By Holy Chea & Melody Rodriguez
Do you feel safe in Tacoma? The answer to this question is not as simple as yes or no. It differs depending on where you are, who you are talking to and how they define safety. We strongly believe that everyone wants to feel safe and be safe, but the question becomes, “What does safe in Tacoma look like?”
As graduate students in the Masters of Public Administration (MPA) program at The Evergreen State College, we, along with fellow student Takaaki Shinohara, gathered data to answer the research question: According to people of color residing in Tacoma, what is their confidence level in the Tacoma Police Department as it relates to their safety? Our motivation for this research stemmed from two things: Both of us are people of color and longtime residents of Tacoma and second, we were able to build upon the work done by the City of Tacoma’s Project PEACE.
Our research allowed us to gather data from 197 Tacoma residents. The data collection process included a 21-question survey, two community focus groups and seven interviews. Our research had its challenges. Throughout the process, we assumed that participants would view safety in relation to the police, but that was not the case.
When asked the question, “Do you feel safe in Tacoma?” the majority of participants responded with “somewhat safe” meaning that there are times when they feel safe and other times when they don’t. As we dug a little deeper, it became clear that there were many factors that prevented participants from responding with a clear yes or no. Some of these factors included neighborhood, race, socio-economic status and past experiences.
What we learned from our research is that everyone has their own definition of safety and what it looks like. As a result, we wanted to explore what it would take for individuals to move from feeling “somewhat safe” to “safe.” The first step in doing so was trying to define what it means to be safe in Tacoma. We did this through interviews with Tacoma Police Department’s chief of police, non-profit leaders, and young men of color from various neighborhoods.
Out of those discussions, we learned that regardless of age, race, gender and role in the community, the ability to walk around Tacoma without hesitation, the community working together to establish trust and compassion for one another and law enforcement’s ongoing efforts to be present and build positive relationships with communities are crucial to the perceptions of safety in Tacoma.All of us have a responsibility in making Tacoma safe, but in order to do that we have to ask ourselves: What does safety look and feel like in your home, neighborhood, school, place of work and community? What are you willing to do to achieve that safety?
In a few weeks, it will be summer, school will be out and the days will be longer. This is a perfect opportunity to engage your family, neighbors, city leaders and other members of the community in conversation about safety and what it means in Tacoma. These conversations can happen anywhere: the dinner table, in line at the coffee shop, on the sidewalk, at church or by participating in the city’s Project PEACE community dialogs. To the City of Tacoma, we encourage you to continue talking to residents, but we urge you to go out to the communities whose voices haven’t been represented. Partner with those who serve these communities – not just organizations, but look to the churches, grassroots leaders, and the elders who have deep roots and respect in the community.
It is our hope that as a community, we can develop and adopt not only a city wide definition of safety, but objectives that we can strive for in our quest to move from “somewhat safe” to “safe.” This hope can only be realized if we as a community work together.