Midday Scan: Forceful report on police; pay as you go for initiatives?

A shocking report finds routine use of excessive force by Seattle police. A bipartisan effort aims to rein in initiatives that spend money without providing tax sources. Ryan Blethen takes new role at "The Seattle Times," but where does he really belong among the corporate comrades on the viewing stand?

A shocking report finds routine use of excessive force by Seattle police. A bipartisan effort aims to rein in initiatives that spend money without providing tax sources. Ryan Blethen takes new role at "The Seattle Times," but where does he really belong among the corporate comrades on the viewing stand?

Seattle cops don't romanticize the days of Seattle Police Chief Frank Ramon, an archetype of police corruption who was sacked and later indicted (it was 1969, so only seniors and Crosscut editors have a hazy recall.) In 1968, KING-TV broadcast footage of a chilling police beat down. As HistoryLink's David Wilma reported, "Viewers see officers beat a man, crowd and insult the cameraman, and break the camera. Eighteen minutes of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson is preempted to broadcast the segment again." It was all too Chicago for the Emerald City. Reforms were made, police culture evolved. Ancient history, yes?  

As the Seattle Times' Mike Carter and Steve Miletich wrote for the morning edition, in advance of today's U.S. Department of Justice report, excessive force is again a SPD millstone: "A federal civil-rights investigation into the Seattle Police Department has found routine and widespread use of excessive force by officers, and city and police officials were told at a stormy Thursday night meeting that they must fix the problems or face a federal lawsuit," according to two sources, Carter and Miletich write. "The meeting, attended by Mayor Mike McGinn, Police Chief John Diaz, members of his command staff and others, ended in raised voices and bitter accusations by city and police officials, upset at the Justice Department's findings, the sources said. One source said the language in the agency's report, to be officially released Friday, is 'astoundingly critical' of the department."  

Shouting at G-men — always a winning strategy, that one. There is a manageable solution, thankfully. "The sources confirmed the city will get a chance to work with the Justice Department to address the issues, or it will face a federal lawsuit that could result in fines, penalties and even the appointment of an outside special master to oversee the Police Department," Carter and Miletich wrote. 

In their late-morning report on the press conference unveiling the report, they have this scalding lead: "In a blistering report, a federal civil-rights investigation has found the Seattle Police Department engaged in a 'pattern or practice' of violating the constitutional rights of citizens by using excessive force due, in part, to a lack of oversight at the top ranks of the department."

Real reform, whether political or police-focused, requires teeth. That's what undergirds the latest effort to link state initiatives to revenue sources (an electoral variant of "if you break it, you gotta fix it.") As the Olympian's Brad Shannon writes, "Republican Sen. Dan Swecker and Democratic Sen. Debbie Regala have introduced a constitutional amendment that would require citizen initiatives to identify a new source of money to cover any new costs they create."

The proposed consititutional amendment brings into focus the broader question of initiatives, public policy, and governance. Historically initiatives have appealed to Westerners as a populist tool and counterweight to corporate interests (think the railroads). With paid signature gatherers (and in the post-Citizens United era) the formula has become adulterated. Is this the most prudent reform measure to date? Shannon writes, "Gov. Chris Gregoire was asked about the amendment today in a news conference held to announce her latest government reform proposals. Gregoire said SJR 8218 is up to voters, but having struggled to pay for initiatives in her nearly two terms as governor, she said: 'I would probably vote for it.' "

Maybe there's panacea, a road to political salvation for Olympia's political class. It could be the reforms-before-revenues' tagline of the centrist "Roadkill Caucus." As Austin Jenkins reports on NPR, the handful of Democrats, including state Sen. Jim Kastama and Rep. Deb Eddy, are trying to move the majority party to consider more systemic changes before resorting to taxes. Two takeaways: One, Democrats who resent the Roadkillers also know that they need to be appeased; and, two, for any governing coalition, don't the Roadkillers require like-minded Republicans?

The calls for reform can spur resentment. Jenkins reports, "When I asked Governor Gregoire about the 'Roadkill Caucus' position that her sales tax proposal won't solve the long-term budget problem, she got defensive. 'No one has come to me, Austin, with any big new ideas that will immediately solve a $2 billion fiscal crisis in this state,' Gregoire says."

Noodling a family-owned newspaper like the Seattle Times requires a Cold War-style analysis of who is standing next to whom on the platform overlooking Red Square. Who is the rigid guy in the wool coat and muffler next to Brezhnev? Was he in the photo last year? As the Seattle Times reports, Ryan Blethen, not new to the picture, is inching closer to the chairman. "Seattle Times editorial-page editor Ryan Blethen is leaving that post to head up the newspaper's new-product development efforts," the paper reports. "Blethen will assume the position, director of new-product strategies, effective Jan. 1, the company announced Thursday. The new editorial-page editor will be Kate Riley, now the page's associate editor."

Riley is an inspired choice for editorial, a respected, savvy editor and writer. But what will media Sovietologists make of young Blethen? Is "new product development" code for Siberia or next-in-line poobah?

Lastly, Seattle's Tim Egan has either achieved enlightenment or devolved into a luddite (or perhaps he's become an enlightened, skeptical, quasi-luddite?) Citing promiscuous tweeting, most recently in the office of Rep. Rick Larsen, Egan has hit a wall. "Let the counterrevolt begin; the shying of America would be a welcome thing. Sure, social media tools have helped foster revolutions (Egypt, Tunisia), while releasing butterflies of free speech in police states (Iran). And it’s great to get baby pictures from that distant relative living north of Nome," Egan writes. "But enough with the everyday shared thoughts, those half-hatched word products that could use more time in vitro." Agreed (and does Egan really have relatives north of Nome? Is he a closet Norseman?)

Link Summary

Seattle Times, "Justice Department report blasts Seattle police" 

The Olympian, "Time to link initiatives to taxes?"  

NPR"Roadkill Democrats wanting spending reform with tax hike"

Seattle Times, "Ryan Blehen to head Seattle Times' new-product efforts" 

New York Times, "Please stop sharing: A Tweet (or more) too far"


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About the Authors & Contributors

Peter Jackson

Peter Jackson

Peter Jackson is the former editorial-page editor of the Everett Herald. Follow him on Twitter @phardinjackson