*Updated to reflect the fact that Cienna Madrid can't add worth a good goddamn.

Jenny Durkan, game face.
  • Jenny Durkan, game face.
“There is reasonable cause to believe that the Seattle Police Department engages in a pattern or practice of unnecessary force in violation of the U.S. constitution—both by the officers themselves and by the lack of policies and supervision within the department," stated Jenny Durkan, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington, at a press conference this morning to address the findings of a nine-month-long Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation of the Seattle Police Department (SPD).

On the subject of allegedly targeting minorities for their abuse, "We do not make a finding that SPD engages in a patter or practice of discriminatory policing," the DOJ report states, "but our investigation raises serious concerns on this issue."

Bluntly put: “The Seattle Police Department is broken,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ, while explaining that the DOJ would seek a court-order to appoint an independent monitor early next year to oversee SPD's transition to a friendlier, less aggressively baton-wieldy department. The timeline for this transition? "Not a day longer than what's necessary," says Durkan.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The DOJ identified breakdowns in all levels of SPD—training, policy, and supervision—which has led to its current excessive force problem. Specifically, Seattle police officers lack adequate training on how and when to use force, and when to de-escalate confrontations. “We found that in the cases we reviewed, when officers used force it was done in an excessive, unconstitutional manner 20 percent of the time,” Durkan says. Surprisingly, officers were found to employ unnecessary force with batons 57 percent of the time. “Officers are taught how to win fights. They are not taught how to avoid them.”

Its these fuckers over here who are the problem. (Note: Not an actual Durkan quote.)
  • "You see, it's these fuckers over here who are the problem." (Note: Not an actual Durkan quote.)
Worse, the DOJ found that supervisors aren’t doing their job monitoring incidents of force reported by officers. The report found that only 44 officers accounted for 30 percent of the total use of force incidents in 2010. And, widening the scope a bit, the DOJ investigation revealed that out of 1,230 departmental use-of-force reports—which officers are required to fill out and submit to supervisors—only FIVE were referred by supervisors for “further review" in a five-year two-year period spanning Jan 1, 2009 to April 4, 2011.

That gives SPD a 0.4 percent average for investigating their own officers for excessive force. Those are some lousy fucking odds that officers are being disciplined for excessive use of force. "It’s become almost a rubber stamp process down the line," Durkan notes.

And those odds get worse if you're a minority!

Even though the DOJ didn't confirm a pattern of discriminatory policing, it found that in "cases that we determined to be unnecessary or excessive uses of force, over 50 percent involved minorities." The DOJ's admittedly limited analysis concludes that "SPD officers may stop a disproportionate number of people of color where no offense or other police incident has occurred."

And it's accompanied by this sharp reprimand:

"SPD must ensure its officers understand that, unless they have a sufficient factual basis to detain someone, a person is free to walk away from police and free to disregard a police request to come or stay. Officers should also understand that in such circumstances, the decision to ‘walk away’ does not by itself create cause to detain.”

While the SPD is doing a somewhat lousy job policing its own, the department's Office of Professional Accountability—which investigates civilian complaints lodged against officers—isn't currently faring much better. "The OPA has become somewhat difficult to navigate," Durkan says. "There's no centralized accountability, and we found that complaints made in other branches [of government] never find their way to the OPA." Part of the problem is that the OPA sends two-thirds of civilian complaints to SPD precincts for investigation—you know, the dudes with the 0.4 percent success rate when it comes to investigating their own people. An unnamed OPA investigator acknowledges in the report that this is "appalling."

Nevertheless, the DOJ decrees the OPA structure "sound" in general—just in need of a good tune up.

The DOJ recommends that city officials meet with SPD command staff early next year to collaborate on a "blueprint for transition" for the department—one with enough bullet points to address training failures, policy failures, supervisor failures, OPA failures, and more. The DOJ would then concurrently file a complaint and accountability document against SPD in court, with the request that an independent monitor come in to oversee changes made to the department. The timeline for this process? "It won't take a day longer than necessary," says Durkan.

Despite all the criticisms, Durkan and Perez were both quick to point out how cooperative and responsive SPD has been to the investigation and their findings along the way.

"Chief Diaz has stated unequivocally his willingness to fix these problems," Perez said.

"[Command staff] did not wait to act," says Durkan. "They took steps immediately when we raised issues and have announced that they're implementing changes... These are very difficult and systemic issues to resolve, but we're very optimistic about the future of SPD and its relationship with Seattle."