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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Chief Diaz Takes More Active Leadership Role at Local Crime Meeting

Posted by on Thu, Jan 27, 2011 at 8:49 PM

The East Precinct Crime Prevention Coalition had an unusual guest speaker tonight—Seattle Police Chief John Diaz—who attended the monthly meeting to have an honest dialogue with residents about many of the violent and incendiary incidents that have plagued SPD under his short span as Chief, which have simultaneously eroded public trust in the department and prompted a review of SPD policies and practices from the Department of Justice.

A public appearance from Diaz is rare—he's been known (and criticized) for a more behind-the-scenes leadership approach. But then again, under his guidance SPD has weathered this swift deterioration of public trust. Diaz finally seems to be acknowledging that a new type of leadership is called for—and he stepped into the role with ease. After a 10-minute speech that hit upon the usual talking points, i.e. policing through fighting crime, reducing fear of crime in neighborhoods, and building community, it was time for audience questions. The questions had two main focal points: SPD's discipline of Officer Ian Birk and Diaz's response to radical, police-authored articles (published in a police guild newspaper, The Guardian) condemning the city's Race and Social Justice Initiative and the city's "socialist" agenda in general.

Here's how Diaz responded to criticisms that the The Guardian articles made SPD look really, really bad: "You’re absolutely right, it is bad. It’s bad for this entire organization, for the community. It’s a stupid thing to do. I’m taking as strong a stance as I can on this issue... It doesn’t do the union any good or the department any good. You can’t hide and just say, ‘well this is my union paper.’ It’s there for anyone to take a look at. It reflects badly… it degrades trust in our police department."

That said: "The issues [Officer Steve Pomper] discussed he did on his own time in his union paper," explained Diaz. "The SPD stance is—the vast majority of officers—we firmly and wholly support that program. It’s critical to how we run our department and our city. What I demand from our employees—and I’ll hold them to it—I base my decisions on how they handle themselves at work. It’s been frustrating for me, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about one individual in our department who has a different opinion... We’re shaping a picture based on the outlier. I protect people’s first amendment rights, if it steps over the line and becomes a behavior issue it’s mine to deal with."

Diaz did well without a microphone in front of his face. He was relaxed, he was audible, he was funny. He was reassuring. Here's what he said when questioned about the Department of Justice's review of SPD: "I need you to hear it from me—I welcome [the DOJ]," said Diaz. "There are specific cases I want them to look at—issues of training. Look at our training. If they see approaches we can do better, I welcome that. I welcome a review of what we’re doing."

Diaz was also repeatedly questioned about Officer Birk's shooting of John T. Williams. People wanted to know why Birk still held a job within SPD: "We have a process. What I can say is there’s been an internal review, it’ll be out for everybody to see, you’re going to get to see the decisions made by a variety of people. You need to hold me accountable for what those decisions are."

Then he explained the steps SPD will take to discipline Officer Ian Birk: "In two to three weeks, I expect to hear from [the King County] prosecutor. I’ll be making a decision based on what his decision is and what came out of the firearms review board. I expect that decision to be made in the next month or so."

Diaz also repeatedly touched on themes of responsibility and accountability, acknowledging that citizens needed to be able to "give feedback and know that officers are actually listening to it. If we do that, we can build community." He added, "sometimes we make huge mistakes. Those are the ones you have to hold me accountable for. To see how those things are addressed."

This was damage control done right (albeit a little late in the game). After answering questions for an hour, Diaz highlighted some cool projects SPD is working on that residents will respond well to. The department is launching another Drug Market Initiative in the city and is working to improve how residents receive accurate, relevant crime information by developing communication apps that would disseminate crime info to relevant neighborhoods. For example, Diaz mentioned the suspect recently caught in connection with several assaults in Lincoln Park. "Wouldn’t it have been great if we put something out that same day, saying this what occurred, here’s a way to keep other people safe?" Diaz asked. "We need to be more systematic about putting that info out there every single day."

Diaz's sudden attendance at local crime prevention meetings, along with other public commitments—like to attend the Stranger-sponsored Police Accountability Forum on February 3—show that he's finally willing to step out in public and address criticisms raised against his department head on. It's a very good step.


Comments (21) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
thanks for covering this, cienna. i wanted to go.
Posted by dave98112 on January 27, 2011 at 9:15 PM · Report this
TVDinner 2
Jesus, Cienna, did he give you a rim job?
Posted by TVDinner http:// on January 27, 2011 at 9:48 PM · Report this
Westlake, son! 3
"You need to hold me accountable"... okay except we didn't vote for you. We can't vote you out of office. Nor Ian Birk, nor any of you goons. And the city can't just fire you because of the ridiculous unions and contracts you've formed.

Sigh. But it's the right sentiment, I suppose.
Posted by Westlake, son! on January 27, 2011 at 9:53 PM · Report this
I think Steve Pomper's just trolling for an agent. Seriously.
Posted by jt on January 27, 2011 at 10:06 PM · Report this
Writing a nasty article in a union paper that makes public fun of what the Police Department supposedly stands for is "behavior" on the part of a cop.
Posted by sarah68 on January 27, 2011 at 10:13 PM · Report this
The police have this strange double-image. We hear about or see bad treatment (especially of minorities) and power-abusing jerks and scary over-use of force, but there are also a lot of really helpful police. When my car was broken into I couldn't believe how nice and fast and helpful an officer was. Even when I've gotten a speeding ticket the officer wasn't a dick about it. So I have these alternating feelings of outrage and appreciation.
Posted by BenY on January 27, 2011 at 11:16 PM · Report this
Some Old Nobodaddy Logged In 7
"This was damage control done right (albeit a little late in the game)."

It may be late for you, but a political figure (which is what the COP is) first takes care of things on the inside, they don't go to the public w/ their immediate thoughts and ideas. The public only sees the results of the negotiations. And I've no doubt there were serious negotiations on all fronts: the mayor's office, the guild, the council, etc.
Posted by Some Old Nobodaddy Logged In on January 27, 2011 at 11:57 PM · Report this
Cynic Romantic 8
You probably meant "unusual" in the first sentence.
And while I'm always happy to hope for community sensitive policing, the frequency of problems ()and apparent lack of accountability arising from police actions in your area makes it look endemic in the system.
Anyway, keep up the good work, it may well land you a job with a real newspaper. :)
Posted by Cynic Romantic on January 28, 2011 at 12:54 AM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 9
@6 that's because 99% of SPD like any group of people are actually really nice and normal. There are what, 1400 SPD? Every cop I've ever dealt with on anything in my entire life anywhere--except for one--have been absolutely pleasant to talk with, chat with, and in the rare cases I needed help, helpful. That's speaking as someone never arrested or at risk of arrest (yet!). I had one asshole once when I was about 17-18 that was just either having the worst day ever or was just a total over the top raging douchebag to one of my friends, for no valid reason.

That soured me on cops for several years, but there's a difference between a butcher, a plumber, or a cop being like that: the cop is a public service, that we allow to carry a gun, that we expect to be there for us. People have shitty days--that's forgivable, always. Shit happens. But it still sours things, and if it becomes a pattern, like we have here? That wall of trust falls apart. It sucks, but it's not on us as residents to fix. Its on them to fix. That probably what all or most of our experiences are, but as police have an incredibly deep public image and persona firmly tied into their ability to do their job, there you go.

Get rid of the handful of bad apples--seriously, the handful of them, thats it--and things will be fine. Every workforce has to clean out the bottom 0.005% of so on a regular basis.
Posted by Joe Szilagyi on January 28, 2011 at 5:15 AM · Report this
Since the 70s, unions have been in decline until now their remaining stronghold is the public sector. Liberals tend to be supportive of public sector unions. Conservatives tend to demonize them. So the police guild sees liberals as "the enemy". Guess that's one public sector union we wouldn't mind seeing busted.
Posted by Don't you think he looks tired? on January 28, 2011 at 7:52 AM · Report this
Geraldo Riviera 11
"He was relaxed, he was audible, he was funny."

barf. The Times is reporting that he/they withheld documents from a Williams related FOI request. This is not a "very good step."
Posted by Geraldo Riviera on January 28, 2011 at 8:04 AM · Report this
When are we going to read an article in the police union newsletter from one of those good cops denouncing Off. Pomper and what he stands for?
Posted by Citizen R on January 28, 2011 at 8:33 AM · Report this
Hernandez 13
@10 Who said anything about "busting" the police union? Oh, that's right, just you. This liberal is happy to see the men and women who risk so much organized to obtain the best possible working conditions and benefits. I just don't happen to think that people like Pomper and Birk belong among them.
Posted by Hernandez on January 28, 2011 at 9:22 AM · Report this
Part of the problem, as I see it, with the handling of Ian Birk is that by saying "wait for the inquest, wait for the prosecutor", Chief Diaz looks like he's avoiding taking responsibility for personnel decisions in his department. Tying the appraisal of an officer's performance and a decision on whether to fire him (a personnel decision) to a complex legal process (inquest and potential prosecution) suggests that no officer will ever be fired unless they can be shown to break the law. That would set the bar for policing too low - we expect more from our police department than that they simply don't break the law. Employees in Seattle businesses know that they can be fired instantly for all kinds of reasons or no reason at all, and managers in Seattle businesses know that they have a responsibility to their customers and to their other employees to take swift action to remove employees that aren't suitable for the job. Yet here we are, months after the shooting, and Birk is still employed and we still don't know what Diaz thinks about his behavior. Maybe we will find out in a month, maybe we won't, but this whole process hardly inspires confidence. To the extent that Diaz, the mayor, and others are unable to take decisive action because of SPD employment contracts, they should examine the contracts and change them as necessary.
Posted by anonny on January 28, 2011 at 10:38 AM · Report this
Cienna Madrid 15
@11, the point was to show that Diaz is taking steps to change his leadership style--which he's been criticized about since before his appointment as police chief. That doesn't mean the department is fixed or suddenly above approach and I don't think that this post reflects either of those sentiments.
Posted by Cienna Madrid on January 28, 2011 at 10:56 AM · Report this

let me guess.... you're white?

That's what racism is, idiot white liberals. The cops treat white people different than they do people of color. So, your EXPERIENCE with the pigs is therefore going to be different than the experience of people of color. that way, when a person of color alleges brutality, you good old white liberals can rush to the pigs defense and say "I don't believe that! They never racially profiled ME!"
Posted by Why are white liberals so fucking stupid? on January 28, 2011 at 11:19 AM · Report this
Cienna Madrid is doing propaganda work for the pigs by not publishing what they have to say about the people of Seattle.

Four seconds to his death

Leela Yellesetty and Chris Mobley report on the findings of an inquest into the Seattle police shooting death of Native American woodcarver John T. Williams.

January 27, 2011

FOUR-POINT-six seconds. That was the amount of time John T. Williams had to respond to Seattle police officer Ian Birk's order to put down his legal three-inch carving knife before Birk unloaded five lethal rounds into his back on August 30.

"Four seconds to death" read the headbands of protesters during the recent inquest into his death.

An eight-member jury issued its findings last week after five days of testimony at the King County Courthouse. Their task was to establish the facts surrounding the incident, not to make a determination of Birk's guilt. It is now up to the discretion of King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg to press criminal and/or civil charges against Birk.

Each juror was asked to answer "yes," "no" or "unknown" to a series of 19 questions. They did not have to agree. The full list of questions and responses can be read online [1].

Despite the mainstream press' description of the results as "split" or "mixed," they actually are quite damning to the police version of events.

For instance, in response to the question. "Did John T. Williams have sufficient time to put the knife down after Officer Birk's order?" only one juror answered "yes," four "no" and three "unknown." Four jurors believed that Birk thought Williams posed an imminent threat at the time, but only one actually thought he did pose a threat. Half the jurors believed Williams' knife was closed when Birk shot him, and half were unsure.

These results come months after an independent investigation by the Seattle Police Firearms Review Board, which ruled the shooting "unjustified."

John's older brother Rick Williams said he was encouraged by the inquest results, and hoped that they would lead to Birk's prosecution. "Of course I want to see him prosecuted. Going to play God with my family? It's us who are going to have to live with it forever. My daughters, my grandchildren. The process? Four point something seconds to make a decision...what are you, God?"

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

WILLIAMS WAS a Native American woodcarver with the Ditidaht Tribe, part of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations in British Columbia. On the afternoon of August 30, Williams crossed a busy intersection, in front of Ian Birk's patrol car.

Captured on Birk's dashboard mounted video camera, Williams is seen crossing in front of Birk's car with a wood board on his arm. Birk then leaves his patrol car to confront Williams as both leave the field of vision of the camera. Birk issues three quick commands to Williams to drop his knife and then opens fire.

Questions surfaced in the days and weeks following the shooting over the justification for Birk's actions.

First, Williams' folding knife, despite early police reports, was found in a closed position, as evidenced in crime scene photos. Second, an autopsy revealed that Williams was not fully facing the officer when he was shot, suggesting that Williams was shot as he was turning in response to Birk's commands. Third, friends have testified that Williams was partially deaf, and may not have been able to even hear Birk's commands. And, lastly, the time between when Birk ordered Williams to drop the knife and when the first shots were fired didn't allow much time for Williams to comply with Birk's orders.

The inquest process further revealed inconsistencies between Birk's account of the events, eyewitness testimony and forensic evidence.

Why did Birk stop Williams in the first place? Birk testified during the inquest that he was concerned Williams appeared inebriated and was brandishing a folding knife as he walked in front of his patrol car. But a knife is not clearly visible in video footage taken from Birk's patrol car. Even under review of video experts, it is unclear whether the knife would have been clearly visible from Birk's vantage point.

Birk also has given conflicting accounts for his motivation for shooting Williams. At the inquest, Birk stated that when confronting Williams, Williams turned and that his body language indicated that he was going to attack. Never before had Birk given this explanation--not to responding officers at the scene, and not weeks later to an investigating police detective. Yet this perception of body language is the main justification of shooting Williams, according to his testimony.

Numerous eyewitnesses, however, testified that Williams wasn't acting in a threatening manner at all. Birk's own action of moving towards Williams gives lie to the notion that Birk felt threatened by him.

Birk never identified himself as a police officer or warned Williams that he would shoot if he didn't drop the knife.

When their initial story that Williams' knife was open was disproved, police relied on the argument that the knife's locking mechanism was faulty, and that the knife must have snapped shut when it hit the ground. Whether or not this is a real possibility remains unknown.

According to the testimony of John's brother, Rick Williams, John would always close his knife when approached by someone--as their father taught him to do. Further expert testimony, while inconclusive over the state of the blade when Williams was shot, did indicate that the lock would work if the blade was fully engaged.

Shockingly, a police witness also maintained that even if the knife was closed, Birk was justified in shooting Williams, according to department policy. According to testimony by officer Williams Collins, a closed knife poses just as big a threat as an open knife. According to Collins:

We receive a lot of training on dealing with people with edged weapons and basically the risk involved, we have what's called a "21-foot rule." If someone is 21 feet away with a knife that's closed or a knife that's open, the vast majority of the time they'll be able to close the distance and stab you before you can recognize the threat, recognize the attack, accept it, and decide on a course of action.

This suggests that even if Birk followed department policies in dealing with perceived threats, the actual policies should receive further review and scrutiny. The "21-foot rule" seems to be an obvious candidate.

As to why Birk pulled his gun out as soon as he confronted Williams, "It probably happens more often than some people realize, it's part of our training regimen," stated Collins. "If you have the opportunity to have your gun out, it's important that you do so...Whoever's taking the action will always have advantage on whoever's reacting. [In training] we went through exercise after exercise we were shown, action beats reaction."

Another issue raised by activists is Birk's membership in the Army National Guard. Although he was never deployed, he did receive combat training.

"They have to dehumanize us in order to attack and hurt people," said Sweetwater Nannauck of the parallels between police and military training in an interview. "This is one of the questions raised by Mothers for Police Accountability about new officers coming back from the military and fighting in urban war zones and bringing that back onto our city streets. That's bringing in a culture of hate, a culture of dehumanization."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

NEW EVIDENCE has surfaced that such a culture exists among members of the Seattle Police Department as well. A recent leak of the Seattle police officers' guild newsletter, the Guardian [2], has revealed the real attitudes Seattle police have toward the public and people of color.

Numerous editorials written by Officer Steven Pomper, an 18-year veteran of the Seattle Police Department, show contempt of city-sponsored racial sensitivity training. "The city, using its Race and Social Justice Initiative, continues its assault on traditional and constitutional American values such as self-reliance, equal justice, and individual liberty," he wrote, continuing, "But more to our concern, the city is inflicting its socialist policies directly on the Seattle Police Department."

As part of the city's "Race and Social Justice Initiative," nearly 1,800 officers have participated in the "Perspectives in Profiling" workshop, in which officers are shown video clips of potentially suspicious behavior and asked to discuss how they would handle the situations.

Pomper wrote of the workshop, "The 'Perspectives in Profiling' class (or as one officer put it, one of our 'de-policing classes') served as a good way to learn what the enemy is up to. (Yes, enemy. A liberal after my money in taxes may be my opponent, but a socialist attacking the Constitution and my liberty is my enemy.)"

Pomper says officers should "take the city's use of social justice terminology and implementation of policy seriously and oppose it in every legal way possible."

A November article by Officer Clayton Powell, discusses his "communication skills" in dealing with the public. Referring to "mother f**ker," which, he argues, is a "commonly used street term showing endearment to something or someone," he elaborates on other terms that he finds are appropriate in communicating with the public such as "bitch" and "n***a." (Asterisks are his.)

"If I can communicate with someone in their primary makes me a more effective officer," writes Powell. "Learn to accept and appreciate the direct method of in-your-face communication."

But if you think this may be just a "few bad apples," we can turn to the writings of Police Guild President Rich O'Neill. In one article, he expresses disdain for police oversight. Referring to the "media frenzy" over the shooting of Williams, he writes, "It is extremely frustrating when individuals with zero police training feel qualified to voice their opinions on police actions."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

THESE LEAKED articles are just the latest from a police force that has become an ongoing public relations fiasco for the city of Seattle. Over the past year, several incidents of police brutality have been caught on video, garnering national media attention.

In April, an officer was filmed stomping on a Mexican American man [3] and telling him that he was going to "beat the fucking Mexican piss out of you, homey. You feel me?" while other officers watched.

In June, video was released of a Seattle police officer punching a 17-year-old African American woman [4] in the face during a stop for jaywalking. In November, footage from a convenience store was released showing an undercover officer kicking a teenager in the leg, chest and face [5] during a round-up of suspects.

Citing these and other incidents, in December the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and 34 community groups issued a letter to the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) requesting it open a "pattern or practice investigation" into multiple incidents of what the ACLU calls excessive force by the Seattle Police Department, particularly force used against persons of color.

As if to underscore the need for such an investigation, earlier this month, a radio reporter witnessed police punching a man while he was handcuffed on the ground [6].

In this context, the Williams shooting has become a rallying point for a broader movement for police accountability in the city. Holding Birk accountable for his actions would make a major dent in the SPD's attitude that officers can get away with murder and be a huge victory for communities who have been brutalized for years.

"Every day you have people beat on the street, and it's not caught on videotape," said Juan Bocanegra of El Comité Pro-Reforma Migratoria Y Justicia Social at a rally for Williams on the first day of the inquest. "I've been in Seattle for 42 years and have never seen the conviction of one police officer. That is a tragedy because people of color are paying the price for their behavior."

Activists face an uphill battle in winning justice for John T. Williams. If Birk goes to trial, it is believed that it will be only the second time that an officer has been charged with murder in state history.

An additional hurdle is Washington state law. If an officer claims that he or she used deadly force in self-defense, it is difficult for prosecutors to obtain a conviction unless it can be proved that the officer acted with malice and a lack of good faith. According to legal experts, police are allowed to panic and make mistakes, even if it results in a death, without being held criminally liable.

Despite these obstacles, there is reason to be hopeful. Last year's trial of Officer Johannes Mehserle for the murder of Oscar Grant in an Oakland, Calif., BART station came after mass public outcry over the shooting. While Mehserle ultimately got off on a lesser charge of manslaughter, it was grassroots activism and mobilization that made the trial happen in the first place, the first of its kind in California history.

A similar public outcry has been brewing in Seattle since Williams' shooting, although the scale of the response has not yet reached that of the Grant shooting. "This shooting has brought a lot of people together," said Reverend Harriet Walden of Mothers for Police Accountability at a forum on Martin Luther King day, "It has pricked people's consciousness."

The John T. Williams Organizing Committee (JTWOC) was formed just days after the shooting and has pulled together an impressive coalition of community and social justice groups.

"This is our brother, this is our uncle, this is our neighbor, this is our friend," said Sweetwater Nannauck, co-chair of the JTWOC. "He represents so many people. This is homeless people, this is deaf people, this could be any one of us. Really it's time to unite and help one another, unite to lift each other up and help to change things here."

Since organizing a rally on September 16, the JTWOC has focused on a petition [7] and e-mail campaign to ask Satterberg to charge Birk with murder. They mobilized hundreds to come out to hear the inquest testimony (forcing the courthouse to provide an overflow room) and held demonstrations and vigils in the park afterward.

"We became united over this--we need to stay that way," said JTWOC co-chair Jay Hollingsworth. "Our power is in our numbers, in our unity. We need to be prepared to act."

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
What you can do

View the video from Officer Birk's dashboard camera [8] of the shooting of John T. Williams.

Sign the petition [9] urging King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg to press charges against Officer Birk. Also, call Satterberg at 206-296-9000 or e-mail him [10] and request that Birk be held accountable and charged.

Help the Williams family by donating to the John T. Williams Benevolent Fund through the Boeing Employees Credit Union.

For more information and ways to get involved, visit the John T. Williams Organizing Committee Facebook page [11].
Posted by SeattleRedWriter on January 28, 2011 at 11:22 AM · Report this
Cienna Madrid 18
@17, jesus christ--seriously dude? Take a look at our news section. That's all I've been covering for weeks.
Posted by Cienna Madrid on January 28, 2011 at 11:33 AM · Report this
I'm glad you got in. It was a pretty exclusive community meeting. It was held in a small room that could hold only 45 people. The student resource center at Seattle U knew nothing of the meeting and said I wasn't the first to ask where the obscure building was, that doubles as a dormitory. I saw more people get turned away, than I saw in the room. I only got to peek in there after talking my way through two Gaza like check points. Id hate to believe I only got that far because Im a whit male, but not everyone was welcomed to wait for a seat to open up. That place was on lock down, students I saw heading home or passing by were frightened not knowing what was going on with all the police around. I waited almost an hour, (I had a baby sitter lined up and was on a mission to hear it from the mouth). When I finally got in the building,having worked my through a half dozen officers chatting it up. I had to try to listen from outside the door, for there was no room in the inn, then filter what little I could of the good chief through the talk of curls, and hard abs in the hallway. Unfortunately I know little more of what my community wants to know from our chief of police, but I do now know a great deal about the benefits of working out.
Posted by Alxndr on January 29, 2011 at 1:16 AM · Report this
Why is the police force waiting to make a decision based on what the prosecutor says?? That doesn't sound like leadership. It sounds like trying to cover your tracks. It looks suspicious, it looks like trying to get away with as much as possible. It sounds like this police force has a poppy in chief diaz that can see no wrong with his kids. His kids are bullies and some of them might be good. But, please get rid of those that KILL. Please...
Posted by Chief Seattle on January 29, 2011 at 9:23 AM · Report this
@19 The management of the meeting could be a story in it's own right. As you say, there was a huge police presence outside the meeting and the capacity of the room was limited, but I'm curious whether anyone that turned up on time and was willing to put their name down on the list was turned away. I stood outside for five minutes up until they closed the meeting (apparently based on capacity, but it was also right at the time the meeting was due to start) and did not see anyone turned away. I saw a couple of very polite anarchists make it in to the meeting. Had the meeting already started by the time you got there?
Posted by Anonny on January 29, 2011 at 10:55 AM · Report this

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