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    Body cameras, Seattle police academy surface as bigger issues

    Councilmember Bruce Harrell says legislation based on some of the civilian auditor's recommendations for the city's police force could be proposed later this year.
    Anne Levinson

    Anne Levinson cjonline

    Seattle police: not all fun and summer parades.

    Seattle police: not all fun and summer parades. smohundro, via Flickr

    The Seattle Police Department should drop the idea of running its own police academy. That's just one of the recommendations in a report issued last week by the department’s Office of Professional Accountability auditor.

    The report also recommends that the city move toward equipping officers with body cameras and stop using firearm-carrying retired cops in uniform to direct traffic.

    The latest semi-annual report from retired judge Anne Levinson, OPA’s civilian auditor, appears likely to help set the stage for important political discussions about police reform and management in the coming year. It ticks through a list of recommendations that range from hiring procedures to in-car video reviews, touching on both hot-button policing issues and departmental minutia. The report also details several complaint investigations that took place between July and December of 2013. In terms of handling complaints and investigations, Levinson gives OPA high marks.

    With a civilian director and a staff of sworn officers, OPA investigates complaints against the police department. The office makes recommendations to the Chief of Police about whether the cops involved in the complaints should be disciplined. The auditor provides OPA with independent oversight.

    Councilmember Bruce Harrell, who chairs the Public Safety, Civil Rights and Technology Committee, said he agreed with most of the recommendations in the auditor's new report and that he'd like to introduce legislation to fund body cameras for police officers later this year. He also said he wants to dig into the rules that govern secondary assignments for active officers, such as working security at football games, and examine a decades-old city ordinance that gives retired cops policing authority. Both topics are highlighted in the report.

    “The auditor gave me a basis to build work upon,” he said, adding, “We have new energy in the police department and my relationship with the executive is great.”

    The department entered an era of significant turbulence when a 2011 Department of Justice investigation found patterns of excessive force violations. The city is now in the midst of a federally mandated police reform process that began in 2012. Meanwhile, Mayor Ed Murray has tasked a pair of committees with finding a permanent replacement for city’s interim Chief of Police, Harry C. Bailey.

    “This is a particularly important time in Seattle when it comes to police accountability,” Levinson said on Monday.

    Several of Levinson's recommendations emphasize officer learning. “Too often the overriding message for new officers and for communication about new policies, training, or practices is that 'you have to do this to stay out of trouble,’ " the report says, “rather than instilling in employees that the Department is teaching or sharing this information or implementing this approach because… ‘We try to acknowledge and learn from our mistakes or be the first to develop new ways of effective policing.’ ”

    The report also says the city should change bargaining agreements with police unions so that supervisors can use in-car video as a teaching tool. The Seattle Police Officer’s Guild has opposed broadening the use of video reviews in the past. The union’s president Rich O’Neil did not respond to requests for comment.

    “Think about sports and medicine, people are using video technology to diagnose how they can preform better,” Levinson said, adding that the videos don’t just provide an opportunity spot bad behavior. “When there are good interactions they should be able to put that up on the big screen at the precinct,” she said.

    Video also came into play in the recommendation that says the city should move toward providing officers with body cameras. That issue has also ruffled the police union.

    “They’ve come up with this ridiculous concept, that if a councilmember, such as myself, will not wear it, they should not have to wear it,” Harrell said. “I think they miss the point: What they do is a constant source of litigation and concern.”

    Harrell said he’s arranging for representatives from a company called TASER International, which manufactures police body cameras, to make a presentation at a Feb. 6 council meeting. The discussion will include information about how much the cameras will cost. Harrell says that he’d like to “convince the mayor’s office this is a good investment,” and possibly include the cameras in next year's budget.

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    Posted Wed, Jan 29, 1:29 p.m. Inappropriate

    “They’ve come up with this ridiculous concept, that if a councilmember, such as myself, will not wear it, they should not have to wear it,” Harrell said. “I think they miss the point: What they do is a constant source of litigation and concern.”

    More significantly, Harrell, unlike our peace officers, is not employed to enforce public policy with force. He does not carry and use weapons as part of his job. He is not given qualified immunity when he harms people on the job.


    Posted Wed, Jan 29, 5:24 p.m. Inappropriate

    Body cams are a net-win for cops. Let's people see what they deal with on a daily basis, which 99% awful, and 99% of the time will be additional evidence that can be used against perpetrators. Unfortunately for officers, <1% of the time, the cams will also catch misconduct by officers. Which is also a good thing. There are some very bad apples on this force. Make it more objective.


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