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Monday, February 18, 2008

Debunking The Police Guild Propaganda

As the Seattle Police Officer's Guild prepares to bully the mayor and city council into backing down on demands for police accountability reforms again, it has been making some rather dishonest claims to the press that have gone unchallenged in the media. Let's take a look at some of the history involved and how it debunks the guild's dishonest statements about how they don't feel the need to fix a system that is currently so easy for bad officers to cheat.

In 1999, several instances of police misconduct came to a head after a police officer was accused of stealing $10,000 from a crime scene. The citizens of Seattle started to realize that the police could no longer police themselves and insisted that a civilian oversight system be implemented. Around that time the number of cities with civilian oversight systems numbered aroun half a dozen, so a commission was formed to analyze those existing systems and make recommendations on how to form one in Seattle.

The commission ultimately made several recommendations, called the "19 point plan", which included that a civilian be appointed within the Police Department to oversee internal investigations. But the commission also said final say on discipline should remain with the chief... as long as the chief provided written explanations when overruling findings of the civilian director.

After arbitration between the guild and the city in 2001, the Office of Professional Accountability (OPA) was created, which is headed by a civilian director who oversees SPD internal investigations. Also, the council added a civilian auditor to monitor ongoing internal investigations and a three-member civilian board to routinely review random redacted sample files of closed cases.

But, under pressure from the powerful police officer's guild, the proposals that made or broke the system, especially the one requiring the chief to provide written explanations when he refused to go along with disciplinary recommendations, were never incorporated into the contract. These changes ultimately made the oversight system utterly powerless, the same toothless system we have today.

So, what does the guild say about the current system in their attempt to weaken oversight yet again?

  • Today, the guild insists that Seattle has more oversight than any other city, but this is increadibly disengenous.

    There are over 70 other cities with civilian oversight provisions, most of which do require written justification from the chief or commissioner concerning disciplinary actions. Some of which even allow the civilian oversight panels to intercede if the written explainations are unsatisfactory or appealed by the complaintant. So, even with the currently proposed changes, Seattle's civilian oversight capabilities would still be woefully underpowered compared to other cities.

  • These days the guild proudly claims that it agreed to implement the current system of civilian oversight.

    Well, actually, in 2001 it was forced to accept it through arbitration, but was still successful in weakening the oversight system enough to allow it to be completely gamed by bad cops. So this view of their active participation in the building of a civilian oversight system is somewhat skewed, it would be more accurate to say they were responsible for breaking the current system, not helping to build it up.

  • Currently the guild is insisting that the department is squeeky clean and that there is no critical need to implement reforms right away.

    They said that the first time around as well, hoping to delay the reforms so that public interest died. However, one look to the right of this blog in the news section would indicate that there is a current and critical need for reform. All of those misconduct stories are merely those gathered from the last couple of years... and a VAST majority of them ended in the cheif of police going against OPA recommendations and exonerating officers, or even promoting some of the most violent offenders in his department, as in the Alley-Barnes case that was recently settled and cost the city at least $185,000 (not counting lawyer's fees).

    Which brings us to the gaming of the oversight system in place today... One member of the mayor's panel that made the current set of 29 recommendations for fixing the current system has said that "virtually any disciplinary decision made by the chief simply cannot stick. If the rank and file do not like it, the decision is referred to numerous review bodies, on which the Guild is strongly represented. And if this maneuver doesn't overturn the decision or defang it, the matter is referred to bargaining or the courts."

    This is why the current chief almost never disciplines any officers, the last officer he fired is currently in process of suing the city for defamation, and the officer he just fired is going to have the guild appeal for him, which only goes to prove the point of how difficult it is to discipline officers in Seattle who have a long history of abuses

  • The guild also says it's interested in talking about the reforms.

    However, the guild has already started to threaten lawmakers with recall elections and withdrawl of their financial political support if they press for reforms. This support can be substantial given that the guild also runs the largest private security firm in the city as well as being funded with their member dues, not to mention their substantial political clout.

    Also, the guild has made contradictory statements in the press, telling one reporter they are interested in discussing reforms, telling another that maybe the city can buy off the guild for the right price if they really want reforms, and telling others that there will be no discussion of reforms until 2010 at the earliest... again in hopes of stalling reforms and that public demand can be quelled by then.

This is why the guild must be forced to be honest about reforms, because they do not have the public's interest in mind and never did. The only way to do that is with public outcry which forces elected officials to enact all recommended reforms whether the guild likes it or not... then they can talk raises.

But while accountability and oversight are tied to payoffs by the guild, the issue becomes nothing more than an unethical form of extortion, pitting demands for public safety against pure greed and corruption... and we know which one won last time.

*Correction (thanks to an email from a police officer's guild representative): Initially cited the case of an officer accused of stealing a ring from a suicide victim as one of the causes of the original calls for accountability in 1999, it was actually the case of an officer accused of stealing $10,000 from a crime scene (per Seattle Times 07/22/07). The ring theft case was cited as a reason the first panel called for written explainations from the chief when he deviated from recommended disciplinary findings (per

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