'You can change the culture’: Seattle PD commander makes his case for UWPD chief

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After almost a year with no permanent chief, the selection process for the new University of Washington Police Department chief has begun.

The position was made vacant following the removal of former police chief and assistant vice president for Student Life, John Vinson, in April 2019.

During his 10-year tenure as chief, Vinson faced a number of complaints and allegations of misconduct which prompted an external review in early 2019. The review found that UWPD had a toxic work environment and was “consumed with anger, frustration and drama.”

Only 8% of employees surveyed said that there was a climate of trust in the department, and 74% said they wanted to see major changes made.

The next UWPD chief faces an uphill battle to implement big changes to restore trust in the department and broader community.

The two finalists for the position are captain of the Seattle Police Department’s North Precinct, Eric Sano, and Florida A&M University Police Department chief, Terence Calloway.

According to the UWPD’s spokesperson, a third candidate, Michelle Bennett, withdrew from the selection process this week, giving no specific explanation for their withdrawal.

Sano, a UW alum who has served in the Seattle Police Department (SPD) for 35 years, gave a public presentation Tuesday about why he wants to be police chief, arguing that his local roots and experience make him a strong candidate for the position.

In his presentation, Sano stressed that “the status quo is our adversary.” 

Citing the external review, Sano said that leadership and upper management were to blame for the UWPD’s current state.

“The officers and supervisors on this department, for the most part, like each other, like working together; they trust each other,” Sano said. “Where it falls short was trust in upper levels of management.”

Sano also said he would address the UWPD’s deficit and look to generate revenue or consolidate some upper-level positions to mitigate the budget deficit and reduce the top-heavy and over-specialized nature of the department.

Having hired a chaplain for the SPD, Sano said employee wellness was critical and would prioritize improving it.

In response to a question from The Daily about changing the toxic culture of the UWPD, Sano said he would set clear expectations with management and “build a team mentality.” 

“You can change the culture, and you do it by leading by example,” he said.

On preventative measures for sexual assault and other harm, Sano said he would reestablish Rape Aggression Defense classes and consider bringing the SPD’s active shooter curriculum to the UW while leaving out other possible initiatives that focus on the perpetrators of harm. 

Sano has spent this week meeting with campus leaders and UW President Ana Mari Cauce in addition to Tuesday’s presentation.

Terence Calloway, the other candidate for the UWPD chief position who would be coming to the university after years of experience leading policing at other schools, will present Jan. 29 and 30. 

Reach contributing writer Guy Oron at news@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @GuyOron

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