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Bad Cops & Prosecutors

: Injustice in Seattle

Seattle's Comparitive Police Brutality Statistics

By David Packman

During the contentious contract negotiations between the city of Seattle and the Seattle Police Officer's Guild, representatives of the guild repeatedly asserted that the Seattle Police Department was one of the cleanest in the US, insisting that the complaints against officers were very low for a city of it's size as justification for why they deserved an unprecedented pay raise without having to accept police accountability improvements that had been suggested by the Police Accountability Review Panel.

Reviewing the reports from the Office of Professional Accountability and compiling the numbers paints a different picture of the Seattle Police Department, however. The numbers add up and appear to indicate that while Seattle's police department may not be the worst in the US, it's definitely not the cleanest... and it may be getting much worse.

A recent University of Chicago Law School study determined that the national average for complaints of excessive force against officers within police departments (numbering at least 100 or more) was around 9.5 complaints per every 100 law enforcement officers according to the latest statistics available from the US Department of Justice.

The Seattle Police Department currently numbers around 1,200 sworn officers, so if they were to be better than average they would need to have less than 114 complaints of excessive force per year.

SPD OPA statistics for years 2005-2007:
2005 Use Of Force Complaints: 110 (09.1 per 100)
2006 Use Of Force Complaints: 112 (09.3 per 100)
2007 Use Of Force Complaints: 124 (10.3 per 100)

While statistically hovering around the average for 2005 and 2006, the brutality complaints against the SPD in 2007 clearly jumped higher than the national average.

The national average also maintains that departments generally sustain complaints of abuse and issue discipline in 8% of complaints made.

While the SPD sustained complaints of abuse in 7.29% of 2005 complaints and 6.53% of 2006 complaints, so far the department has only sustained 3.48% of complaints in 2007 and even then those sustained complaints only resulted in one known actual disciplinary action; an early retirement with full pension that is currently being fought by the Seattle Police Officer's Guild.

Because of the dramatic drop in sustained rates, the jump in complaints, and the number of administrative exonerations that countermanded recommendations of disciplinary action by internal investigations, the small number of sustained use of force complaints appears not to indicate that the department is "squeaky clean", but that the oversight and accountability mechanisms have failed. Recent news articles depicting problems with internal investigations and administrative exonerations appear to back this up as well.

Those same stories of problematic accountability and investigatory mechanisms that were bypassed in the Seattle Police Department spurred the creation of two different panels (the SCCPAP and OPAPARP) that were tasked to review the civilian oversight program that was supposed to monitor police discipline and make recommendations to fix it. However, the resultant recommendations from both panels were fought by the police union and several were overturned. So it appears as though the numbers will only get worse, or they will just go unreported in the foreseeable future.

This dire prediction of the accountability program failing seems especially likely now since ex-police officer councilmember Tim Burgess has been dismantling the previous experienced civilian review boards and restaffing them with inexperienced candidates in order to make them less willing to go public with problematic findings like the last one did and since the only real accountability proponent on the city council, Nick Licata, has been rumored to be considering retirement after his latest term on the council.

The numbers and recent developments make it clear that the problem with misconduct in the Seattle Police Department is getting worse, and is likely to continue getting worse into the foreseeable future. Stay safe out there, because it's becoming clear that the system in place now is only designed to protect the city from lawsuits and bad cops from discipline, it is no longer designed to help protect citizens from bad cops.

Full post as published by Injustice in Seattle on June 16, 2008 (boomark / email).

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