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Monday, May 4, 2009

The Politics of Truth

In 2007, several incidents of police misconduct, including allegations that officers who lied were never punished, brought public outrage to a head in Seattle and prompted city officials to create 2 review boards to look into the Seattle Police Department's policies and methods of dealing with allegations of misconduct and disciplinary actions against officers.

The results of those efforts were touted and the city proudly declared that they implemented all of the recommended reforms suggested by those reviews in 2008... though, in truth, they really didn't.

The problem was that Washington State requires Seattle to negotiate all disciplinary policies with the police officer's union, which is about the same thing as if they were to require each school to negotiate rules and discipline with their students or requiring jails to negotiate terms of discipline with their inmates.

So, 11 of the recommended reforms had to be approved during contract negotiations between the city and the union. After initially suggesting that they would not negotiate any changes to disciplinary policy, the union changed tact and said that they would sell some of the reform items, after modifications, in exchange for more pay. So, the city and union picked and chose which reforms the city could afford to pay off the union to accept.

One of those reforms that was altered and then bought involved a proposed policy that would force the chief to fire any officer who was dishonest during the internal investigation process... The union said that was unacceptable unless the city added that the finding of dishonesty could only be used if the city established an INTENT to mislead with clear and convincing PROOF. The city relented and bought that modified reform, as worded below:

In the case of an officer receiving a sustained complaint involving dishonesty in the course of the officer's official duties or relating to the administration of justice, a presumption of termination shall apply. For purposes of this presumption of termination the Department must prove dishonesty by clear and convincing evidence. Dishonesty is defined as intentionally providing false information, which the officer knows to be false, or intentionally providing incomplete responses to specific questions, regarding facts that are material to the investigation. Specific questions do not include general or 'catch-all' questions. For purposes of this Section dishonesty means more than mere inaccuracy or faulty memory.

Fast forward to the present day and we find that the city bought and paid for a reform item that it can never enforce because, as the union bragged shortly after the contract was agreed upon, there is no real way to prove intent and that, so long as an officer is smart about it, all they have to do is say that any inconsistency found in testimony was a lapse of memory and all would be well.

Only now has the city realized their blunder as the union has overturned two rulings of dishonesty upon appeal which resulted in the rehiring of one officer who was fired on a finding of dishonesty involving a case of alleged brutality.

And now with a third case where the city attorney forced the police chief to change his planned disciplinary actions against another officer who was found to have been dishonest during his investigation into allegations of sexual harassment.

It's interesting that it's only just now that the city and the media are realizing that they didn't get all the reforms that they thought they paid for, even though I immediately noticed this problem shortly after the proposed contract was released in June of 2008, (here and here).

So, will the city keep telling citizens that they enacted all the reforms that were supposed to improve police accountability now? Will the press keep parroting the city's releases without doing research of their own to verify those mistaken claims?

Or will this new development cause people to reexamine the problems with police accountability in Seattle and Washington State as a whole and finally discover that the root of the problem cannot be solved at the local level because the problem is that the state is forcing cities to let their police officers dictate if, how, and why they can and can't be held accountable for their actions?

Keep watching to find out.


Karl Mansoor said...

I really think you ought to submit stuff like this to more traditional media in addition to your blog. You never know, it just might get published.

It certainly is newsworthy.

Packratt said...

shucks Karl, glad you think so, high praise indeed from you!

But, I've actually tried to work with the local media before... they weren't very receptive, even when they did bother to write back.

Thanks for the thought though, I appreciate it!

Geekwad said...

Keep bringing the heat!

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