Seattle Times Editorial: Points of Progress for the Seattle Police Department

Signs of renewed community confidence in the SPD and internal challenges of those violating police standards draw praise from monitors.

by Seattle Times Editorial Board, Seattle Times (Feb. 4, 2016)

Law enforcement is tough, dangerous work, and civilian acknowledgment of that reality is the respect, discretion and benefit of the doubt long accorded police officers.

Dashboard cams and body cams are practical symbols of the erosion of trust and respect, and the emergence of concerns about police intent and behavior.

In 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice issued blunt rebukes of the Seattle Police Department’s management, operations, performance, standards and accountability.

Two recent reports by the federal monitor overseeing court-ordered reforms represent significant mileposts on a journey still underway.

The federal monitoring team, led by Merrick Bobb, gave SPD’s Office of Professional Accountability (OPA) high marks for the investigations it conducted into complaints against Seattle police. The investigations were described as thorough, well-organized, well-documented and thoughtful.

This renewed credibility was part of a larger picture of departmental reforms and leadership changes that produced measurable gains in the public’s confidence in the SPD. Certainly more work remains to improve the public’s trust, especially within the African-American community.

And Seattle police now face mounting frustrations about rising property crimes.

Perhaps one of the starkest benchmarks of improvement is the apparent refusal of SPD officers to let their colleagues blithely ignore standards of professional behavior.

The original DOJ indictment of Seattle police, for example, found no oversight to prevent a pattern or practice of excessive force. Nor, the feds noted, was there any backstop for failure of the direct supervisory review process.

As a result, citizen complaints were forwarded to police precincts, with appalling records for follow-up and discipline. Internal complaints — cops calling out cops — were rare or never happened, the DOJ found.

SPD policies emerged in 2014 with new expectations for internal referral of officer misconduct complaints, as well as anti-retaliation protections.

Now the federal monitor reports that 39 percent of the complaints filed with OPA were initiated within SPD. Those are cops not willing to remain silent about violations of their professional standards and regulations.

Even the feds call that percentage figure a remarkable number.

This is progress SPD Chief Kathleen O’Toole and her department should take pride in and the community should embrace as a worthy sign of progress.