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Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Stranger Looks Ahead

The Stranger published it's annual 15th Minute prognostication of upcoming trends where they do an admirable job of predicting what people and other happenings are heading for a decline.

Indeed, one of their predictions includes this rather prescient piece declaring the eminent fall of the SPD OPA:

The Office of Professional Accountability. The city office responsible for investigating police misconduct is incapable of disciplining wayward officers. There'll be a lot of talk about reform in 2008, but angry citizens will circumvent the OPA and bring a parade of civil rights lawsuits against the SPD to get results.
Quite so, it's clear that as people read more and more stories about how the OPA is powerless to do anything even when it is allowed to find police officers guilty of misconduct, they will abandon the OPA process entirely and just head straight to their lawyers or media instead.

However, if you think this will prompt any changes you're most likely mistaken. The city will respond to any legal action with settlement talks and civil rights lawyers push their clients to accept the easy money because it's a better return on the lawyer's investment of time than waiting years for an actual court decision and the associated appeals.

How do more lawsuit settlements mean less change?

Because it is more economically and politically profitable for the city to settle lawsuits than it is for the city to take a hard line with the Seattle Police Guild to improve accountability in any real meaningful way. Besides, settlements usually mean no acceptance of fault, thus keeping the city's hands clean when it fails to hold any officers accountable for misconduct.

First, the city of Seattle's insurance carrier pays out about 90% of settlement payoffs, which means the city only pays and reports 10% of any actual settlement amount, this keeps taxpayers mollified about having to dish out money for an unrestrained and unaccountable police department.

Meanwhile, by not angering the police union by pushing accountability as a contract issue, the politicians can leverage SPOG money and political power for their elections, and the police guild has already been quite vocal in boasting about their power and fund raising capabilities.

Indeed, the guild has been rather bold by frequently bragging bout how they were able to position their candidate, Tim Burgess, onto the city council committee chair for public safety, which means the council will no longer be the force for improving accountability that it used to be... and they have been quite clear about publicly declaring that any effort to improve accountability will result in the guild using it's political might to replace pro-accountability council members.

So... While we should be prepared to see a sharp rise in misconduct stories and related legal actions against the city, don't assume that this will lead to any improvements... instead, expect police to get more egregious and brazen when showing the public how they aren't just the law, but also above the law.


Max Watts said...

Your site is awesome and much needed. I've been slacking on my own site of late, but when I get back to it I will link to your page and draw others attention to it.

Packratt said...

Thanks for saying so Max, I appreciate the feedback!

I took a look at your site and it's really nicely laid out and well written, hope you get back to it soon.

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