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Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Police Accountability Jeopardized By Editorial Spin

Just days after running a stunning series of articles that served to expose several instances of institutionalized misconduct within the Seattle Police Department, the Seattle Post Intelligencer issued forth an unfortunate opinion piece from it's own editorial staff entitled "Seattle Police: Healing Reviews".

This flawed editorial is full of apologetic spin and questionable assertions in an apparent attempt to kowtow to the police department and the Seattle Police Officer's Guild. While this is understandable given the intense pressure from and threats made from officers and members of the police guild in response to the series; it is still regrettable because it only serves to nullify any possible progress the investigative reporting might have brought to the city's desperate efforts to bring about police accountability reforms against the fierce opposition by the police guild.

Within this flawed editorial, the editors cite one of their own paper's articles that served to demonstrate the utter powerlessness of the police department's own internal investigative branch, the Office of Professional Accountability (OPA), by showing that it is only capable of making recommendations and not investigating problems on it's own, here they state:

"It's encouraging that a ranking officer promised last week that a systematic review of some obstruction arrests would be recommended. In the context of other changes being made by the department, even the rather limited pledge speaks to continuing efforts to improve accountability, professionalism and community relations."

A limited pledge indeed... in fact, it's a pledge that means absolutely nothing at all because even if the OPA's recommendation was followed and an investigation found evidence of wrongdoing, the guild will simply step in and refuse to allow the city to discipline any officers, which it can do because such investigative findings could not be used to discipline officers because it would go against their contract with the city.

This brings us to another flawed part of this editorial which states:

"In a sweeping reorganization announced last week, Chief Gil Kerlikowske created a new Office of Ethics and Professional Responsibility, which will be headed by a veteran officer with a reputation as a disciplinarian."

This misstates the importance of the new office of ethics which is actually just as powerless as the OPA since it can only make recommendations as well... it cannot actually DO anything about misconduct at all. Therefore, this new Office Of Ethics and Professional Responsibility isn't much of a "sweeping change", especially without all of the other 28 recommended accountability changes made by the mayor's review panel (PARP), the same recommendations that the guild has fought tooth and nail.

This brings us to the unfortunate falsehood in the editorial, here:

"Those steps follow on impressive efforts by Mayor Greg Nickels, Kerlikowske and, to some extent, the police guild to follow up on an accountability task force's recommendations."

There are NO indications anywhere that the guild has done anything other than fight the recommended accountability reforms and it has completely denied that any problems exist in the department whatsoever as a basis for it's resistance against accountability reforms.

We call on the Seattle Post Intelligencer to cite a specific case of the guild making any effort whatsoever to improve the police misconduct accountability process within the Seattle Police Department that it wasn't forced to accept via arbitration in early 2000's when contract negotiations broke down over the guild's utter refusal to accept accountability reforms... just as they did this time as well.

The unfortunate fact is that they cannot, there is no effort that the guild has undertaken at any time to "bring about healing" by improving police accountability and professionalism, in fact they've only fought against such efforts to heal the gigantic rift that exists between the Seattle Police Department and the community that they supposedly serve.

Healing any injury requires that we identify that injury, diagnose it's cause, and then commit to a treatment plan... Sadly, such irresponsible pieces of journalistic bias only serve to further injure the relationship between the police and the community by pretending that placing a colorful bandaid over a deep and festering wound is all the healing we need.

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