By Aremi MacDonald
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
“We want to create a non-threatening environment,” said Bellevue Police spokesperson Seth Tyler.
With recent high profile incidents involving local law enforcement and people of color, including the November incident at Menchie’s in Kirkland where a Black man was asked to leave because employees said he made them feel uncomfortable, the City of Bellevue is finding more culturally and racially aware practices to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.
Bellevue City Councilmember Janice Zahn is an immigrant from Hong Kong.
“There’s this idea that police are always one of those scary entities that you don’t want to do anything wrong around. The more that our community connects with our public safety, the better we can work together,” said Zahn.
The Bellevue Police Department (BPD) is finding ways to connect with the community and adopt culturally aware practices through training and community outreach. Bellevue remains as Washington’s biggest majority-minority city since 2016 with its population totaling over 140,000 inhabitants, according to data by the U.S. Census Bureau.
“Once an incident happens, you can’t just go back and rebuild that relationship,” said Tyler.
In 2017, the BPD, in collaboration with members of the community which represent the city’s ethnically and racially diverse population, formed police advisory councils. The goal was to inform and help BPD improve current policies and develop new culturally aware practices in law enforcement training.
There are currently six advisory councils which include the Asian and Pacific Islander Council, the Latino/Latina Council, the Muslim Council, the African American Council, the LGBTQIA Council, and the Inter-Faith Council.
There are 21 members collectively on the advisory councils. Each are appointed by Bellevue’s city manager.
“The city’s advisory councils meet with officers from the Bellevue Police Department and the police chief, where we identify issues and we try to address them,” said Tyler.
Especially after the 2016 election, Tyler said the department noticed there was fear of calling the police and reporting crimes among the Latino community.
“In response to that, we created a series of informational videos informing the community about the police department’s role, and that local police don’t enforce immigration law.”
The videos created in 2017, called “At Your Service,” were created with input from the Latino Advisory Council and were provided in both English and Spanish, along with brochures to make the information more accessible to the city’s Latino community.
“Looking at multilingual community outreach and communication is really important,” said Zahn.
“The community is growing and it’s changing. The more that we find ways to gain understanding and connect, the better off we are.”
According to the BPD’s 2017 annual report, the Asian and Pacific Islander Advisory Council introduced the department to the Indian Association of Washington, a local nonprofit with a goal to connect with Washington’s Indian community, invited police officers to a peacemaking rally at Crossroads Park, and participated in events where the police department informed the community on how to prevent hate crimes.
Tyler said one of the challenges the department faces is breaking down fear of authoritative officials, such as police and establishing public trust within the community.
Another challenge the BPD has identified is a lack of diversity on the police force.
Tyler said, “I encourage anyone that is interested in going into law enforcement in Bellevue to apply.”
“Our Asian and Pacific Islander community needs to feel like they can talk about the barriers for going into law enforcement and public safety. It’s a very important field and helpful to have the police reflect our community so that when they are out in the community, we see ourselves,” said Zahn.
An Asian and Pacific Islander police liaison was at the Northwest Asian Weekly Top Contributor Award Gala in December in order to reach out to the community and understand some of the barriers as to why very few Asian and Pacific Islanders go into law enforcement, said Zahn.
“It’s important for us to be aware of where the blind spots are. We can always do better, yet we have a lot that has already been put in place and we’ve been very intentional in doing so.”
In their continued efforts to connect with members of the Bellevue community and improve best practices, the police department plans to form a Youth Advisory Council, as well as an Eastern European Council in the upcoming years.
“The fact that we have all these things to reach out to a diverse community helps create an understanding and lessen the fear around people that might look or sound different than someone else, and I do think that makes a difference,” said Zahn.
Aremi can be reached at email@example.com.