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15 years, 10 leaders: New East Precinct commander a familiar face — UPDATE: 11

Capt. McDonagh (Image: SPD)

Capt. McDonagh (Image: SPD)

Capt. Paul McDonagh is back in command of the East Precinct. A major shuffle of Seattle Police Department brass is set to be announced with the former commander resuming the post he held for two and a half years into 2009 — the longest tenure of any of the ten different commanders the precinct has seen since 1999.

The Seattle Times was first to report the shuffle which follows Chief Kathleen O’Toole’s overhaul of her command staff earlier this month.

McDonagh replaces Capt. Pierre Davis who took over in early 2014 after his predecessor Capt. Mike Edwards was move out practically mid-CHS interview. If McDonagh takes a page from Edwards and Davis, he’ll likely promise to look into more foot patrols and increase community presence for his officers.

McDonagh’s two and a half years leading the officers patrolling Capitol Hill, the Central District, Madison Valley and Madison Park, Montlake, and parts of First Hill and Eastlake were the most stable period in the precinct’s previous decade. In 2009 as Capt. Jim Dermody took over, CHS reported on the revolving door in the precinct since then-Capt. John Diaz left the command post in 1999:

I interviewed each of the East Precinct commanders around the time each took the reins. They had appropriately positive things to say about their new job, which, if memory serves, in each case represented a promotion and their first posting as a newly-minted captain. But after several such conversations I asked how long a new commander expected to stay on the Hill. Here’s Mike Meehan’s reply from 2004:

“I say this laughingly, but I told my boss that my intention is to stay here until the day I retire. I’ll stay here as long as they allow me to stay. I am very happy to be at the East Precinct.”

Meehan stayed until mid-2005.

A more than 30-year SPD veteran, McDonagh most recently served as O’Toole’s inherited assistant chief of special operations. His most immediate issue in East will be a response to a call from local businesses asking for increased patrols to quell street crime in Pike/Pine and to address ongoing gun violence in the Central District. Yes, he’ll also have Joe Buckets to handle.

Capt. Davis leaves the precinct after just more than a year of leadership. The end of his tenure is clouded by a still-open Office of Professional Accountability investigation into Officer Cynthia Whitlach’s July 2014 arrest at 12th and Pike of William Wingate, a black, 70-year-old veteran walking with a golf club. SPD says the officer was disciplined in the incident with counseling, a course of action that must be formally approved by the chain of command including Capt. Davis who is also black. “The officer who made the arrest received counseling from her supervisor, a course of action that the department believes to be an appropriate resolution,” a SPD statement on the investigation stated. “I have directed East Precinct commander Captain Pierre Davis to prepare a comprehensive report,” a statement from O’Toole read, “to include his assessment of the officer’s performance and any supervisory measures that were taken to address her actions in these incidents.” We do not know if the report has been completed. Capt. Davis is set to return to the Southwest Precinct.

The flurry of changes are likely to make this Thursday’s meeting of the East Precinct Advisory Council a more interesting affair than average whether as a goodbye for Capt. Davis or a welcome back for Capt. McDonagh. Hopefully the transition goes as smoothly for McDonagh as his memorable summer 2009 arrest of a Harvard Market bank robbery suspect in which the man made an easy to spot target covered in dye and trailing smoke behind him as he fled the crime scene.

UPDATE: We forgot one — Capt. Ron Wilson lead the precinct in 2013 before quietly retiring.

Capt. Wilson at a meeting to address crime around Cal Anderson in 2013 (Image: CHS)

Capt. Wilson at a meeting to address crime around Cal Anderson in 2013 (Image: CHS)

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18 thoughts on “15 years, 10 leaders: New East Precinct commander a familiar face — UPDATE: 11

  1. Just what is it with the perpetual musical chairs in precinct leadership? How is there supposed to be any long term continuity?

    • High level politics. Just as portrayed in detective fiction, the suits (now business casual or pantsuits) are screwing around as usual.

    • I agree that the frequent changes in leadership are a problem as far as knowing the precinct and continuity, but at least this time we are getting someone who is already familiar with Capitol Hill.

  2. Welcome back, Capt McDonagh. I’m glad he is leading the East Precinct. He had a big part in the DMI (Drug Market Initiative) that drastically cleaned up 23rd/Union. I know it’s not ideal now but it’s a hell of a lot better than it used to be. He knows the neighborhood and seems invested in it.

    I met him after the horrible shooting of Mr. Ferrari at Cherry/MLK. He was out there in the days following, very late at night talking with neighbors.

    • From the article Andrew referenced:

      The police rank and file have made it known that their leader’s actions have cast an unwelcome spotlight on the city.

      “Chief Meehan’s indiscretions, which expose a pattern of serious flaws in judgment, have unfortunately caused the national media to focus on the city of Berkeley as the example of poor police decision-making,” said Rocky Lucia, an attorney representing the Berkeley Police Association. “The reputation of the Police Department has seriously suffered since Chief Meehan’s arrival.”

      Meehan seemed to be a good fit for Berkeley. During his 23 years in Seattle, he worked in patrol, narcotics, violent crimes and vice and took part in the department’s efforts to win accreditation with a national commission. As a precinct commander, he was responsible for a part of the city roughly equal in size to Berkeley’s population.


      Meehan’s troubles began soon after Feb. 18, when Peter Cukor, 67, was bludgeoned to death outside his home, 15 minutes after he had called police to report an intruder on his Berkeley hills property.

      No officers showed up before Cukor was killed because police were responding only to emergency calls while the department deployed officers to what turned out to be a small Occupy march. “Talk about a perfect storm,” a supervising police dispatcher wrote in a department e-mail.

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  4. I take it this means McDonaugh has not found another job yet. He was, in effect, fired. When you reach a certain level of management, it’s nearly impossible to be explicitly fired. This guy is part of the old guard at SPD. He was in charge of warrantless surveilance (Drones, anyone? How about some surveillance cams on the beach?), monitoring and stamping out political movements, sportball parades, and drug busts. O’Toole had the sense to send him packing, but here he is back in our neighborhood, awaiting another opening in Colorado to join our other rejects.

    • Kind of a mean-spirited post, Phil. He was not “in effect, fired”….he was demoted from Assistant Chief to Captain with all the restructuring Chief O’Toole is doing (which is what anti-police activists have wanted for a long time). Sheesh, give the guy a chance.

  5. It wasn’t politically practical to fire those assistant chiefs. The demotions were the practical alternative.

    Clearing house of those who were in charge while hundreds of staff conspired to commit and cover up constitutional violations is what pro-police activists want, as well.

    They had about 1200-1300 sworn staff during the period DOJ examined. 20% of force was unconstitutional. That’s a minimum of around 250 people directly inolved. Maybe it was 500 if 250 of them did so 50% of the time and another 250 did so the other 50% of thetime. Then, there are partners who new about it, supervisors who approved it, and internal investigators who let it slide. Hundreds of staff, most of them still employed by us, regularly violated not only the law, but the United States Constitution, while on the job at SPD. Keeping those people around is mean-spirited.

    • Just curious….where did you get the figure that “20% of the force was unconstitutional.”? The DOJ determined that there was excessive use of force on the part of some SPD officers, but did they specify that 20% did this?

      • They found that “[w]hen SPD officers use force, they do so in an unconstitutional manner nearly 20% of the time.”

        Quoting U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan’s December 16, 2011, letter to Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn (p4: Findings, section 1 “SPD’s Use of Force”):

        We find that SPD engages in a pattern or practice of unnecessary or excessive force, in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Section 14141. We base our legal conclusion on numerous factual findings, including the following:

        When SPD officers use force, they do so in an unconstitutional manner nearly 20% of the time. This finding (as well as the factual findings identified below) is not based on citizen reports or complaints. Rather, it is based on a review of a randomized, stratified, and statistically valid sample of SPD’s own internal use of force reports completed by officers and supervisors.

        SPD officers too quickly resort to the use of impact weapons, such as batons and flashlights. Indeed, we find that, when SPD officers use batons, 57% of the time it is either unnecessary or excessive.

        SPD officers escalate situations and use unnecessary or excessive force when arresting individuals for minor offenses. This trend is pronounced in encounters with persons with mental illnesses or those under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This is problematic because SPD estimates that 70% of use of force encounters involve these populations.

        Multiple SPD officers at a time use unnecessary or excessive force together against a single subject. Of the excessive use of force incidents we identified, 61% of the cases involved more than one officer.

        In any given year, a minority of officers account for a disproportionate number of use of force incidents. Over the more than two-year period reviewed, 11 officers used force 15 or more times, and 31 officers used force 10 or more times. In 2010, just 20 officers accounted for 18% of all force incidents. Yet, SPD has no effective supervisory techniques to better analyze why these officers use force more than other officers, whether their uses of force are necessary, or whether any of these officers would benefit from additional use of force training.  

        This pattern or practice is also the product of inadequate policy, training and supervision. SPD fails: (1) to properly monitor or investigate the use of force; (2) to implement adequate policies on the proper use of various force weapons; and (3) to adequately train its officers on the use of force, particularly the appropriate use of various force weapons. The chain of command does not properly investigate, analyze, or demand accountability from its subordinate officers for their uses of force. In particular, we further find that the secondary review process is little more than a formality that provides no substantive oversight or accountability. Tellingly, of the approximately 1,230 internal use of force reports we received, covering the period between January 1, 2009 and April 4, 2011, only five were referred for “further review” at any level within SPD. Moreover, in our investigation, we found no case in which a first-line supervisor was held accountable for the inadequate investigation or review of a use of force incident.

      • Thanks for clarifying, Phil. I misunderstood your initial statement to mean that 20% of officers were involved in unconstitutional actions. That obviously is not the case, since a minority of officers (far less than 20%) are responsible for most of the problem.

      • I think you misread, Bob. Of those who use force (some presumably-large portion of about 1250 sworn staff), maybe 20% of them used force unlawfully every time they did so, maybe all of them used force unlawfully 20% of the time they did so, and maybe it’s somewhere in between.

        If all 1250 use force on the job, then somewhere between 250 and 1250 of them violated the U.S. Constitution on the job. If only 500 of them use force on the job, then somewhere between 100 and 500 of them violated the U.S. Constitution on the job.

        For each violation, there was almost certainly at least one witness, and there was a supervisor who reviewed the situation.

        None of them has been held accountable.

  6. Don’t you suppose that most managers, faced with a report that their staff were violating the U.S. Constitution 20% of the time they performed part of their job duties, would conduct their own study of the situation and hold accountable those who were regularly violating the law on the job? Not at SPD, they don’t. Not even with a new chief.

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