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Friday, February 4, 2011

Police Accountability Forum: Panelists Call for More Transparency; Crowd Calls for Diaz's Head on a Pike

Posted by on Fri, Feb 4, 2011 at 6:15 AM

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  • Curtsies to Kelly O
Last night's Stranger-sponsored forum on police accountability was a three-ring freak show without the popcorn (and with fewer masturbating clowns). Over 350 people showed up to participate in the two-hour discussion, which, while heroically moderated by Seattle Channel's C.R. Douglas, was mostly controlled by a vitriolic crowd who demanded justice for the death of John T. Williams and other victims of police violence.


“We’re lodging a complaint in multitude against those creeps in blue who beat us!” a man shouted at one point, while two others unfurled a eight-foot banner reading "DIAZ RESIGN FOR FAILURE TO STOP POLICE VIOLENCE" and marched around the room.

Seattle Police Chief John Diaz did not vow to resign. He also wasn't the sharp-spoken man of last week. His responses were mostly boiler-plate SPD talking points: that 98 percent of interactions between officers and civilians don't end with a use of force. That he wants officers to "engage with community" and "build trust" by having them "hand out surveys" in various neighborhoods.

When pressed, Diaz stated that he did not believe SPD has a systemic problem with using extensive force against minorities.

Nevertheless, Diaz spoke briefly of policy changes implemented to correct the non-problem. After the Mexican-piss incident, when profanity and racial language is used against suspects, "people can expect there will be severe discipline up to and including termination," he said.

To which multiple people screamed, "You lie!" and rattled their protest signs at the chief. The tense hysteria in the crowd was strangely offset by a large (and benign) presence of uniformed and plain clothed police officers. A few chewed gum, real casual, as the audience frothed around them. It was a fucking weird scene.

The queen of that scene was Nicole Gaines, president of the Loren Miller Bar Association (the local chapter of the largest national organization of African American attorneys). Gaines spoke with an eloquence and respectful criticism the crowd oftentimes failed to employ.

When Seattle Police Officers Guild president Rich O'Neill trotted out the statistic that 85 percent of SPD's 1,300 officers have never received a complaint lodged against them, Gaines replied, "Your stats may show that use of force incidents aren’t high, but the number of contacts with police officers that young black males have in communities go unreported because they know they won’t be heard. Your stats don’t show that."

Gaines—seated between Diaz and O'Neill—was SPD's harshest critic. "When police officers take the oath to serve and protect, they become professionals expected to act and respond in a manner that is higher than those they interact with," she said after O'Neill suggested that all the violent, publicized incidents over the past year could've been avoided if the suspects had complied with officer orders.

"To ask the public to always take the high road when dealing with officers when it’s the officers job to be professional is absolutely unacceptable," she said.

And in response to the overarching question of the night—"Where do we go from here?"—Gaines asked that complaints against officers, as well as disciplinary action taken against them, be made accessible to the public online. "I just heard today that the council gets that privilege," she said. "Why can’t the public do that?"**

Seattle City Council member Tim Burgess seemingly agreed with the sentiment. "I wish the police department would speak more openly about their problems and when there are mistakes," he said. "I get reports every few weeks, tell me when officers get discipline and explains why. By hearing about internal discipline and how they manage the department that would build confidence with all of us."

Both Diaz and SPD Office of Professional Accountability Auditor Anne Levinson admitted the SPD website needs major work. "We don’t do a good job of explaining to the public what information you have a right to and how you get to it," said Levinson.

Levinson and others also said that officer training at the state academy left officers ill-equipped to patrol Seattle's diverse neighborhoods. "We have serious concerns about the state training academy," said ACLU of Washington Deputy Director Jennifer Shaw. "[New officers] come to the department at a deficit; they shouldn’t have to be retrained when they come from the academy. The idea that a police officer should be a soldier on the streets is not what we, as citizens, are looking for. We’re looking for peace officers. I don't think we're there yet."

Other suggestions from panelists for promoting police accountability included: Body cameras for all officers, implementing a better detection system to "red flag" problem officers before they escalate situations with civilians, and updating the police union contract (which is currently being renegotiated) to include a zero tolerance policy for racial intolerance and excessive use of force.

Mayor Mike McGinn sat quiet through most of the debate. When he did speak, he stressed open dialogue between officers and civilians as a way to build trust. And he acknowledged the impossible challenge of crafting a perfect police force without excusing bad behavior. "It wouldn’t be honest or realistic to say the police department is immune to our broader social issues," he said. "Still, we have to hold [the department] to a higher standard. And we will."

After the debate, people argued with panelists and amongst themselves if the event would actually result in changes or if it was simply "political puff," as James Bible, president of the local NAACP chapter, grandstanded at one point. (Bible was attempting to rally the crowd into walking out with him. It didn't work.)

It's too soon to gauge what changes will be implemented—with or without guidance from the Department of Justice. But if nothing else, last night's debate was a healthy exercise in public accountability for Seattle's habitually meek crowds. And there, at least, in the lancing of pent-up rage, amidst all the gratuitous clown masturbating, it was successful.

**Lisa Herbold, a staff member for city council member Nick Licata, writes: "All that we get is what the public gets: all complaints + disposition online without names… see monthly reports pull down menu [here]." Gaines was advocating for complaints with names listed, along with the OPA-suggested outcomes of the complaints.

 

Comments (37) RSS

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1
The sad truth is that zero tolerance for excessive use of force often results in no use of force. Before the Giuliani administration the NYPD was famous for driving past muggings in progress w/o stopping because cops were afraid of losing their jobs if they did the whole arresting thing. Now the NYPD is famous for their creative use of toilet plungers, but New York is a much safer city.
Posted by Ken Mehlman on February 4, 2011 at 7:29 AM · Report this
2

I don't know what could be more transparent...you walk around like a druggie, carrying a weapon, or punch a cop in the face, and you get cuffed and booked.

Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on February 4, 2011 at 7:43 AM · Report this
michaelp 3
I'm curious if, perhaps, the actual violence against citizens isn't changing, but instead the public is just hearing about it because of the easier access to video - be it from a patrol car, television camera man, or cell phone?

With respect to Ms. Gaines comment that people don't file complaints because they "won't be heard," - I just don't buy it. I'm not saying that her point isn't true, but I don't believe it's an excuse. Without reporting, regardless of where someone thinks it's going to go, then nothing will happen. Anecdotes are great, but data drives a lot of change - being able to point to actual statistics.
Posted by michaelp on February 4, 2011 at 7:45 AM · Report this
4 Comment Pulled (Trolling) Comment Policy
DOUG. 5
OPA board member, Anne Levinson, stated that citizen complaints against officers are available on their website. While that may be true (reports are available here), the officers are never named, even if the charges against them are sustained.

I've dealt with the OPA and they are a fairly toothless organization. The only road to redress against the SPD is via the courts, which can be very expensive.
Posted by DOUG. http://www.dougsvotersguide.com on February 4, 2011 at 7:53 AM · Report this
michaelp 6
@5 - my firm has handled claims like that in the past. Even for excessive force claims with significant damages (one of our clients had her face broken when she was slammed face first into the ground. She wasn't a suspect. She was telling a friend to stop talking who was being arrested), SPOG's chosen attorneys fight tooth and nail. One of the reasons I really like Holmes is his insistence that SPOG no longer get to pick their attorneys for civil matters, which is a good thing for accountability.
Posted by michaelp on February 4, 2011 at 7:57 AM · Report this
7
@4 How many times have you posted those statistics? If The Stranger banned you from posting comments I don't think it was because they disagree w/ your politics. It's because you’re an obnoxious blow-hard.
Posted by Ken Mehlman on February 4, 2011 at 8:14 AM · Report this
null 8
Summary of panel:

Burgess acted like the whole thing was a joke. All of his answers were spineless. I swear he wore a shit eating grin throughout it too.

Levinson looked scared and out of touch with the civilians she was supposed to be protecting from the cops. I think the public should have some input on all this civilian oversight inside of the SPD, because if this person is the best they got, we got problems.

Masterman-Stearns took any opportunity to read off boilerplate stuff from a piece of paper and is a complete idiot if she thinks body cameras are a good idea.

McGinn was like the old parent asking for everyone to just get along. I like the guy but he is boring as hell and as ineffective as it gets as a mayor. Fire some fucking people already.

Diaz is just a lying pig. Fuck him and everything he said. I tuned in expecting the Diaz I read about last week, but I got exactly what I expected: "What's the problem you fucking idiots?" -- the SPD

Nicole Gaines needs to be put in charge of something important and given a lot of power.

O'Neill was another pathetic lying pig. Fuck him and everything he said. He looked like he couldn't wait to get out of there the second someone started yelling at him about 5 words into his first answer. This guy was by far the biggest shit eater of the panel.

and Shaw was really boring and ineffective but sounded smart. She was a good embodiment of the ACLU in general.
Posted by null on February 4, 2011 at 8:44 AM · Report this
seandr 9
The problem isn't the chief, it's the police union. The union effectively runs the show in this town. I don't know how you bring the union on board, but that's the only way to fix this issue.

Seems clear to me that Diaz is our ally hear, but there's not a lot he can do. He doesn't even have the final say in firing officers - if the union fights a termination, the decision ultimately rests with a judge.
Posted by seandr on February 4, 2011 at 8:47 AM · Report this
10
I second null's comment @8 about Nicole Gaines. Her comments were excellent. I'm glad she was there. It's frightening that Rich O'Neill leads the police guild. His contempt for the people the police serve is dangerous to public safety.
Posted by Phil M http://twitter.com/pmocek on February 4, 2011 at 8:51 AM · Report this
11
@8 Why don't you think body cams are a good idea? Dash cams have done alot to curb police abuses and also to protect good cops from false complaints.
Posted by Ken Mehlman on February 4, 2011 at 8:55 AM · Report this
12
Cameras operated by police serve primarily to protect police. As Seattle resident Eric Rachner learned last year, if police don't want you to see their video, they'll lie to you about it having been purged.

If they are to wear body cameras, the cameras should have wide-angle lenses, they should run any time officers are on duty, and it should be extremely difficult to accidentally disable the camera or accidentally lose the images they record. I've yet to hear of such a system.
Posted by Phil M http://twitter.com/pmocek on February 4, 2011 at 9:10 AM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 13
michaelp:
I'm curious if, perhaps, the actual violence against citizens isn't changing, but instead the public is just hearing about it because of the easier access to video - be it from a patrol car, television camera man, or cell phone?


That's how you fight back. I'm sure certain SPD and Burgess et al are totally unhappy with the fact that any police action can be recorded at-will be anyone in a crowd. And in 720p high definition now, on most new phones, and then kicked to YouTube of Facebook before a cop probably even would be aware of the fact they were being recorded.

I dread the day some cop tries to relieve someone of their phone for recording or tries to arrest someone for the same, because that's the day that the SPD has to be totally scrapped on their leadership from the top down and they as a group are not to be trusted any longer.
Posted by Joe Szilagyi http://twitter.com/joeszi on February 4, 2011 at 9:20 AM · Report this
14
@12 You don't think a conveniently deleted body cam video wouldn't be helpful to a criminal defense attorney or the plaintiff in a civil suit?
Posted by Ken Mehlman on February 4, 2011 at 9:25 AM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 15
The problem isn't the chief, it's the police union. The union effectively runs the show in this town. I don't know how you bring the union on board, but that's the only way to fix this issue.


1. You get Tim Burgess the hell out of the way. He should not be any position on the council dealing with the SPD; he's former SPD and an insider.

2. You hardball the SPOG to accept hard civilian oversight via OPA. Diaz loses his magic ability to overrule OPA. Let the full Council overrule OPA in an up-and-down public vote if they want that power. OPA has full disciplinary power over SPD like any sane police force with a vigorous and healthy appeals process that invites public scrutiny at all stages.

3. If they won't accept #2, they don't get a contract. Simple.

4. If the Council won't do #2 and #3, then let's just do a goddamn ballot initiative that mandates the creation of the OPA like this, and that bars the city from entering any police union contract that doesn't include that. Take the decision out of the hands of both SPOG and the Council if none have the balls to the do the right thing.

5. Hope you don't get shit from the SPOG from advocating or pushing such a position.
Posted by Joe Szilagyi http://twitter.com/joeszi on February 4, 2011 at 9:33 AM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 16
@12 you then make it hard law that police videos--station, dash cams, body cams--are at all times evidence with chain of possession rules and logging. Cops dick around with that, it's destruction of evidence and make it criminal charges. If a cop fails to body cam up so many times (cumulative, aggregate, whatever) they get terminated, no appeal. Make them carry a backup unit. If the primary fails, they have to report it ASAP and call it in. If the backup fails, they go back to the station for another. Where there is a will to adjust a problem, there is always a way.
Posted by Joe Szilagyi http://twitter.com/joeszi on February 4, 2011 at 9:36 AM · Report this
null 17
@11 it's as simple as the point that was brought up during the panel: how do you deal with body cams on private property? There are so many privacy issues at so many levels for not that great of a return. Like others have mentioned, videos can be deleted or just break.

Dash cams are a no brainer. How often do you drive a cop car into a living room? Comparing them to body cams is not a fair comparison.
Posted by null on February 4, 2011 at 9:41 AM · Report this
reverend dr dj riz 18
@3 i know of two incidents within the last month that went unreported because the victims thought it would either lead to nothing or reprisal. interestingly enough both victims were white and both incidents happened on the edge of queen anne.
you don't believe it should be an excuse whereas most people believe it's a fine excuse. and every cop beating video bolsters this.
Posted by reverend dr dj riz on February 4, 2011 at 9:59 AM · Report this
michaelp 19
@18 - I suppose my view is simple: if you want change, take risks, otherwise you're part of the problem. Being a fag in high school was no fun, but I know that what I and those who were out with me went through led to the changes implemented that made it safer for future generations.
Posted by michaelp on February 4, 2011 at 10:07 AM · Report this
20
Guys I know who were traffic cops in the mid-'90s when dash cams first became common loved them because they showed that many of the complaints against police officers are simply made up BS. It sounds to me like you ACLU hipsters don't really want transparency in the criminal justice system because then you would have nothing to complain about.
Posted by Ken Mehlman on February 4, 2011 at 10:08 AM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 21
@20 Actually a whole lot of us (ACLU hipster? ha) would love if the policing in Seattle was so dull that we never heard about it again until the good stories come through.
Posted by Joe Szilagyi http://twitter.com/joeszi on February 4, 2011 at 10:23 AM · Report this
22
DIAZ IS DOUCHE IN SPANISH
Posted by masgroovy on February 4, 2011 at 10:25 AM · Report this
Hernandez 23
@20 I would love to not have to complain about police abuses in my own fucking city. I would love that.
Posted by Hernandez http://hernandezlist.blogspot.com on February 4, 2011 at 10:48 AM · Report this
Daddy Love 24
It's not a crime to "walk around like a druggie." I can walk around any way I fucking well please, and call the cops shitheads to their faces, and none of that is against the law.

But what I (white like me) do and what behavior is allowed or punished by our civil armed force when the behaver is black or Latino are two different things.
Posted by Daddy Love on February 4, 2011 at 10:56 AM · Report this
reverend dr dj riz 25
@19.. with all respect to you and what you do.. your view isn't simple , it's simplistic.there are different levels of activism and channels that people take to deal with their trauma. some outwardly vocal and heroic, some less so. some take great risks and others cannot . many many people who have been abused by these powers haven't the background or expertise that many others do, it's one of these reasons why these stats may prove to be so important it's one part of the process. what recourse would john t williams have had if he taken the risks you propose ? sadly ,perhaps he did. while not stepping forward may be problematic, you sound as if you condemn them for not being able to do so.
Posted by reverend dr dj riz on February 4, 2011 at 11:01 AM · Report this
michaelp 26
@25 - I would venture a guess that what Ms. Gaines said is more correct - people don't report because they feel nothing will actually be done. The amount of people who have a legitimate fear of reprisal is likely very small (not who believe they have, but who actually have).

Even still, there are other ways to lodge complaints if one fears reprisals. I would hope that local civil rights organizations keep track of complaints that they receive, and would hope they offer themselves as a resource for people who have a fear that they will be harmed by reporting police misconduct.

In the end, however, you cannot bitch about something without being willing to stand up and do something to change it.

And John T. Williams is a terrible example. By all accounts, he was belligerent and threatening violence (verbally) more often than not. While he, from what I have seen, never posed an actual physical threat, he liked to spout out a lot B.S.

But for folks who are actually harassed, they can and should file complaints. If they are being retaliated against - stopped in their cars for no reason, stopped and questioned for no reason - then they should file more complaints.

While I wholeheartedly believe the Seattle Police Department has a problem with excessive force, I have yet to see or hear anything to indicate they are going after completely innocent people because those people are filing complaints.
Posted by michaelp on February 4, 2011 at 11:21 AM · Report this
michaelp 27
@25 - Of course, as previously noted (I believe by Joe, who is becoming one of my favorite blog commenters), the OPA needs to be given some teeth, and complaints should go directly through OPA.
Posted by michaelp on February 4, 2011 at 11:22 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 28
Until the cops start shooting white businessmen walking downtown with earphones on, we won't have racial parity.

A lot of those business people are drug users.
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on February 4, 2011 at 11:43 AM · Report this
NaFun 29
Of course, none of last night's proceeding did anything to relieve fears that the police can just randomly drive up and shoot someone for no good damn reason, and that the police, as always, rally around their own even when they murder someone in cold blood.
Posted by NaFun http://www.dancesafe.org on February 4, 2011 at 11:56 AM · Report this
reverend dr dj riz 30
@26.. i believe and support much of what you suggest. but i don't believe john t williams to be a 'terrible example' at all. disenfranchised people, paticularly those with behavioral difficulties, on drugs and alcohol, psychologically challenged may be more likely to suffer abuse at the hands of authority, without any recourse to any fair hearing or treatment. they might be lie at some fringe part of our society, but many of us don't appear or perceive ourselves to be all that different from them.
there are many like myself - the only time i've been called a nigger or a fag as a slur were by spd - who will be dubious about reporting police abuses ( or attend public meetings about those abuses ) for a variety of legitimate reasons , even as evidence may prove the contrary. people shouldn't be dismissed ,scoffed at, or villainised because of their bad faith in the current system.
Posted by reverend dr dj riz on February 4, 2011 at 12:05 PM · Report this
31
Thank you Stranger for organizing the forum. While it may have been circus like, but there were plenty of insightful moments amid the distractions that were equally insightful. I hope there will be more.

Personally I think the SPD shouldn't have tried so hard to run on their record of accomplishments and favorable stats. While it's fair to argue that there are good cops who do good things, It's really insensitive to people who've been victimized by a police action. And not really the point. Data like that is insightful, but it doesn't really help with healing.

Also, it wasn't the best venue to tell the citizens of Seattle. 'When we say Jump, you say how high. and no one will get hurt.' Choosing that particular setting to advance that point of view speaks to an insensitivity that explains why people are frustrated.

It was also odd to watch the panel talk about the insensitivity of police using slurs, while hearing demonstrators in the lobby chant "Pig.".. Just say'n...

I hope the next forum leans more towards moving forward, which is more of an unknown, and less data driven.
Posted by ColCitRes on February 4, 2011 at 12:15 PM · Report this
BigSpinach 32
Levinson brings up a great point. One that, I think, would provide really solid results: reform the training. Cameras (in cars and on body) are an amazing technology that has helped to convict and exonerate both police and civilian alike. But they help the most for analyzing incidents after they happen. To prevent these incidents in the first place would be ideal.

The renegotiated contract could have a clause added to it that requires X weeks of uban-policing training (above and beyond what they get at the academy) before they even start ride-alongs. I'd assume that there are many requirements in the contract that must be fulfilled in order to be sworn in as an SPD officer. Add that one. Yes/no/maybe so?

I'd also love to see more officers without a firearm, but that'll never happen in the US. :(
Posted by BigSpinach on February 4, 2011 at 12:23 PM · Report this
33
Yup, I was there, and Nicole Gaines was the most sensible voice I heard. On the other hand, Richard O'Neill, the head of the police union, is living in a different reality -- maybe what we saw was just a sweaty hologram?

The way forward is clear -- meaningful civilian oversight of SPD and zero tolerance for excessive force and hate speech from cops. For that to happen, Seattleites have to show they care about this stuff, so our elected representatives feel empowered to grow some gonads.

Not many gonads in evidence last night, at least among the panelists.

I did love the moment when one of the Native American woodcarvers got to confront Diaz and McGinn and say words to the effect of, Okay, I'm an Indian, I'm a woodcarver, so if I carry my legal knife around downtown, do I get shot dead in 4 seconds or not?

The response from our civic leaders was not as clear as I would have liked. I *think* they said that people can't be summarily executed for walking on the sidewalk in Seattle, but I don't remember any quotable statements to that effect. Anybody else remember?
Posted by zentriloquist on February 4, 2011 at 2:03 PM · Report this
hecetu 34
Williams never had a real chance to comply as O'Neill suggests a good citizen should. At the inquest, the witness closest to Williams and Birk at the time of the shooting stated that she heard Birk yelling but that shouting on downtown streets is not uncommon and therefore she ignored it and kept walking. The witness testified "If I had heard STOP POLICE I would definitely have stopped and turned around." Birk simply never identified himself as an officer of the law. Add to that the fact that Williams was deaf in one ear and hard of hearing in the other (which, interestingly enough, the inquest jury was never allowed to hear) - and it's hard for a rational person to understand O'Neill's contention that Birk's victim was to blame for not complying.
Posted by hecetu on February 4, 2011 at 6:50 PM · Report this
35
If it's reasonable for a police officer to shoot someone dead from 20 feet because he didn't drop his little knife after an unidentified person behind him said, "Drop the knife," then it should be reasonable for me to do so. Were I to do so so, would I be rewarded with paid vacation like Birk was?
Posted by Phil M http://twitter.com/pmocek on February 4, 2011 at 8:04 PM · Report this
36
@34 the autopsy showed that Williams did not, in fact, have any hearing impairment. Reports from his acquaintances that he was hard of hearing were most likely a misunderstanding, stemming from his untreated mental illness and alcohol use, which caused him to be generally unaware of his surroundings.

Williams had just walked passed Birk's idling patrol car - it should have been pretty obvious he was an officer. That doesn't exonerate Birk, though. He was irrationally quick on the trigger, and the jury at the inquest said as much. What happens to Birk now, however, will show the true colors of OPA.

But this accountability push is NOT really about Williams and Birk. It's about police violence in the gang unit; about officers caught on convenience store security cameras tackling and beating surrendering suspects. About officers having to be physically pulled off of the person they're beating - and then having the incident go unreported by all the other officers present. It's about the STOP SNITCHIN' culture inside SPD that protects the worst officers.

The Williams shooting is just what got the upper class interested.
Posted by Lack Thereof on February 5, 2011 at 3:47 AM · Report this
dirac 37
@2, how simple. OK, doesn't he have a right to wield a weapon in public? I thought that was your wet dreamy fantasy--carrying AKs to a protest rally against Manchurian Candidate Obama.
Posted by dirac on February 7, 2011 at 6:54 AM · Report this

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