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Friday, June 20, 2008

The Views Of SCCPAP Member Eric Schnapper

As an addendum to the SCCPAP Report, released earlier today, is a commentary/summary by Professor Eric Schnapper. Professor Schnapper currently teaches Civil rights, Civil Procedure, and Employment Discrimination at the University of Washington law school. He was also assistant counsel to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. for 25 years, specializing in appellate litigation and legislative activities. He's also won three US Supreme Court Cases and handled more than 70 other Supreme Court cases as well.

His articles on constitutional law and civil rights have appeared in law reviews published by Harvard, Columbia, Virginia, Stanford and other law schools... and his conclusion is pretty detailed, eloquent, and speaks volumes as to the need for transparency in the accountability process, why it's not present in the current system, and what needs to be done to fix it. I'd like to put the whole thing up here but it's just not well suited for a blog format. I've put the entire document up on another page Here, but to get an idea as to what he has to say, here is his summary:

None of this (report) should be understood as a comment on any Seattle police officer or official, past or present. The problems discussed are fundamental institutional issues that would tend to shape the conduct of whichever individuals held the positions in question. I would have favored the identical recommendations, and would have offered the same explanation, even if during the course of the Panel's work the positions of Chief of Police, OPA Director and President of the Seattle Police Officers Guild had been filled by the outgoing members of the OPA Review Board.

Criticism of police actions is not an inexcusable affront to the dignity of its officers, an illegitimate form of interference with officials entitled to be left alone to do their jobs, or part of some left wing conspiracy to assist the criminal elements in our society. Criticism of police actions is just like criticism of any other public officials, a routine and healthy part of the democratic process. Every concerned individual and organization has a right to take part in public debate about the Police Department and its leadership; none is entitled to distort that debate by silencing those with differing views or by managing the public's access to relevant information. The voters and the City Council should view with a jaundiced eye any claim that the conduct of some aspect of the city government needs to remain confidential and thus, inexorably, beyond the reach of informed public debate.

The genius of the American system of government is that it does not rest on the credulous assumption that competent people in positions of power can be trusted to do the right thing without need for scrutiny or review. Our system relies instead on incentives and deterrents, checks and balances, and -- above all -- transparency to shape the conduct of unavoidably imperfect office holders. We place our confidence, not in the Police Chief, the Auditor, the OPA Director, the Mayor or the City Council, but in the public, enlightened by full disclosure of the conduct of government affairs, and wielding the ballot to remove from office elected officials who perform inadequately or tolerate appointed officials who do so.

That is the spirit by which the Seattle Police Department -- and the city government as a whole -- should be guided.

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