King of the Hall: Nickels Outflanks His Adversaries Yet Again

Mayor Greg Nickels talked tough this week about his intention to implement the 29 reforms suggested by his panel on police accountability. The panel was a response to criticism of the SPD's handling of the cases of Officers Greg Neubert and MIchael Tietjen, who were accused of planting drugs and whose penchant for making statements of dubious veracity led the King County Prosecutors office to drop numerous cases in which they were involved and add them to the list of untrustworthy officers. It was also a response to criticism that Nickels was blindly backing Chief Gil Kerlikowske, whose reluctance to discipline officers and interference with the Neubert and Tietjen investigation led the Seattle/King County NAACP to demand his resignation.

Most of all, the panel was a presciently clever political move by Nickels, who once again is turning a liability into a strength by co-opting one of a potential 2009 opponent's key issues: should he decide to throw his hat in the ring, it'll be hard for Nick Licata to beat the accountability drum if Nickels is doing battle with the police union, just as it'll be tough for Peter Steinbrueck to boast of his work towards a surface-transit option for the waterfront now that Nickels is supporting it and stealing headlines with an "over my dead body" approach to viaduct reconstruction. (It remains to be seen whether there's anyone to make a viable anti-development or pro-law and order challenge to the mayor.)

On to today's news: Nickels got more ammunition for his looming battle with the Seattle Police Officers Guild with the publication of the Seattle PI's second piece this week on the SPD's (and other departments') reluctance to discipline officers for misconduct (the first was on officers who make false statements). In today's excellent report, Eric Nalder documents the SPD's handling of accusations of excessive force and finds that the accusations are rarely sustained and the officers even more rarely disciplined. (For some reason, people keep attacking the swinging foot of Officer Aaron Parker.) While it's true that using insufficient force can lead to more violence, most of these cases don't appear to this untrained mind to be anywhere near the line of ambiguity.

It remains to be seen whether Nickels will back up his tough talk with tough actions. While we wait to find out, Licata will have his so-Seattle meta-panel examine how best to implement Nickels' panel's recommendations. If they want to steal his office, or even just keep him in check, Nickels' adversaries are gonna have to tighten their game.

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