsequent nationwide protests – coupled with police use-of-force incidents across the U.S. – fueled what has been a decades-long demand for change

Following George Floyd’s murder, Edmonds responded with Black Lives Matter marches and signs. (My Edmonds News file photos)

Some in Edmonds marched; ‘Black Lives Matter’ signs sprouted in many neighborhoods; the mayor and city council spoke up, as did those who fear that police are being persecuted and stripped of the powers they need to combat crime.

The roots of the renewed protests over race, equity and policing are deep and go back generations.

Derrick Johnson, President & CEO of the NAACP, pointed to a recent poll by National Public Radio that “suggests that white and Black Americans still have very different views on race and policing.” Johnson says that poll showed 61% of Black Americans believe that “local police treat people of color more harshly than white people.” Only 15% of white Americans hold that same belief.

Implicit Bias

At the heart of the debate over police reform is the concept of implicit bias.

Dr. Bryant Marks

“Basically (implicit bias) is subconscious or below-conscious associations between groups and trait,” like race, age or gender, sayid Dr. Bryant Marks, a nationally recognized expert on the topic. During a training session with a suburban New York police force, Marks said that such bias “can sometimes lead to prejudice. For example, if you think ‘elderly,’ you might think ‘frail or hard of hearing.’ Those unconscious associations often have a negative context, which can change the way you treat people.”

Marks is a college professor and the founding Director of the National Training Institute on Race and Equity. He has taught 2,000 police chiefs and 18,000 officers in the U.S. He’s spoken to Snohomish County law enforcement and held training for the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. Former Edmonds Chief Al Compaan has been through Marks’ training. Compaan saidMarks also conducted training for front-line officers at the State Criminal Justice Training Commission.

In those training sessions, called the “Hidden Biases of Good People,” Marks points out that biases are formed over a lifetime, and that it’s “part of basic human psychology.”

“Police officers,” he tells his training sessions, “spend 95% of their time with the worst 5% of society. But he adds: “Don’t think there is a correlation between bias and police work. They don’t have biases because they’re police, they have biases because they’re human.”

Added Sue Rahr, who served as King County Sheriff before leading the State Criminal Justice Training Commission: “I think all of us raised in this country can’t escape a life time of having stereotypes fed into our heads, so certainly there is a factor of racism in everything, whether it’s a school teacher or a police office — it permeates our society.”

Rahr, a decorated veteran cop, said people ask,”Why do I have to learn about the history of racism and policing; that doesn’t have anything to do with me.’ She said that is a very honest and legitimate question. But, Rahr explained, “We have done an extraordinarily poor job in this country of educating people about the complete history of the United States.”

And, she added, that to understand the criminal justice system, we have to understand how it was designed, was built and how it evolved:

“The criminal justice system, in particular, was used as a tool after (Civil War) reconstruction to create a slave labor force; because slavery was outlawed, but we still needed free labor in this country, and here is a great loophole, all I have to do is label this person as a felon and now I can re-enslave them,” Rahr said. “And so, looking at how the criminal justice system was built and evolved and how it has been used to maintain social order, that’s invisible to people like me who grew up in an upper-class white community. It doesn’t affect me directly; I don’t see it, so I don’t know it’s there.”

Rahr admitted that when she became an officer in the 1970s, supervisors told her to “‘make as many arrests as you can, the more people you put in jail, the safer the community.’” History and research, she said, shows that path doesn’t drive down crime rates. In fact, in her experience, this is what is more likely to happen:

“As a patrol officer, I pull over a car and somebody has a warrant,” Rahr related. “That’s all I need; you have a warrant, I’m a cop, my job is to put you in jail. What they (police) don’t know is that you have a warrant because you missed a payment on your fines or court fees. You pleaded  guilty, you did your time  but now you pay these fines and fees. But you have a criminal record, your car is impounded, you don’t have a job, but you still have to pay these fines and fees.”

“We have,” added Rahr, “created a system that makes extremely difficult for somebody to ever extricate themselves.”

Mayor Mike Nelson assembled the Edmonds Equity and Social Justice Task Force last year to advise him on issues related to equity and justice. The group’s report, said the mayor, ”found problems in how we police and gives solutions to do a better job of supporting Black residents and other marginalized populations.”

In its January report, the task force laid out a series of recommendations:

  • Ongoing training on equity and implicit bias, which the report says “is often subtle and not recognized.”
  • Better assessment of police candidates to determine bias or openness to training prior to hire.
  • Integrating social worker(s) into community policing, to relieve pressure on officers.
  • Engaging community members so “that they matter and have a part in decisions.”
  • Better accountability by the police and the city so people know what is happening.
  • A continued role for the task force in developing future city policies and procedures.
Retired Edmonds Police Chief Al Compaan

Retired Edmonds Police Chief Al Compaan agrees that “if we don’t police ourselves, that spells big trouble.” But he questioned some findings of the task force, adding: “Reading that report is like, we can’t do anything right. I don’t think that report was objective and that bothered me. It just seemed like there was an agenda before the task force got underway.”

“I know what we did for addressing complaints and concerns that were brought forward,” Compaan continued. “If there was anything that even had a hint of being a racially driven or minority-involved concern or complaint, we were all over it. But I can also tell you that the numbers of those that every came through the police department were very few and far between. It read as if this stuff was just rampant in the agency.”

In a March interview with My Edmonds News, Mayor Nelson said, “It is clear we have a problem everywhere. We have this systemic issue. So, if we are trying to find systemic remedies, if we are trying to change how we police, how we do community policing, and they (task force members) are saying these are some things you should try, what is the harm in doing that?”

Task force members wrote that ensuring change means that equity and social justice goals must be “hard-wired” into the civic culture of Edmonds, and not just in the police department.  Achieving success, the report said, means creating a lasting equity team; a commitment from the mayor, city douncil and senior police leaders; and establishing annual goals and conducting a yearly audit of how police and other city departments meet those goals.

What other police departments are doing

As part of “hard wiring” change in issues related to bias, equity, racism, social justice and policing, a number of police departments locally and nationally are refocusing what they do and how they do it.

Bothell RADAR civilian/police team.

Bothell establishes a civilian-police team

Bothell is one of them. With a population of  45,000, it’s close to Edmonds’ size of 42,000 residents.

With 52 commissioned officers, Bothell’s force is slightly less than Edmonds, which has 58 officers. In 2017, Bothell, Shoreline, Lake Forest Park, Kenmore and Kirkland partnered to launch the RADAR program.

RADAR stands for Response Awareness, De-escalation And Referral. It’s designed to serve the rights and needs of people with behavioral health and developmental disabilities. Bothell RADAR coordinator Cam Johnson told My Edmonds News, “We love it; the police officers love it… they appreciate and welcome having a mental health professional be able to respond.”

The Bothell RADAR teams consist of a professional mental health “navigator” and an officer. The team works to de-escalate potential use-of-force situations with vulnerable people and connect them to services they need. Last year, the teams met with 126 people; 37% had behavioral issues; 9% were homeless, 3% were veterans.

Said Johnson: “A team, the two working together, have a real chance of working out something and making a real difference in someone’s life.”

Olympia sends ‘crisis responders’ instead of police

Crisis responder at work in Olympia (Photo courtesy City of Olympia)

With a population of 52,000, Olympia is larger than Edmonds. It has 70 commissioned officers, compared to Edmonds’ 58.

In 2019, Olympia started sending civilian “crisis responders” instead of police to non-violent incidents involving a person with mental illness, addiction or homelessness.  The idea: Let the crisis respondersdefuse the situation and connect people to medical or social services help. There are six behavioral health experts with the team. They wear shirts with the unit’s logo and carry police radios if they need help but are not officers.

The Marshall Project, a nationally recognized non-partisan, non-profit media organization focusing its reporting on the U.S. criminal justice system, studied the Olympia model.  It concluded that “…an alternative crisis team like Olympia’s seems like a straightforward place to start. Police respond to a wide range of problems, many of them relatively minor or involving someone having a psychotic episode or sleeping on the streets. Using civilian first responders instead, advocates of this approach say, keeps interactions from escalating into violence, and diverts people from jail and toward social services. It also frees up police resources to focus on more serious crime.”

One city cut down on traffic stops

Fayetteville, North Carolina (Courtesy City of Fayetteville)

Fayetteville, North Carolina, population 210,000, has stopped making traffic stops for broken taillights, equipment violations or expired tags. The Burlington (NC) Times-News profiled then-Police Chief Harold Medlock, who instituted the radical change in traffic stop procedures. Medlock told the paper he wanted to get police out of the habit of pulling people over unless it was “to protect the safety of others on the road.”

Instead, Medlock focused patrol officers on stopping drivers for speeding, stop sign or traffic light violations, DWI and reckless driving. From 2013-2016, stops for non-moving violations plummeted and the number of red light and speeding violations tripled in town, ‘USA Today’ reported.  As well, the number of Black drivers stopped for so-called “investigation” dropped by 50%.  Additionally, traffic deaths dropped, and Chief Medlock told the paper that: “Uses of force went down, injuries to citizens and officers went down, and complaints against officers went down.”

Edmonds’ future – Building trust, transparency and success

Acting Chief Michelle Bennett

Acting Edmonds Police Chief Michelle Bennett has told My Edmonds News that her career has taught her that transition and change is 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 reading the report from Mayor’s Task Force on Equity and Social Justice, Bennett said: “I think there is always room for improvement… we should never shy away from scrutiny.”

That scrutiny is just one part of building the future. Sue Rahr said success depends most of all on creating and sustaining a police and community partnership. Rahr pointed out that every big civil rights movement has had a partnership, not just one community, but every community joining in.

The U.S. Department of Justice echoes that. The Justice Department created the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), to promote community partnerships, stating that “Effective partnerships between law enforcement and community stakeholders are essential to public safety, and it is important that government agencies, community groups, nonprofits, businesses, and private citizens all embrace public safety as a shared responsibility.”

As we continue series of articles on the future of policing in Edmonds, we will explore the following:

– Part 4: Police and social workers — who is on the new “front line”? We will examines Edmonds’ plans for human services department and social worker, and include more detail on Bothell’s RADAR program.

– Part 5: Searching (again) for a police chief.

— By Bob Throndsen


  1. Bob Throndsen is doing an awesome job with this series. Thank you so much for your care and diligence. Edmonds is that much GREATER because of you.

  2. In a March interview with My Edmonds News, Mayor Nelson said, “It is clear we have a problem everywhere. We have this systemic issue….”

    Wouldn’t it be better, cheaper, and a solution to the ‘systemic issue’ if Nelson, the Caucasian, simply step down and resign?

    …Just sayin’

    1. Mike Nelson stepping down might solve some issues we have with our city leadership, but it would not “solve” systemic racism. That work is layered and nuanced and will involve all of us. Will you do your part?

      1. Please name the agencies and people practicing systemic reacism. It is a lazy arguement to throw those words out there, just like our president and not provide details. Once you name agencies and names, how about producing a plan to end it?

        1. Is “lazy” the person who refuses to do your homework for you, or the person who covers their ears and claims they can’t hear anything?

      2. I am and always have. I already have plans to hopefully show Edmonds how wonderful diversity is. How it can complete you. I was never a racist, but not enough letters allowed here to tell you why.
        I will end by saying I have met and had more fun and laughter in the few businesses who employ black humans more than any retail store in Edmonds. That is the truth. I am white. 29 years I’ve lived here in Edmonds. But I grew up in a small town in MO. I don’t drop my ings…but just my accent and talkative, trying to be friendly self put them off in Edmonds. The white residents. Not the black ones. They liked me and told me so, invited me to an office bowling party. I was so excited.
        You see Edmonds especially the Bowl area has a systemic snob problem. A systemic I am entitled problem. Everone is correct they really aren’t racists (most) of course as was also said in this article. They lack warmth…manners, and inclusion in any way…even volunteering here is scrutinized.
        So take that systemic problem under advisement Chief and Mayor. Your way of ignoring those who are not Uber wealthy is wearing very thin.
        So yes Christine you have me and I plan to do all I can to help fix this situation. I might need your help with a few ideas. Please contact me. Thank you.
        Also way to go Officer Martinez…I love what you said and what you do and have done. Way to be. Xo

  3. Absolutely the opposite. Lazy is the person that throws out those two words with out naming names. If you believe it and have evidence, expose it.

    1. I highly recommend that you read the articles in this in depth series from MyEdmondsNews to get those answers. Systemic racism is about a system, not some list of bad people to be named. We are lucky to have this resource that defines these things you are curious about and provides the local context.

      1. It’s a good article. I will say I don’t care if people aren’t ticketed for minor offenses. But they must be ticketed for no tail lights they must have car insurance…required by law I think. That protects the innocent. I do think it is a good idea to not further someone’s debt if they are paying a fine off and are stopped for a minor infraction. That hurts no one to give them that break. I would love to see all of this work. Will it, I guess we will see. I was an outreach worker so not sure about this. But if they do 1 policeman 1 outreach worker it might. With only outreach workers I am very fearful of dangerous places…and much resistance from the R. Alt Right especially. Since they aren’t armed I worry about them. But if they want to take the chance and the policemen are into it. Ok by me. But remember we must have actual armed police for breaking. Prowls, thefts, attempts to break in. I believe you know why.

  4. In some European countries the police don’t even routinely carry fire arms. In fairness though, most of those nations have much stricter civilian gun use laws than we do, so the police aren’t generally facing the highly armed in performing their duties.

    Glitches in police hiring and firing policy cause most of our problems. It is hard work to recruit and hire non-authoratarian personality types and even harder to fire the people who turn out to be mistaken hires. It is critical that we find a good person for permanent COP here regardless of how we view what has gone down so far on that score.

  5. The US (with our guns) has about 2000 arrest related deaths per year. The UK and Wales, about 200. Per capital they have more arrest-related deaths than we do.

    1. I’m not trying to debate whether or not we should or shouldn’t have stricter gun laws. If I were a police officer in our particular culture, I would want to be armed with automatic weapons that somewhat match what I might face on the street. My argument is that we too often hire the wrong people to be police and then we don’t manage to do anything to correct it.

      The big argument right now in the national legislative branch is whether or not we should automatically give our police implied immunity from prosecution for their acts in the line of duty. That is currently the position of the legal system. The question is whether that should or shouldn’t be, and it’s a big question that needs to be answered sooner than later. When you give someone deadly weapons and tactics and tell them they are free to do as they please with them, you are placing great trust in the belief that they will always do the right thing. That’s a lot to ask of someone who is human with human emotions. You better have a mechanism to pick and keep only the right someones because no one is keeping them honest in the legal arena. The Floyd death conviction was an anomaly, not the norm.

  6. What standards do those promoting change in others hold themselves to?

    I want decision makers who are willing to address their own conduct first. I view that as a foundational starting point – solidify your own conduct first before looking to change the conduct of others.

    We had a window into that when the City Council adopted the Code of Ethics back in 2015:

    The 2015 City Council adopted a Code of Ethics that redlined the following:

    We shall: “Follow Washington statutes, city ordinances or regulations in the course of performing duties.”
    WHY would an item of such foundational importance be redlined from a Code of Ethics?

    The City’s Code of Ethics adopted in 2015 has no provision for investigation or enforcement. As a citizen who actively engages with City Government, I have no reason to trust that the City’s current Code of Ethics is anything more than empty words on paper.

    I encourage the 2021 City Council to address its own conduct first. Strengthen the Code of Ethics and expand it so it covers City employees.

    Also, establish an independent board for investigation and oversight. A fellow citizen has made the 2021 Council aware that the City of Lynnwood has established a citizen ethics board and that the idea of a south-Snohomish County ethics commission that serves multiple cities has been discussed.

    Current elected officials Adrienne Fraley-Monillas, Kristiana Johnson and Mike Nelson all voted in 2015 for the Code of Ethics that redlined: We shall: “Follow Washington statutes, city ordinances or regulations in the course of performing duties.”

    Wouldn’t it be refreshing to see two experienced Councilmembers, Adrienne Fraley-Monillas and Kristiana Johnson, work together to promote adoption of a stronger Code of Ethics and a way for such to be investigated and enforced?

    With such a foundation in place, I think decision makers will be better suited to discuss and consider the future of policing in Edmonds.

    1. <- something more than 200 arrest-related deaths. <- US definition, this is apples to apples.

      I think the US has about 1900 ARD per year on average. There are many sources for that. I think you're referencing a cite that's just counting shooting-related deaths by cops, not arrest-related deaths (of all types).

      The site also says Black people are disproportionately killed, which is true if you just look at a per-capita relationship. Most often men (of any color) are killed by police, but we do not consider arrest-related deaths as something sexist. Men commit more crime. Adjusted for police-encounters, white people are more likely to be killed than black people during an arrest (see Thomas Sowell). Adjusted for the color of the officer, black officers are more likely to kill someone during an arrest.

        1. That CNN article is really straining hard to make a point, hyperbolic. Look at the graphic and title of the article. The BJS link I provided gives the following link:

          It’s an ongoing metric:
          “Extrapolated to a full calendar year, an estimated 1,900 arrest-related deaths occurred in 2015.”

          The UK, by the same definition for ARD, and assuming the same methodology, has a higher rate of ARD per capita than the United States. The UK is also seriously considering putting more police with guns on the streets too, particularly to address the knife attacks.

        2. Christine – are you actually suggesting that the linked information should actually support the original assertions? Gee whiz you sure have big fancy ideas 🙂 p.s. based on the past I think it’s unlikely to happen

  7. Again, are you calling policing systemically racist? Are you calling the Edmonds PD systemic racists?

    If you really think your doing research to prove this point, how do you explain crime, murders and black on black crime dramatically increasing in all of the metroplitan cities that have made the decision to defund the police?

    If one does think the criminal justice system is systemically racist, here’s a thought…stop breaking the law, posing a threat to the police and running from them.

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