2018 All-America City Finalist – Pasco, WA

Application Summary for the All-America City Awards:

A small city in southeastern Washington, Pasco has experienced explosive population growth during the past two decades. Between 2000 and 2017, the number of residents more than doubled, as did the city’s Latino population.

With these changes have come new challenges and opportunities. The community’s goal is “to make Pasco a place where people put down roots and raise families in a safe, forward-thinking, active environment where all have a voice.”

In early 2015, there was a police-involved shooting of an undocumented Latino resident that was captured on video and was the cause of several weeks of national news coverage. The response of the community was peaceful protest, political organizing and a communitywide dialogue.

One result was policy change within the local police department, which updated its use of force policy through a community-based process, increased training for officers, hired more Latino and Spanish-speaking officers and moved to use more mental health professionals in the field.

Community organizing led to another change. Councilmembers are now elected by district instead of “at-large” in order to increase the opportunities to elect a more diverse council. City officials worked with the ACLU to bring the matter into the federal courts through federal Voter Rights Act litigation, resulting in a consent decree to bring local elections into compliance with the Voting Rights Act.

Three project examples showing how this community leverages civic engagement, collaboration, inclusiveness and innovation to successfully address local issues:


1.) Better City Council Representation through District Elections
Since the City was reorganized to a city council-city manager governing system in the 1960s, members of the council have been elected “at large” in citywide votes after winning primaries in which some seats were selected by district and other at-large. This complicated system made it difficult for minority candidates to win in competitive elections. For instance, in the 2015 elections, none of five Latino candidates won council seats.

State law prevented the city from moving to a district-only electoral system for both primaries and general elections. Attempts by city officials to get the state legislature to change the law, however, failed to produce results. In March 2016 the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Washington notified the City that it believed the election system violated the federal Voting Rights Act. Instead of fighting the ACLU in court, the City negotiated with the organization after a complaint was filed in federal court. Ultimately, the judge accepted a consent decree in which six council seats would be elected by district and one at-large.

The City conducted its first council election under the news system in 2017, resulting in the election of three Hispanic members to the council.

More information: Pasco City Council Election System


2.) Police Community Relations
The fatal shooting of an unarmed, undocumented immigrant by police in downtown Pasco drew considerable international media attention. The incident occurred shortly after the start of the national conversation about police, following the protest events in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014, among others. The community erupted in protests and the City responded by helping to plan a demonstration; Pasco Police escorted the protesters, and officers later blocked off an entire intersection for the peaceful event.

In response to a request for assistance from U.S. Attorney Michael C. Ormsby and Pasco Police Chief Robert Metzger, the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), announced in May 2015 that it was offering technical assistance and training to the Pasco Police Department.

COPS completed its assistance in September 2017 and noted, “Since May 2015, the PPD has been making great strides to improve the relationship with the community and the communication throughout the agency.”

Pasco police began a “Coffee with a Cop” program to help open lines of communications and improve problem-solving with community members. A research firm identified specific recommendations to the Pasco police on community policing techniques.

Among other changes, the police and fire departments have worked with local mental health professionals to implement a “Hotspotters” program to bring mental health services to residents in immediate need. The City has expanded police recruitment efforts, focusing on individuals who appreciate serving and reflect the diversity of the community.

More information: Pasco PD “Coffee with a Cop”


3.) Somos Pasco (We are Pasco)
Somos Pasco is a collaboration of the Port of Pasco, City of Pasco and Franklin County, Benton-Franklin Council of Governments, along with Pasco School District, Columbia Basin College, Pasco Chamber of Commerce, Tri-Cities Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and other Tri-Cities community organizations and businesses. Together, these partners have developed a shared vision for Pasco and its economy.

A 19-member Steering Committee guides the Economic Strategic Vision. This group met over the course of 10 months to conduct economic research, investigate the strengths and challenges confronting Pasco’s economy, engage the community in the vision process and adopt core values, vision and strategies for the future economy.

The following priorities were adopted:

  • Improving educational attainment levels.
  • Building the economy on a foundation of agriculture/food processing & other current strengths.
  • Diversifying the economy into new sectors.
  • Undertaking worthy community projects that support Pasco’s quality of life.
  • Capitalizing on Pasco’s unique multi-cultural population and heritage.

The Somos Pasco project has provided the groundwork for a community-wide look at the opportunities and potential in the area. While it is yet to be determined the extent to which the vision will be realized, the process itself has been one of building within the community: building relationships, building understanding and building opportunities.

More information: Somos Pasco

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