City Police Guild Goes After The Stranger and Our “Ilk.”
posted by August 9 at 15:17 PMon
In the August edition of The Guardian, the newsletter for the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (the SPD union), editor Ron Smith critiques my Counter•Intel column from July 12.
In that July 12 column, I had argued that the final Office of Professional Accountability report on the controversial George Patterson arrest was not the soft ball whitewash Mayor Nickels intended it to be. Nor, more importantly, was it the whitewash activists perceived it to be.
In fact, I maintained that OPA director Kathryn Olson’s report was damning, and that it added credibility to activist demands that the Mayor get tough on the Chief.
I wished police accountability activists had seized Olson’s report (she adamantly yanked the OPA’s previous finding that exonerated the officers against charges they lied) rather than pooh-poohing it. I thought activists could have used the report to make the case that when the OPA director scolds cops like that, the Mayor and the Chief need to take action against those cops.
In his column, Guardian editor Ron Smith describes police accountability activists as “Feit and his ilk” and calls my column “emotional knee jerking” and “fringe element” and suggests I’m preaching to the “sheeple” of Seattle. (The SPD sees critical community members as “sheeple?” WTF?)
For starters, Smith misses that fact that my interpretation was out of sync with the “sheeple.” Indeed, accountability activists maintained that Olson’s report was a white wash. I was arguing that Olson’s report was helpful.
And that’s really the part, I think, that gets Smith’s goat. He liked the report. I liked the report. He like’s it because he thinks it exonerates the SPD. I like it—read it—because it yanks an “exonerated” finding on the most serious charge (that the officers lied about the arrest … which seems to unravel everything about their credibility) and lowers the finding down to “not sustained.” “Not sustained” is the 4th worst finding an officer can get out of the 5 possible findings. “Exonerated” is the best finding. So, that’s like going from an A to a D.
Smith’s argument is that a “not sustained” finding isn’t worthy of serious punishment because “not sustained” means the citizen allegation wasn’t proved or disproved. That’s hardly a big deal, Smith argues, and suggests that if a charge against a citizen was neither proved nor disproved they shouldn’t be punished either.
I can’t get The Guardian online, so here’s a transcript from Smith’s “Editor’s Notes:
Josh Feit, columnist for The Stranger has decided that five of the possible findings in an OPA investigation; sustained, not sustained, exonerated, unfounded and supervisory intervention must be given a letter grade. In doing so, Feit has dubbed exonerated an A, not sustained a D and sustained an F (Counter Intel, The Stranger July 12, 2007). Feit thinks that anyone who gets a “D” from the OPA should get “serious discipline.” So keeping with the spirit of Feit’s reasoning, when the allegation of misconduct cannot be proved nor disproved by a preponderance of the evidence, he wants serious discipline leveled. Well how about this, whenever the cops cannot prove or disprove someone committed a civil infraction (same level of proof), we write a ticket anyway and impound their hybrid? Can you imagine the outcry from Feit and his ilk if a law enforcement officer pronounced a Seattleite guilty at the time of arrest, and called for their imprisonment? This logic furthers my view that the “sheeple” of Seattle live with their heads imbedded in some dark place, only to rely only emotional knee jerking to form critical opinions. Just passing on a little intel so that you are aware of how the fringe element wants to limit your due process rights!
Cute. And it certainly has me reconsidering the stridency of my position.
But I cannot shake the feeling that Smith is talking apples to oranges.
Citizens are innocent until proven guilty. However, it’s not the same for employees. If a barista cannot disprove allegations that they’re dipping into the till, it’s likely they’re gonna be in deep shit.
Likewise in my job: If I publish something as a statement of fact and someone challenges it and I can’t prove its veracity, I could get my ass sued (successfully) for libel.
And when the employee is a public servant—a public servant like a cop who has the delicate and serious job of carrying a gun and policing the public—the onus is on them to earn credibility. If an officer cannot disprove charges from a citizen that he or she was lying, there need to be repercussions to restore public trust.
I maintain that in the limited context of five potential findings, where “not sustained” is the second to worst possible finding, and where the OPA director lowers the original finding from the best possible finding for the officer (“exonerated”) to “at least,” in her words, the second worst possible finding (meaning at least a D if not an F) there should be consequences.
Again, Smith’s point is noteworthy and makes me pause. But given the context and politics here, I think Olson was sending a strong message by moving the finding downward from an A to at least a D.