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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Latest Seattle City Police Accountability Reports Declare Success, But Reveal Failures

I've been focusing more and more on national issues of police misconduct lately... maybe all the failures in Seattle are part of the reason why... for example:

The Seattle Police Department's Office of Professional Accountability (the collective name for the department's internal investigations unit and the civilian police oversight system in Seattle) has actually been busy for once... Though not productively, as you'll see in a minute.

The SPD OPA issued several reports last month, the first, interestingly enough, is a report on the progress towards implementing recommendations(pdf) made by two separate "blue ribbon" panels to improve the accountability system. Of course, the city says all of them are in place or progressing forward...

Of course, that's not the case in reality as borne out by all the publicized, and some not so publicized, problems the department has had lately with their attempts to discipline officers being overturned on appeal by the union.

One of those recommendations was that any officer caught lying would be terminated. But, so far, that's proven to be far from the case thanks to language added by the union that made this unenforceable. That's proving to be the case lately... of the three officers who have been disciplined on that new rule, two officers have successfully overturned disciplinary actions taken against them and a third is currently in the process of appealing his, with all expectations being that he'll win as well.

The next problematic recommendation that the city says is working like a charm concerns a 180 day limit the department has for investigating complaints of misconduct. Once those 180 days is up, any findings of misconduct are automatically exonerated unless the union agrees to extend the deadline... which would be like asking a student in detention if he would agree to stay if he had the option to leave early.

As you can guess, the union never agrees to extend the deadline... and the last we heard from the OPA the average time for an investigation to complete is 173 days. Which, as you could imagine, means there are a few investigations that go over that 180 day limit.

In fact, based on recent OPA reports and the latest Seattle Police Officer's Guild newsletter(pdf), there have been 5 investigations that would have resulted in sustained findings but went past the 180 day limit. Two of those have already been overturned on appeal and 3 others are pending appeal... again, with all expectations being that those disciplinary actions will be overturned as well.

So... I guess those recommendation implementations aren't going as well as the OPA and the city are trying to lead us to believe in their reports.

Speaking of, a few of those changes utterly neutered the civilian review board, turning them into a public relations board for the police department, and apparently they've been doing a great job of it lately...

I say that because another report recently released was the OPA auditor's report on SPD relations with diverse communities(pdf) which, according to her, look really positive and shows that the community trusts the police more than ever before...

Guess they haven't been reading.

Oh well, so long as nobody comes crying to me asking why they weren't warned the next time a big police misconduct scandal breaks and the officers involved can't be disciplined like last time. After all, last year I predicted that these exact problems would start happening before that contract was even approved by the council.

...meh, maybe next time.

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