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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

We’d Love to Stop Writing This Story.

posted by on December 12 at 17:22 PM

Jonah Spangenthal-Lee has a story in today’s paper about alleged police misconduct against young African American men in North Seattle.

I’d like to say it’s an alarming story, but unfortunately, you’ve heard the basics before: Cop sees black man; black man gets “uppity;” cops beat the shit out of black man; black man turns out not to have committed a crime. (In this week’s installment, cops chase black man into his house and taser him).

Again, I’d like to say it’s an alarming story, but Jonah has already filed several similar stories this year.

Here. Here. Here. Here. And here.

Mike Carter at The Seattle Times has also written stories like this. Here. Here. And here.

Indeed, when it comes to police accountability, it’s been a bummer year.

But the public outcry and resulting attention that the issue got last June quickly fell away after Mayor Nickels announced he supported the chief and was putting together a panel to look at the problem.

(Coincidentally, the next time the cops showed up in the news was in September after they raided clubs and shocked city council members by possibly, and sloppily, violating the civil rights of those arrested.)

It is inexcusable that there isn’t more urgency in this city, on the council, in the press, in the public, to get to the bottom of the problem with police misconduct.

Personally, I don’t think it’s about forcing Chief Gil Kerlikowske to resign. I think it’s about finding a real way to hold officers accountable. Certainly, an aspect of holding officers accountable is by holding a hammer over the cheif, but firing Kerlikowske won’t accomplish long term accountability.

There will be two new city council members in January—Tim Burgess (a former cop) and Bruce Harrell (an attorney who says he’s about public accountability). I interviewed both men during our endorsement process and came away discouraged with how both men fielded the police accountability question. Burgess was certainly more engaged in the issue and promised to tackle it, but he was reluctant to get behind legislation that would strengthen council oversight on the chief. Harrell was vague on policy and seemed like a blue ribbon panel type guy.

This issue is a big deal. : ) And if I may step away from the trendy Seattle liberal point of view (which, apologizing for raising its voice, goes out of its way to say police are good people and this is just a few bad apples), I’m starting to think it’s not just about “bad apples.”

Evidence is mounting that there is a problem with the system and the culture that apparently allows police to get away with off-the-charts behavior (again, read Jonah’s story). As a result, more and more officers are getting caught—or at least sued.

Cops work hard and have uniquely demanding jobs. So, I understand why they get their backs up when they are criticized.

But it’s time to stop with the “few bad apples” rap. That point of view pretends their isn’t a larger problem. Problem: We have a system that doesn’t allow the public—or our representatives on the council—to play a role in holding public servants accountable. That set up doesn’t simply empower and protect bad apples, it also creates a culture at large that can breed delinquent behavior.

Anyone heard from Nickels panel lately?

RSS icon Comments


What Packratt said. All of it.

Posted by Greg | December 12, 2007 5:31 PM

"The issue is paramount."

Wow. Is the P-I editorial page ghosting your column, or is turgid writing the new "it?"

Posted by radar rasterizer | December 12, 2007 6:08 PM

@1, thank you.

@ Josh,

I too, would be soooo happy to never have to put another entry in my blog: about the SPD or KCCF. I too think it's a systemic problem and will never be fixed so long as the city officials are afraid to stand up against the SPOG, who has been wielding a good deal of political might lately.

The Mayor's panel was due to deliver it's final report in November... a little blurb in one of their meetings mentioned an altered delivery date of "sometime early next year."

Sadly, this will continue no matter how many of us show up to OPA/OPARB meetings. But we still have to try.

Posted by Packratt | December 12, 2007 6:31 PM

Jesus Christ, not every thing is black and white. Try getting both sides of the story for a change.

Posted by Justy | December 12, 2007 6:38 PM

Justy, there comes a time when the sheer number of reports and stories compels even the most skeptical to honestly consider that there might be a problem.

How many more stories do you think it will take for you? Because there will be more, and they will become more frequent the longer the problem is ignored and the longer misconduct is considered permissible.

...and as I, an ex-skeptic, now know all too well; even innocent people can be harmed by police misconduct.

Posted by Packratt | December 12, 2007 6:46 PM


BTW, the press release with the final report date change is here:

Posted by Packratt | December 12, 2007 9:24 PM

Josh, is Nickels' panel much different than a blue ribbon panel?

Is there a city that has a workable means for ensuring police accountability? Because the mayor's panel doesn't seem to be working so well.

Posted by Gidge | December 12, 2007 11:10 PM

Isn't it clear that the only solution is to solely hire black cops?

Posted by Gitai | December 13, 2007 10:23 AM

this is both a race issue, and it isn't.

cops are acting inappropriately. they do this to people they believe are guilty, whether they are white or black or anything else.

the race issue comes into play because they tend to believe quite a few black people are guilty before having proof.

Posted by infrequent | December 13, 2007 11:31 AM

firing the chief might send a message, but it will not be what solves this problem.

here are two big changes that will help:

requiring the chief to explain to the board (which should not be the city counsel) the rationale when his decision deviates from theirs. i wouldn't even say this information has to be made public in every case. the board could then review it, and agree or disagree.

don't allow cases to expire. if the time allotted to review or disciple is going to expire, a decision should be made then. if anything, the default should be to follow the review board's decision -- which would force the chief to act.

Posted by infrequent | December 13, 2007 11:38 AM

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