Round-up | What’s wrong with the Seattle Police Department? — UPDATE: DOJ report

In a proces that started after a string of videotaped incidents involving SPD “use of force” — including the August 2010 John T Williams shooting – the Department of Justice has told Seattle police chief John Diaz his officers must change the way they work as they patrol the city’s streets. 

  • Here is what the DOJ said Friday about policing in Seattle as the results of its eight month investigation were released:

The investigation, launched on March 31, 2011, and conducted by the Civil Rights Division’s Special Litigation Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington, focused on whether SPD engages in unconstitutional or unlawful policing through either (1) the use of excessive force or (2) discriminatory policing.  The Justice Department found reasonable cause to believe that SPD engages in a pattern or practice of excessive force, in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994.  The Justice Department does not make a finding that SPD engages in a pattern or practice of discriminatory policing, but the investigation raised serious concerns that some of SPD’s policies and practices, particularly those related to pedestrian encounters, could result in unlawful discriminatory policing.  These practices undermine SPD’s ability to build trust among segments of Seattle’s diverse communities.

The DOJ found that over a two year period, officers committed civil rights violations in one out of every five of the 500 to 600 incidents a year where officers used force.

While insistent in calling for change, including a court monitor to check on progress, federal officials stopped short of finding that the police had engaged in discriminatory policing, and were gracious to the department, which has been under community fire after several cases of violence against minorities. U.S. Atty. Jenny A. Durkan cited the city’s cooperation with the investigation and willingness to make changes as reasons to be optimistic.

Seattle has a widely admired system of monitoring alleged and actual police misbehavior. Yet the number of highly visible incidents continues to be high, and if you dig into reports about citizen oversight you find that very often the offending officer has not been following policy (such as use of In-Car Video) or was allowed to gloss over the awkward details in reports to superiors.

The Seattle Police Department and the U.S. Department of Justice have agreed to meet shortly after the first of the year to discuss the findings in more detail.

They then will attempt to reach an agreement called a “consent decree,” which would be filed in federal court.

UPDATE: Here is the DOJ report:
spd_findletter_12-16-11

3 thoughts on “Round-up | What’s wrong with the Seattle Police Department? — UPDATE: DOJ report

  1. Well, maybe the department should just acknowledge they have had a few problems, fire the 40 officers, and move on. Policing is like any kind of service industry, it doesn’t matter if 95% of your people are good, only the few bad ones are going to get attention. Shoot for perfection, not just alright.
    The departments attempts to evade dealing with this are getting ridiculous.

  2. An impressively damning report. The feds saw a pattern of unnecessary use of force, with Seattle police escalating minor arrests into violence. One fifth of all use of force is excessive. Cops too readily hit people with batons/flashlights, and they’re more dangerous in groups.

    On the positive side, they’re unnecessarily violent without regard to race.

  3. I fully support addressing the problems found by the DOJ, but I find it hard to believe that our Seattle police officers are on par with LA and New Orleans.
    Call me crazy, but with the exception of the John T. Williams tragedy, the cases getting the most attention are not the egregious acts that should be completely eclipsing the good work our cops do.
    To the vast majority of officers- please don’t be discouraged. We live in a big city and crime must be addressed aggressively. Continue to proactively investigate and respond to reports of assaults, rapes, guns, thefts, car prowlers, drug deals, hate crimes, harassment, suicidal persons, missing persons, and mental persons.
    At the end of the day, we must acknowledge that we need the police. We can do this while still constructively addressing community concerns. Something about the baby and the bath water.