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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."
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