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Friday, December 16, 2011

DOJ Unleashes Devastating Takedown of the SPD

Posted by on Fri, Dec 16, 2011 at 10:19 AM

Finding that Seattle police officers "engage in a pattern or practice of unnecessary or excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution," that "approximately 20% of [all reported use of force] incidents involved the unnecessary or excessive use of force," that they "escalate situations and use unnecessary or excessive force when arresting individuals for minor offenses," that the internal disciplinary program "does not provide the intended backstop for the failures of the direct supervisory review process," that officers engage in "troubling practices that could have a disproportionate impact on minority communities," and that the federal government will insist on a "court-enforceable agreement that sets forth remedial measures," the US Department of Justice issues this scathing 66-page report on the Seattle Police Department.

There's lots more in the the report (those quotes are just what I yanked out), so I encourage everyone in Seattle to read the entire thing.

Cienna attended the DOJ's press conference and will have more details on Slog shortly.


Comments (40) RSS

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Cato the Younger Younger 1
I expect nothing to change for the SPD in light of this revelation. And I doubt I'm the only one who thinks that.
Posted by Cato the Younger Younger on December 16, 2011 at 10:21 AM · Report this
Baconcat 2
They even get current:

Separately, we are aware of recent incidents involving the use of Oleoresin Capsicum (“OC”) spray to disperse the so-called “Occupy Seattle” protesters on November 2, 2011 and November 15, 2011. Although these incidents concern us, we do not directly address them in this letter because they occurred outside of the timeframe of our review. However, we note that Seattle has previously been criticized for its response to demonstrators, including incidents related to the World Trade Organization meetings in 1999.

Also, the title of Appendix D: "OPA Has Not Provided the Necessary Accountability"
Posted by Baconcat on December 16, 2011 at 10:21 AM · Report this
you mean you can't punch teenage girls in the face???

Posted by Swearengen on December 16, 2011 at 10:24 AM · Report this
RatGirl 4
Link to the report is broken now, guys... Please fix?
Posted by RatGirl on December 16, 2011 at 10:25 AM · Report this
Dominic Holden 5
@4) It should work now.
Posted by Dominic Holden on December 16, 2011 at 10:32 AM · Report this
Baconcat 6
Was that you on the livestream, Dom?

Anyway, I sorta like their answers regarding Occupy: it's an issue of force and deescalation. Durkan made a light connection between their escalation tactics and protester reaction but didn't lock it down to specifically Seattle.
Posted by Baconcat on December 16, 2011 at 10:38 AM · Report this
Blistering counter-attack on DOJ, possibly including SWAT team action at the federal court building, in 3... 2... 1...
Posted by also on December 16, 2011 at 10:45 AM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 8
This is why a civilian ran OPA with full disciplinary power and no veto rights by SPOG (let them appeal in court or via City Council -- not like today's unilateral veto) has to be a requirement for upcoming police contracts (page 5):

Finally, we find that SPD’s Early Intervention System (“EIS”) and its internal affairs department (its Office of Professional Accountability, “OPA”) do not provide the intended backstop for the failures of the direct supervisory review process, for the following reasons:

* OPA disposes of nearly two-thirds of citizens’ complaints by sending them to SPD’s precincts, where the quality of investigations is, according to one OPA supervisor, admittedly “appalling.” (We understand that OPA has suspended the assignment of investigations to the chain of command.)

* OPA’s current classification and findings systems are so complex that they damage OPA’s credibility and undermine public confidence in OPA.

* OPA consistently overuses and misuses the finding “Supervisory Intervention,” which results in neither a true finding nor a remediation of the officer. We find that Supervisory Interventions are often improperly used to dispose of allegations as serious as excessive use of force and discriminatory policing simply to avoid the “stigma” of a formal finding.
Posted by Joe Szilagyi on December 16, 2011 at 10:46 AM · Report this
This is fabulous news for SPD and all of us. 80% righteous is nowhere near where we need our officers to be on use of force. Think of DOJ's work with LAPD - which was far more entrenched and militarized and instransigent than SPD. Having DOJ come down hard on them, embeds and all, finally got LAPD reform actually happening. Nobody thought it could happen, but it is. They're still far from perfect, but the kind of shit they used to pull doesn't tend to happen any more.

Nobody loses with this - everybody wins. Terrific work under Jenny Durkan.

Well, there is somebody who loses as SPD gets reformed: the cop-baiting numbskulls who like to show up at Occupy events and turn them away from nonviolence purely to draw media attention. A force better able to avoid the kind of missteps the hotheads crave might help Occupy turn from taunting police to actually addressing the issues around which it first coalesced.
Posted by gloomy gus on December 16, 2011 at 10:50 AM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 10
Wow. Page 14.

We find that SPD engages in a pattern or practice of using excessive force against individuals who express discontent with, or “talk back to,” police officers. Similarly, SPD’s use of force reports, and interviews with members of the community, reveal multiple incidents in which officers resort to the use of force when verbally confronted by individuals. It is both unconstitutional and unreasonable for officers to use force to prevent the exercise of free speech, even when such speech constitutes a verbal attack on the police. Hartman v. Moore, 547 U.S. 250, 251 (2006) (holding that official reprisal for protected speech offends the Constitution because it threatens to inhibit exercise of a protected right) (internal citations omitted); Winterrowd, 480 F.3d at 1185 (holding that a belligerent attitude and calling officers “cowards” and “thugs” did not justify the use of force).
Posted by Joe Szilagyi on December 16, 2011 at 10:50 AM · Report this
Baconcat 12
@9: Throughout the protests folks have noticed that the problem has primarily been rooted in police escalation, something apparently confirmed by this report. No major conflict happens until the police start pushing with bikes or preemptively pepper spraying people. When the cops do nothing, like the SA march or the Terminal 5 picket, people march, protest for a bit, talk to the media, then they leave. Nobody gets sprayed or arrested.

Obviously DOJ demolition of the police department for use of force, lack of restraint and so on doesn't mesh with your "surely it's all Occupy" narrative. How sad.
Posted by Baconcat on December 16, 2011 at 10:58 AM · Report this
Hardly surprising. And as much as it's good to see the SPD get some small comeuppance, this is true of every police department in America to some degree - you can't create a para-military force and pretend that it is just for "policing" for "public safety". Modern urban police forces are now an extension of the military in a very real sense. There primary purpose now is the suppression of the populace.
Posted by Pol Pot on December 16, 2011 at 11:01 AM · Report this
What a welcome report. I hope some good comes of it.

We could go a long way toward a solution by requiring that all officers be residents of Seattle. I think this would help bring the values and cultures of the police and the citizens of Seattle more into alignment. I would give officers a feeling of common cause with the citizenry. In other words, we should stop hiring rednecks who hate and fear the city, and it's people.

I've heard this idea proposed before, and it was dismissed as "impossible" and "illegal". Why? Anyone really know why this couldn't happen?
Posted by ohthetrees on December 16, 2011 at 11:01 AM · Report this
Matt from Denver 15
Echoing @ 1, whose cynicism is usually rooted in the unreal... This report won't mean shit if nothing concrete happens. I mean, short of a takeover by the DOJ (which I'm sure there's no law to allow, and would probably be unconstitutional if it did), what could force SPD to reform?

And by the way, DOJ, when are you going to give the Denver PD this kind of investigation?
Posted by Matt from Denver on December 16, 2011 at 11:02 AM · Report this
@10: Wait, the police can't beat someone for saying mean things to them? That can't be right. I've lived in Seattle all my life and everyone knows that's how it works.
Posted by also on December 16, 2011 at 11:03 AM · Report this
emor 17
I can't wait to read the unions apoplectic response.
Posted by emor on December 16, 2011 at 11:04 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 18
@9 is right.

Look, the problems aren't when they follow proper police protocol, and stick with proper riot training and proper use of force.

The problems are when they escalate unnecessarily the use of force when it is not required, as it tends to cause people to do things like ... oh, I don't know, throw Rocks and Bottles and Rebar at the police, when otherwise they would protest peacefully.

But, then, I've been in riots on both sides, and know how hard the job of the police is, and what happens when you escalate when you shouldn't.

Or ... we could have cuts in police forces.
Posted by Will in Seattle on December 16, 2011 at 11:08 AM · Report this
Hernandez 19
@14 I don't have any official source material on the matter, but I've asked a few long-time city employees about it, and they told me that it's been official policy for the past few decades that the city will not discriminate in hiring practices based on where applicants live. I do agree that it's a good idea but I don't know if it's a realistic possibility.
Posted by Hernandez on December 16, 2011 at 11:26 AM · Report this
@17 FTW
Posted by sisyphusgal on December 16, 2011 at 11:27 AM · Report this
Posted by Geraldo Riviera on December 16, 2011 at 11:29 AM · Report this
@12, I said our cops get too easily baited into missteps handling protests - that means they're not doing it right, so isn't the "surely it's all Occupy" view you ascribe to me. Though on the other hand @18 saying I'm right means I cannot be, so...
Posted by gloomy gus on December 16, 2011 at 11:29 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 23
No, you are right. Now go drink that eggnog latte you're craving.
Posted by Will in Seattle on December 16, 2011 at 11:35 AM · Report this
Resolution of our findings will require a written, court-enforceable agreement that sets forth remedial measures to be taken within a fixed period of time. (pg. 2)

I think this pretty much says it all. Without a consent decree and a court-appointed special master with the power to invalidate the existing SPOG contract, nothing will change.
Posted by Mr. Happy Sunshine on December 16, 2011 at 11:37 AM · Report this
On December 5, 2011 at 10:18 AM, Joe Szilagyi wrote:

1. The head of SPD should be nominated by the Mayor and approved by the City Council and should not be an officer. This person should answer directly to the Council, who would have sole authority to hire and fire this person on a contract that they have authority to terminate at any time.

2. OPA should be separate from SPD and should be the sole deciding voice in discipline. Appeals made to the City Council. OPA answers to the City Council. SPD would have no veto rights in any way in OPA business or appointments. OPA gets 100% access to all SPD records and documentation.

3. #1 and #2 should be a legal requirement in City Law so that the city can't enter into any police union contract without them. Simple and easy. If the City Council won't do it, the NAACP and local civil rights groups should do a city-level initiative to make such a thing law. If the City Council, Mayor, and SPD won't fix things, then fix things yourselves: get a law passed that the city is barred from entering into any SPD contract without these provisions.

4. The contract runs usually 2 years. Even if the city and SPD enter a new one today and this law passes tomorrow, the next 2014 negotiations would be bound up in it.

5. Once that is all set, everyone get out of the way and let the 99.9% of SPD that are good cops do their work.

How can we make this happen?
Posted by Phil M on December 16, 2011 at 11:38 AM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 26
@25 money, lots and lots and lots of people to run and organize a city initiative that know what they're doing, and a City Council willing to do the right thing.
Posted by Joe Szilagyi on December 16, 2011 at 11:43 AM · Report this
Matt from Denver 27
@ 14, Denver does that - not just police, but ALL city employees have to be Denver residents.

I'm not sure how well that works. Nearly all police live in the most farflung, suburban and conservative corners of the city, far from the center. I'm sure it's better than nothing (I remember that cop shot in the ambush attack two years ago lived in Marysville or some such place), but the cops do their best to live the policy's letter but not spirit.

Anyway, it's been policy for decades, and probably goes back to when people weren't willing to commute an hour or more each way to work - in other words, people wouldn't have to move in from far away. (If they were even required to do so - it might have grandfathered in then-current employees.) It caused a stink anyway, and it could only be worse now that you have people commuting to Seattle routinely from places like Port Orchard, Tumwater, Snoqualmie, etc. And now that tiny Seattle homes cost a fortune, something not true 30+ years ago.

I think if it's legal for Denver to do it, then it's legal for Seattle. But I agree that it would be nearly impossible to implement.
Posted by Matt from Denver on December 16, 2011 at 12:04 PM · Report this
Westlake, son! 28
@17, @20 so SPOG underlined "reasonable officer at the scene," and the DOJ finds that SPD officers aren't actually being "reasonable", they're being constitutional rights violators.

I guess that's the best admission of guilt we're going to get from the SPD?
Posted by Westlake, son! on December 16, 2011 at 12:10 PM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 29
@27 of course it's not impossible to implement. You aren't going to make people move from their existing homes in Shoreline or Burien or Edmonds or Tacoma and their mortgages and communities and families where they've lived to now -- that would be absurd.

What you do is make a requirement that all new hires have to live in the city, and that all elected officials on the next cycle must have their residence in the city. Current city residents must remain city residents to keep their municipal jobs.

The cultural problems will fix themselves over time through attrition and evolution.

You can do some sort of enticement then, as well, to see about getting non-elected employees to move to the city. "Move into Seattle from your out of town residence, stay employed by the city for three years, and your first three years' property and car taxes are reduced by 50%." Once they're in, they're in then.
Posted by Joe Szilagyi on December 16, 2011 at 12:17 PM · Report this
If Denver can do it, so can we. Grandfather current officers in, then require all new hires to live inside the city limits. The far flung parts of the city are a lot better than cops who live (and are culturally) from Enumclaw. As for it not being affordable to live in the city? Fuck them! An officer with 1.5 years on the job gets paid $72K, which is more than enough to have a fine life in the city. I feel like it would transform our police force in a few years. The rednecks, bullies, and racists would be retiring, and we would be replacing them with young Seattle residents, who had a stake on our community, and understood life in a city!
Posted by ohthetrees on December 16, 2011 at 12:25 PM · Report this
@27, Chicago does too (or did, though I think Rahm Emanuel was making noises about changing it). The impetus for Chicago making it law was to fight the middle-class flight from the city of decades past. If we're going to pay you what you're worth, the City said, you have to reside in town so we can enjoy the tax income you'll give back. Here's a link I found awhile back:…

That brings up the very important point that if we value diversity on our police force we must remember that Seattle proper gets (even) whiter all the time; recruiting a diverse force means making sure residents of the increasingly minority suburbs don't get shut out.

Moreover, the analysis I've seen of the supposed impact on "kinder gentler" aspects is that it doesn't really have that effect, that if a workforce is being required to live in a certain geographic area as a condition of employment it creates resentments that simply do not go away. And that courts do make jurisdictions jump through hoops implementing stuff like this in a manner that doesn't violate labor laws for current employees - all of them would be exempt, for example, and the conditions imposed on new hires would have to contain hella loopholes.

Still an interesting idea - but my impression is that it is a gesture whose likely backlash would hinder more than help meaningful SPD reform.
Posted by gloomy gus on December 16, 2011 at 12:27 PM · Report this
merry 32
Wow. This has been a long time coming.

I remain 'guardedly hopeful' that we'll see some real, positive change in the department.
Posted by merry on December 16, 2011 at 12:44 PM · Report this
Matt from Denver 33
@ 29, believing that time and attrition will solve this problem is naive. Also, it assumes that simply living in Seattle will address the concerns @ 14 brings up. Maybe if they have to live in the neighborhoods they patrol, but if they all get homes in Arbor Heights? (You apparently didn't give my "far flung corners" observation any thought.)

@ 31, that was Denver's reasoning, too. It wasn't any vague hope about improving city-citizen relations.
Posted by Matt from Denver on December 16, 2011 at 12:57 PM · Report this
Vince 34
We keep seeing films of their behavior broadcast to the entire nation. Clearly, this department needs to clean up it's act.
Posted by Vince on December 16, 2011 at 1:00 PM · Report this
It is interesting to note that the November pepper spraying of Occupy protesters was outside their timeframe of review. So in other words, SPD KNEW they were subject to an excessive force investigation and STILL used excessive force on demonstrators (IMO). That's beyond appalling.
Posted by raineya on December 16, 2011 at 1:06 PM · Report this
thatsnotright 36
What will DOJ do to foster a change in SPD's culture of violence? Unless there are consequences behavior is unlikely to change.
Posted by thatsnotright on December 16, 2011 at 1:11 PM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 37
@33 I don't know. You have to start somewhere.
Posted by Joe Szilagyi on December 16, 2011 at 1:14 PM · Report this
Matt from Denver 38
@ 37, better be sure that you understand whether that somewhere will lead you where you want to go, particularly when it has drawbacks like these.
Posted by Matt from Denver on December 16, 2011 at 1:22 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 39
Citizen Proposition?
Posted by Will in Seattle on December 16, 2011 at 1:59 PM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 40
@39 I'm amazed at this point that local groups haven't decided to do something like that.
Posted by Joe Szilagyi on December 16, 2011 at 2:10 PM · Report this
All police in the country have been militarized. By the time of the WTO, it was 90%. Given the increasing fascistic laws we live under and the DOJ's involvement with the recently passed Indefinite Detention law, i suspect this is all token gesture. Just ask those truly nonviolent Occupy LA protestors what the nice cops did to them when they were arrested. It is policy for cops in this country to mistreat people. Ian Birk will remain unaccountable for murder and we will continue to deal with both violent cops and self described revolutionaries who seek peer approval rather than effective dismantling of warape corporate dominance. Uphill struggle ahead...
Posted by swaneagle on December 18, 2011 at 7:23 AM · Report this

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