Hello, humans of Seattle! And humans of other places! Let's walk down a narrow path of insdery insider local politics that, if everything turns out okay, will result in police officers not ruthlessly beating innocent people! A big reward for your attention, no? Yes!
The Community Police Commission was a key component of a 2012 settlement agreement to reform the Seattle Police Department, a settlement reached after the US Department of Justice found some SPD officers routinely used excessive force. The CPC is essentially an advisory body, full of civilian experts with huge cred, that looks at data, offers direction to the city on ways to achieve reform, helps draft new policies, gets community "buy in," etc. They are the good guys—largely free of the political bullshit that we've seen in elected and appointed officials (hi, Chief Bailey).
But the CPC has been under attack. At issue is a May 14 presentation on policing trends from 2005 to 2013. Some downtown business types clutched their pearls and claimed the "report" showed evidence the SPD was ostensibly de-policing low-level crimes, thereby contributing to problematic street disorder. Then US Attorney Jenny Durkan became angry when asked about the presentation last week, essentially complaining that it was requested by a bunch know-nothings and based on incongruous data. "I was surprised that anyone would hand it out," Durkan spat, taking an apparent dig at the commissioners who requested the data and the SPD official Bob Scales who presented it. "I will say that that report is not something that anyone who know anything about law enforcement would rely on."
But the CPC has apparently had enough. They've had enough of the shitty media coverage and of Durkan's attacks—but, because they are nice, they don't call out anyone in particular. Just set the record straight in the statement below the jump. First, they say that "the data presented on May 14 do not present any clear evidence of so-called 'de-policing.'" Rather the drop in low-level enforcement of certain offenses (like jaywalking) "may likely reflect the Department moving in directions that DOJ, the CPC and many other community leaders have long called for: de-escalation of minor incidents, crisis intervention training for engaging mentally ill individuals, and community-based diversion of many quality of life-type offenses." As for Durkan's attacks, the CPC responds indirectly, politely, by pointing out the presentation was never handed out "precisely because it was not a report or a finished product" and everyone involved made "numerous caveats" about the data.
What's at play here is a bigger than a report, a few hyperventilating crime stories, or terse words from the US Attorney. It's push-back from the civilian commission who represents the public's interest in police reform. They may get bullied sometimes, but the CPC is standing up for itself here—and standing up for the police when they have done well—which is smart politics that get us closer to reform. Good for them.
A May 14 presentation by SPD analyst Bob Scales at the Community Police Commission (CPC) has been widely discussed but poorly understood. The presentation, a Powerpoint showing raw data on traffic and pedestrian citations and misdemeanor charges filed in Seattle Municipal Court from 2005-2013, has been erroneously referred to as a “report,” and cited as concrete evidence of so-called de-policing. It was neither.
Both the Department generally and Mr. Scales particularly, and his supervisors, should be commended for working diligently with the CPC in implementing an important aspect of SPD's new Bias Free Policing Policy: a provision to reduce unnecessary racial and ethnic disparities in enforcement patterns. The May 14 presentation by Mr. Scales was a first step in the department’s efforts to review data with the CPC to identify areas in which alternative approaches might reduce enforcement disparities without compromising public safety.
Copies of the presentation were not handed out or distributed precisely because it was not a report or a finished product — it was the beginning of a conversation. Both Mr. Scales and the Commission chairs framed the presentation with numerous caveats, including that the data reflected the combined impact of officer practices and prosecutor filing practices, and that race data originated with the Municipal Court, not with SPD. Most important, Mr. Scales and the CPC chairs noted that certain patterns of decreased formal enforcement measures originated long before the inception of the Justice Department investigation regarding SPD or the consent decree adopted between DOJ and the City of Seattle.
In the view of the CPC, the data presented on May 14 do not present any clear evidence of so-called "de- policing." While some of the trends could reflect decreased productivity, that is not clear, and in fact, the lower levels of citation and arrest in some areas may likely reflect the Department moving in directions that DOJ, the CPC and many other community leaders have long called for: de-escalation of minor incidents, crisis intervention training for engaging mentally ill individuals, and community-based diversion of many quality of life-type offenses. Additionally, the CPC believes it is quite likely that some if not many of these developments are cause for commendation of the department.
Discussion in the media in the aftermath of the May 14 presentation has highlighted the need to develop new standards to measure officer productivity beyond citations and arrests. In an era of increasing emphasis on public health strategies to deal with issues of addiction, untreated mental illness and homelessness, officers who are working diligently and appropriately may not use formal enforcement tools as often as in years past.
The Department certainly should be commended for its cooperation and transparency in producing and discussing these data with the CPC, which has allowed that important discussion to get underway. We urge the media and members of the public to understand that without further analysis, no conclusions can be drawn from these data regarding the productivity of particular officers or squads or of the department as a whole.