Tacoma police unions bristle at mayor’s statements after fatal shooting

Tacoma police patch

Tacoma’s two police unions have teed off on Mayor Marilyn Strickland, expressing anger at public statements regarding the fatal police shooting of Puyallup tribal member Jacqueline Salyers.

Two letters to Strickland, sent Friday, rebuke her for saying “95 percent of the police force are good people who want to do good things.”

The mayor made the statement during an April 12 City Council meeting.

The letters were signed by officer James Barrett, president of police union Local 6, representing Tacoma’s rank-and-file officers, and Alan Roberts, president of Local 26, which represents the department’s captains and lieutenants.

Both letters also refer to recent department staffing cuts and their effect on local crime fighting.

“Hiring more officers would allow us to suppress our rising crime rate,” the letter from Barrett states. “We would then be better suited to build back our ability to provide community oriented policing and proactive crime suppression.”

TWO LETTERS TO STRICKLAND REBUKE HER FOR SAYING “95 PERCENT OF THE POLICE FORCE ARE GOOD PEOPLE WHO WANT TO DO GOOD THINGS.” THE LETTERS ALSO REFER TO RECENT DEPARTMENT STAFFING CUTS AND THEIR EFFECT ON LOCAL CRIMEFIGHTING.

Reached Friday, Strickland said she was aware of the letters. She said she had spoken with Roberts and intends to meet with Barrett next week to discuss the concerns raised by the unions.

She added that her comments April 12 were intended to strike a balance between respecting the concerns of a grieving family while acknowledging the frustrations of police officers who feel they face unwarranted criticism and suspicion.

“I was trying to be positive and respectful of the family,” the mayor said. “This was not disparaging. You had a family who showed up with their tribal leaders to grieve the loss of one of their daughters. We wanted to show empathy and show respect, and we did that.”

I WAS TRYING TO BE POSITIVE AND RESPECTFUL OF THE FAMILY. THIS WAS NOT DISPARAGING. YOU HAD A FAMILY WHO SHOWED UP WITH THEIR TRIBAL LEADERS TO GRIEVE THE LOSS OF ONE OF THEIR DAUGHTERS. WE WANTED TO SHOW EMPATHY AND SHOW RESPECT, AND WE DID THAT.

Marilyn Strickland, Tacoma mayor

Strickland added that her “95 percent” statement was wrongly perceived as a slight to officers. The letters from the union presidents argue that Strickland implied 5 percent of the force is thereby bad.

“When did 95 percent become a negative number?” Strickland asked Friday. “I was trying to be complimentary. That’s an A-plus. That’s a 4.0. I guess I could have used the term ‘vast majority,’ which means 90 percent.”

The Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office announced Friday that the Jan. 28 shooting of Salyers by officer Scott Campbell was justified. An internal investigation by the Police Department is still ahead.

THE CITY IS IN THE MIDST OF CONTRACT NEGOTIATIONS WITH THE TWO POLICE UNIONS. STAFFING IS ONE OF THE KEY ISSUES ON THE TABLE, AND THE DEPARTMENT HAS BEEN HIT WITH PERSONNEL CUTS.

The city is in the midst of contract negotiations with the two police unions. Staffing is a key issue on the table, and the department has been hit with personnel cuts. The union letters contend that crime has risen as a result of those reductions.

Strickland is not directly involved in the contract negotiations; that duty falls to the city manager’s office. But she said she recognizes that staffing levels are a particular point of emphasis for officers, and she has said workforce training and education also help to prevent crime.

“My comments have been taken as we’re never gonna hire more cops because it’s not relevant,” she said. “Of course it’s relevant. But I think police officers would agree they cannot solve crime in the city alone.”