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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Are Seattle cops taking a laissez faire attitude toward low-level crime?

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.

When Seattle Police officials unexpectedly dumped a pile of raw data about low level crime enforcement into a recent report, some of the trends sparked concerns among city lawmakers. But the report seems to have raised more questions than it answered; among them, what motivated police officials to share the information.

A U.S. Attorney said on Thursday that the report served no purpose and looked at the wrong data. And while Mayor Ed Murray has called the report's statistics "deeply concerning," he also found it curious that the report was made public with very little advance notice — either to his office or to interim Chief of Police, Harry Bailey.

"Why does information suddenly appear, and then other times you can't find information," the mayor asked, rhetorically, during a recent interview with Crosscut. "It raises questions."

There are also questions about the quality of the report. U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan found it deeply flawed, saying the report drew conclusions based on unrelated datasets, which should not have been combined. "That report is not anything anyone who knew anything about law enforcement would rely upon," said Durkan. "It shows us and tells us absolutely nothing." 

"I was so surprised anyone would hand it out," she said.

Some of the report's data shows a decline in the number of "on-views," which refers to when police officers decide on their own to stop and investigate suspicious activity.

The report looked at on-view data for the first quarter of 2010-2014. (See chart below.) Compared to 2011, on-views in 2014 were down 44 percent. Calls for police service during that time increased 9 percent. The decline in on-views begins in 2012 and continues into 2013 and 2014. This time period coincides with Seattle's federally-mandated police reform process, which began in 2012 and is still underway. The report also shows drops in the number of court filings and citations issued for low level crimes and infractions. But those decreases began before the reforms were underway.

Bob Scales, a police department official who helps oversee reform compliance, initially presented the report during a May 14 meeting of the Community Police Commission. The commission is a community board that provides input on the police reforms. The purpose of the presentation was to provide information for a "disparate impact analysis." A requirement under the department's bias-free policing policy, the analysis is designed to help ensure that stops, citations and arrests do not disproportionally affect people of certain races or ethnicities. But the information pertaining directly to racial disparity did not begin until page 25 of the 49-page report. It is not clear why the report's authors included so many more general statistics.

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