In May, Seattle City Council approved the appointment of Joel Merkel to the Seattle Community Police Commission (CPC). Under the 2017 Police Accountability Legislation that made the CPC permanent, the Mayor, Council, and CPC itself each get to appoint seven commissioners to the CPC. Commissioner Merkel was appointed by City Council and his term will expire on December 31, 2024, with the opportunity for renewal.
“It is our pleasure to welcome Joel Merkel to the Community Police Commission. Joel’s public service experience will continue the critical and difficult work of creating lasting police accountability that is community centered.”Rev. Harriet Walden, Seattle Community Police Commission co-chair
Get to know more about Commissioner Merkel below:
Tell us a little about yourself.
Seattle is my home, and like everyone here, I care deeply about our community. I sought appointment to the Seattle Community Police Commission because I am passionate about government service, criminal legal reform, and community-based oversight and accountability.
For the last 9 years I have served the residents of King County as a criminal prosecutor in the King County Prosecutor’s Office. I have worked predominantly on behalf of victims of domestic violence, sexual violence, and child abuse.
One thing I am proud of is my work to expand alternatives to traditional prosecution and incarceration. In 2019 and 2020, I spearheaded an effort to legislatively expand the drug treatment sentencing alternative statute for non-violent felonies under State law. I helped draft the bill, worked with stakeholders, and testified before the legislature. The bill became law in January 2021 and is now helping many underserved members of our community access treatment and avoid incarceration.
Before I became a prosecutor, I served as Legislative Counsel to U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell. I helped lead her oversight and investigation work involving several federal consumer protection agencies during the 2008 financial crisis. We consistently battled industry stakeholders to push those agencies for increased transparency, accountability, and ultimately policy changes.
I am eager to build on these experiences to work on behalf of our community to fulfill the critical oversight and accountability mission of the CPC.
What perspective do you bring to the Seattle Community Police Commission?
Growing up, my entire family worked in public service. My uncle prosecuted a corrupt sheriff, and my mother worked with sworn police command staff as a civilian. I also experienced the 1999 Seattle WTO protests and police response as a college student. I learned from an early age that government agencies, especially police agencies, must have trust and accountability with the people they serve to effectively operate.
In my professional experience as a prosecutor, I have worked extensively with victims of gender-based and intimate partner violence, many of whom are from vulnerable or underserved communities. These cases and experiences have given me a unique perspective on community-based police accountability and oversight.
What Commission workgroup(s) are you interested in serving on and why?
Having served as a Legislative Counsel in the U.S. Senate, I am particularly excited about serving on the Commission’s Legislative Agenda Committee. There are so many policy changes on policing that the community is demanding and many of those changes are best accomplished through legislative action. I am excited to bring my experience in federal legislative policy to the Commission’s Legislative Agenda Committee.
What do you think is the biggest challenge for the Commission? How do you hope to contribute?
Building trust between the police and the communities they serve is essential to their mission but can be particularly challenging. As a prosecutor, I have worked closely with vulnerable and marginalized communities and the police sworn to serve them. I am excited to bring my professional experiences in the United States Senate and as a criminal prosecutor to the Commission, and to center and amplify the community’s voice on police oversight and accountability.
Why are you passionate about police accountability?
I am passionate about police accountability because community policing is one of the most impactful services the government is responsible for, but not all communities are impacted by policing equally. I have seen firsthand how building community trust with law enforcement is essential to achieve justice and equity. Police accountability is not only critical for ensuring vibrant and safe communities, but for each community’s quality of life and opportunity. The work to improve policing and community trust is enduring, and I am excited to elevate the community’s voice in this work.
Is there anything else you want the community to know or you want to share?
Community-based police oversight and accountability works best when the community is actively engaged. As a CPC Commissioner I am excited to hear from everyone in our community that wants their voice heard and amplified through the CPC. Attending our meetings and providing public comment may not always be possible, but I want the community to know that there are many ways to provide input and to get in touch with the CPC.
The Seattle Community Police Commission is committed to listening to, amplifying, and building common ground among communities affected by policing. The Commission champions policing practices centered in justice and equity.