Comparing the duties of police officers in the relatively quiet community of Puyallup to those in the bustling metropolis of Seattle is akin to comparing apples to oranges.
Seattle is home to a population nearly 18 times that of Puyallup: 730,400 to 40,500 respectively.
The number of sworn officers in Puyallup hovers around 55; in Seattle that number jumps to 1,444. Seattle officers respond to an average of 609 calls per day. Some days, officers of the Puyallup department may respond to only a handful.
Perhaps the most significant difference between Puyallup and Seattle is the diversity, or lack thereof, present in both their citizen populations and their police forces.
Puyallup’s population demographic is predominately classified as white: 84.4 percent, to be exact. Seattle boasts a bit more diversity, with white individuals totaling only 65.7 percent of the entire population.
These racial divisions are reflected in the cities’ police staff, as well: roughly 75 percent of both the PPD and the SPD’s sworn officers are also white.
There are questions as to how policing is approached in these two differing demographical communities.
While both departments have taken proactive measures to become more transparent and communicative with citizens in their cities, the SPD has gone one step further by enrolling in the National Police Data Initiative. The initiative, sponsored by the federal Department of Justice, is designed to provide data to citizens concerned with bias and racism in police and citizen exchanges.
The SPD also publishes a Use of Force annual report, a nationwide voluntary reporting initiative adopted by several police departments. The report strives to offer citizens factual data on every reported incident involving officer’s use of force within a city’s police department.
When asked why the PPD is not involved with either of these initiatives, Captain Ryan Portmann replied that the department is not opposed to involvement. However, he pointed out two issues specific to Puyallup that first need to be considered.
Due to the fact that the PPD responds to calls placed in all of East Pierce County – not just Puyallup – many statistics compiled wouldn’t factually portray incidents reported by citizens of the city; by necessity, those numbers would include other cities’ data.
Patrons of Good Samaritan Hospital, the Western Washington Fair, and the South Hill Mall also tend to skew numbers, as these locations draw many people who technically live outside city limits.
The second factor to consider is the relatively small population of both citizens and police force members. Any time there is a small data set to work from, percentages and proportions can quickly become distorted.
“Numbers can be used to paint a picture. There is danger in looking strictly at numbers,” Portmann said.
Portmann chooses to focus instead on what the PPD is doing to construct positive change in the community – mandatory bias training for all new officers, active recruiting of minorities and speaking with students at all grade levels about the role of police officers in communities.
Portmann doesn’t deny the need for more transparency from police departments. He points to some recently compiled Puyallup statistics that show what could be considered a disproportionate number of dispatched calls from citizens reporting incidents in which a black person is involved compared with those of a white person.
In the PPD’s 2017 Annual Report, 41 out of the 46 citizen filings were actually commendations of the department.
While Portmann did not specifically comment on the five filings that required supervisor action, he did state that most are a result of findings that an officer did not handle a citizen call in a manner considered best practice by the department.
Portmann says having a more diverse police force would better represent the needs of all citizens in Puyallup, and would help build the trust he finds so integral to a good relationship between police and citizens.
When asked if there is validity to the growing mistrust between communities of color and police, Portmann replied that he is sure there is racism present in police forces.
“Perception [of racism] is just as dangerous as if it’s really happening,” Portmann said. “We [the police] should have been out in front if it as soon as the perception began.”
The Puyallup Post is the award-winning news media of Pierce College Puyallup in Puyallup, Washington. Copyright The Puyallup Post 2018. Find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube @thepuyalluppost