Human Rights & Wrongs

Seattle Police Motorcycle UnitOf course, the Mayor and Chief of Police refute the findings because a review of internal documentation and after-action reports can’t be but an indictment of people who had the information and took no corrective action.

The Justice Department’s investigation involved an in-depth review of SPD documents, as well as extensive community engagement. The department reviewed thousands of pages of documents, including written policies and procedures, training materials, and internal reports, data, video footage and investigative files. Justice Department attorneys and investigators also conducted interviews with SPD officers, supervisors and command staff, and city officials; and conducted hundreds of interviews with community members and local advocates.
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Based on a randomized, stratified and statistically valid sample of SPD’s use of force reports from Jan. 1, 2009, to April 4, 2011, factual findings include:

  • When SPD officers use force, they do so in an unconstitutional manner nearly 20 percent of the time;
  • SPD officers too quickly resort to the use of impact weapons, such as batons and flashlights. When SPD officers use batons, 57 percent of the time it is either unnecessary or excessive;
  • SPD officers escalate situations, and use unnecessary or excessive force, when arresting individuals for minor offenses. This trend is pronounced in encounters with persons with mental illnesses or those under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This is problematic because SPD estimates that 70 percent of use of force encounters involve these populations.
  • The Justice Department also found that a number of long-standing and entrenched deficiencies have caused or contributed to these patterns or practices of unlawful or troubling conduct, including the following:
  • Deficiencies in oversight, policies and training with regard to when and how to (1) use force, (2) report uses of force and (3) use many impact weapons (such as batons and flashlights);
  • Failure of supervisors to provide oversight of the use of force by individual officers, including appropriate investigation and review of uses of force (notably, among the approximately 1,230 use of force reports from January 2009 to April 2011, only five were referred for “further review” at any level within SPD);
  • Ineffective systems of complaint investigation and adjudication;
  • An ineffective early intervention system and disciplinary system;
  • Inadequate policies and training with regard to pedestrian stops and biased policing; and
  • A failure to collect adequate data to assess biased policing allegations.

Some people are going to be disappointed that, so far, there has been no finding of racial disparity in SPD policies and behaviors. But, that’s to be expected from an objective assessment.

Besides, the response to findings of racial disparity is often to simply do a better job spreading the hurt around. So, race-based traffic enforcement often turns into routine unwarranted stops of everyone. One could even say that the systematic violative behavior is a consequence of demands that discriminatory behavior end. Ending discrimination does not end deprivation of rights.

Moreover, we are in a battle. There’s a war on the people, who are presumed to rule and can now exercise that prerogative by voting and monitoring official behavior, by the people who traditionally perceived themselves to be in charge. When the people presume to enforce the law by firing incompetents, then public officials who presume to rule, rather than serve, see their powers threatened and fight back to put the public “in its place.” This accounts, IMHO, for why the push-back in so-called Democratic communities has been more vigorous. Democratic citizens are more insistent on exercising their powers (to elect, to monitor, to remove), so the agents of government feel more threatened.

What can the DoJ do? Not much. When the executive is unresponsive to the citizenry, the officials have to be removed. At most, the DoJ review can provide a factual basis. If the Seattle Police are insubordinate, then the administration is to be faulted. That insubordinate law enforcement is a systematic problem, all across the country, merely tells us it’s going to take a while to correct. Entities such as the International Association of Chiefs of Police are going to have to be reformed. They set standards of performance mostly designed to avoid civil law suits. Unfortunately, even that motivation is counter-productive because the response to high rates of civil litigation has been for communities to “self-insure”–i.e. the abused citizens end up paying for the misbehavior.

Btw, the reason most complaints of abuse are dismissed is because were a complaint to be found valid, that would ipso facto validate a legal suit. If an officer is found to have acted contrary to departmental standards (like Bologna in NY), then he can be held personally liable in a civil suit. The system doesn’t want that for the simple reason that “protection” from personal liability (also known as “conditional immunity”) is the organization’s key to keeping the troops in line.

Bad behavior will be protected from retribution as long as the cops follow orders.

Not only is the culture of obedience inherently abusive, but abusive behavior is the glue that keeps it coherent. The authoritarian hierarchies which have taken root in our military and law enforcement thrive on the use of force. It’s like that plant in the “Little Shop of Horrors” always calling for more blood. When obedience is the object, somebody has to be abused.

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Photo: Licensed by LikeTheDew.com from iStock.com © Jimmy Anderson

Monica Smith

Monica Smith writes Hannah's Blog. Born in Germany, she came to the United States as a child, living first in California, then after an interval in Chile, in New York. Married to a retired professor at the University of Florida, where she lived for 17 years, she moved to St. Simons Island, Georgia, in 1993 and now divides her time between Georgia and New Hampshire. (New Hampshire, she says, is always interesting during a presidential election.) She and her husband have three children and five grandchildren. Ms. Smith says she "learned long ago that I am not a good team player when I got hired at the Library of Congress, fresh out of college with a degree in political science and proficiency in four foreign languages, to 'edit' library cards and informed my supervisor that if she was going to insist I punch the clock exactly on time, my productivity was going to fall from being the highest to being the same as everyone else's. The supervisor opted to assign me to another building where there was no time-clock. After I had the first of our three children, I decided a paycheck wasn't worth the hassle."