Murky meaning and motives shroud SPD report

The Mayor says his office got short notice about a public report showing steep declines in low-level enforcement. A U.S. Attorney calls the report sub-par.

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"By their own admission they're not being as aggressive, or as assertive as possible," he said.

Ron Smith, President of the Seattle Police Officers Guild, offered a similar assessment. Smith said that since a 2011 Justice Department investigation, which led to the current reform process, patrol officers have changed the way they approach low-level crime. They might not chase a suspect who steals a six-pack of beer, because they do not want to create a situation where the suspect might fall and get hurt. “Officers are working smarter," he said.

What is driving the enforcement trends in the report is far from clear, according to U.S. Attorney Durkan. Police are stopping and arresting far fewer people in Seattle for marijuana-related infractions, she notes. But "we can't tell from these datasets how many of those stops that are not happening now are due to the policy change and not policing change."

Nobody at the Seattle Police Department was available to comment on the report on Friday.

Asked about the report a few days after it was presented, Lisa Daugaard, a public defender who co-chairs the Community Police Commission, seemed to echo some of the views that Durkan would later express. "I'm confident," said Daugaard, "that there are multiple causes underlying those numbers."

To make her point, Daugaard referred to a 2010 incident that occurred near Franklin High School. During that incident, a shoving match broke out after an officer stopped a teenage girl for jaywalking. When another girl jumped in, the officer punched the second girl in the face. After that, said Daugaard, city officials questioned whether jaywalking citations should be a priority. Officers began taking a gentler approach, simply engaging in friendly conversations with pedestrians who were not using crosswalks. As a result, she said, "far fewer jaywalking citations are being issued in recent years. It doesn't mean officers are lazy, and it doesn't mean officers are mad at the Justice Department."

According to Mayor Murray, the report came somewhat unexpectedly. The chief of police knew of its existence only "shortly before" it was presented to the Community Police Commission. His office, said the mayor, found out the day before. While the mayor does not plan to devote much time to figuring out why the data was released the way it was, his office is continuing to dig into the information.

In the meantime, Murray has his eye on bigger data-related issues in the department. "I am going to figure out how we make a police department function that collects data that actually matters in reducing crime and or deals with police who are not being good players," Murray said. "That's what we're going to focus on."

Bill Lucia writes about Seattle City Hall and politics for Crosscut. He can be reached at bill.lucia@crosscut.com and you can follow him on Twitter @bill_lucia.


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Jun 2, 9:45 a.m. Inappropriate

Seattle police are extremely unresponsive except to serious violence in my experience. In the last 7 years I have called them to report burglary of my home, assault on a bike by a car with no resulting injury, speeding 80 mph down a residential street by multiple cars, illegal parking that prevented homeowners from getting out of their own driveways, and have usually gotten no response at all. I did get about 2 hour response to the home burglary, which was the notable exception on initial response, but there was no followup or resolution to finding our property or the perpetrator(s). Talking to local friends and neighbors their experience is consistently similar. No, Seattle police do not enforce nonviolent crime.

Posted Mon, Jun 2, 10:22 a.m. Inappropriate

In union parlance this is a "work slow-down" where workers do less than normal or they are paid for in order to gain leverage with bosses.

chapala21

Posted Mon, Jun 2, 5:48 p.m. Inappropriate

The awkward release of the evidently low-quality report is at the very least evidence of continuing management dysfunction in the SPD. Insufficient coordination with the Chief, the Mayor's Office and DOJ shows a lack of respect for authority, civilian oversight and the reform process.

But when I see things like the outspoken right-wing Steve Pompers' name on the ad hoc officers' lawsuit against reform, I see a continuing battle for control of the department between rogue cowboys and management/civilian authority. The SPD is very resistant to change; this reform effort and winning the trust of the community will take a while, and will also take concerted effort and attention from all involved. Whether that occurs remains to be seen. Meanwhile, the public and good officers are waiting...

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