On the evening of December 3 last year, the Seattle Police Department assembled a roomful of lawyers and reporters, including me, on Seattle University campus with coffee, cookies, and pinwheel sandwiches (choice of turkey or ham). The agenda was all about public disclosure requests, the mechanism under the state's Public Records Act that guarantees citizens and media access to certain documents held by the government.
The meeting was supposed to help the SPD understand how to satisfy its obligations under public record laws, because, among other fiascoes, the city is being sued in a case before the state supreme court that alleges the SPD illegally withheld dashcam footage. In addition to notoriously lethargic responses to records request, the SPD also destroyed thousands of videos that apparently should be public record. Peter A. Collins, an associate professor of criminal justice at SU, explained in February in an online survey for the meeting attendees that SPD wanted to "identify steps that can be taken to improve policies and processes surrounding Public Disclosure Requests."
But that's not what the SPD has actually been doing. As today's news from the Seattle Times exhibits, the SPD was stubbornly—and apparently illegally—still refusing to release public records about May Day 2012 up until this April. That's months after the dog-and-pony-show meeting ostensibly geared to "improve policies and processes."
Seattle City Council members appear the only ones at city hall taking this seriously. Nick Licata and Jean Godden wrote a memo to Deputy Chief Clark Kimerer on May 9, pressing to know how SPD communicated its intent to block the Seattle Times's records request (.pdf). And today Council Member Bruce Harrell issued a statement that calls the city's failure to release the records "completely unacceptable." Harrell goes on to add that "the department’s senior level officers must adopt a culture of a learning organization—they must own up to mistakes, work collaboratively to identify a solution and then institute the changes.”
But Mayor Mike McGinn—who appointed the obstinate former chief, who's intimate with the department's failures to release records, and who oversaw the department getting sued for civil rights violations—is the one in charge of the police. At least in theory. He hasn't issued any statement or responded to a recent request for comment.
But it's clear that McGinn is responsible. Even after getting the city sued for a malfeasant police department and even after asking for input form the experts, McGinn still isn't taking charge of reforming the police department. He's still undermining public trust.