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Friday, January 23, 2009

The Seattle PI - Bringing Us The Good News And The Bad

It's been reported today that the Seattle Post Intelligencer won the 2009 Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting Award in the series category from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York for their "Strong Arm Of The Law" series of reports that ran in January and February of 2008.

That outstanding series, written by investigative reporters Eric Nalder, Lewis Kamb, and Daniel Lathrop, reported on the Seattle Police Department's use stand-alone obstruction of justice charges to cover for excessive force cases and the inability of the Seattle Police Department to discipline officers for misconduct and brutality.

The Seattle PI has a long history of hard-hitting investigative journalism that critically examined both the Seattle Police Department and the King County Sheriff's Department as exemplified by their Strong Arm of the Law series and their 2005 "Conduct Unbecoming" series that examined extensive corruption in the King County Sheriff's Department that included cases of alleged child molestation, rampant and unchecked misconduct, as well as stories of witnesses being arrested for reporting misconduct.

Both of these series of investigative reports led to reforms being recommended due to public outcry and pressure on public officials who would have never done anything otherwise. Sadly, though, while some of the recommended reforms were implemented in the Seattle Police Department, the King County Sheriff's Department ultimately failed to implement most of their reforms due to budget problems. Albeit, if it weren't for the Seattle PI, a public discussion about these abuses that led to some changes would never have taken place, and Seattle would be even worse than it currently is for that.

Sadly, though, this well-deserved award comes right after the news was released that the Seattle PI will likely be shut down soon as the paper's owner, Hearst Corp., has put the paper up for sale with the provision that if nobody buys it in 60 days the paper will be shut down and the entire staff will be laid off. There have been rumors that it may become an online-only news agency, but even that is a long shot and would likely not include the kinds of resources that such in-depth investigative reports would require.

The loss of the PI would be devastating to the efforts to improve police accountability and transparency in Seattle, Washington as the PI is the only mainstream news agency that was willing to take on the powerful Seattle Police Officer's Guild as well as the other police unions and politicians who would rather have kept these reports out of the public's view.

Seattle's other main paper, The Seattle Times, is more conservative leaning and tends to give biased reports that mainly repeat official press releases when allegations of abuse break in the news and otherwise doesn't report on police misconduct itself.

Seattle's alternative press doesn't give us much hope either as The Seattle Weekly, while breaking the story of abuses in the King County Jail that led to the well-publicized investigation by the DOJ, generally ignores police abuses. The Stranger, Seattle's other alternative weekly paper who used to have a fairly good record of reporting on police brutality cases, has recently grown rather friendly with the department and has turned to giving police beat reports instead of any investigative looks into police misconduct.

Seattle's television news stations also don't give us much hope. While two of the stations, King 5 and KOMO 4, have done some reporting on specific instances of police brutality when those cases came with video proof, otherwise they have missed several cases that have been covered in the Seattle PI.

This loss would also affect advocates and citizen reporters alike as we don't have the kind of resources and inside sources that a major news organization like the PI has. We too rely on organizations like the PI to inform us, as well as the general public, when cases of misconduct we would not have heard about occur and when these cases actually form a pattern of abuses that indicate a deeper case of corruption instead of isolated cases of abuse.

The loss of the Seattle Post Intelligencer will be a devastating blow to those of us who try to bring official corruption and misconduct to light and improve our city by encouraging political leaders to implement reforms that bring much needed accountability and transparency to our police agencies.

The Seattle Post Intelligencer was an invaluable ally in the fight for a better police department in Seattle and King county and their absence will leave an impact on all our lives, not just because of the loss of such excellence in journalism, but also because the absence of an organization to keep the city honest about abuses will bring about a return to unaccountability to our police agencies and, in turn, will result in more cases of brutality and misconduct that we will all have to pay a price for.

The loss of the Seattle Post Intelligencer will be felt by Seattle long after that last paper is printed.


Anonymous said...

I agree!

Packratt said...

Erm, Thanks!

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