What's the best way to get easy, direct, and unlimited access to management at the Seattle Police Department? Apparently, it's having a family member get shot by an officer.
In the weeks after the fatal police shooting of First Nations woodcarver John T. Williams, Seattle police Chief John Diaz gave a "direct line" to members of Williams' family to call if they felt they needed to "raise concerns about negative interactions with police."
The access was granted by Diaz amid the nervousness and confusion that descended upon the SPD in the wake of Williams' shooting.
A head of the department's Office of Professional Accountability also says such a move is unprecedented.
"I'm not aware that has ever been done before," said Kathryn Olson, the civilian director of the Office of Professional Accountability, which oversees internal investigations. "It was a situation where there was mistrust and fear and worries about what was around the corner. The chief and everyone else were very concerned about doing what the department could to make sure that folks felt safe."
On the surface, Diaz's granting the Williams family this kind of direct access sounds like a nice gesture for a group of people no doubt going through extreme sadness and anger.
But what about other cases in which the public feels wronged by police actions? Is it only when someone's killed that they get an all-access pass to air grievances? Did Martin Monetti's family get a sergeant's cell phone number after Shandy Cobane stomped the "Mexican piss" out of him? Did the 17-year-old who got booted in the head by an undercover officer while he was on the ground get to know Chief Diaz on a first-name-basis?
Sgt. Sean Whitcomb tells Seattle Weekly that no, they didn't.
He also says, however, that there's no exact science to how the department grants access. Furthermore, he says that only in serious cases and when a potentially victimized family asks for extra access do they consider it.
"As a police agency, it might look like we are intimidating people if we call people up unsolicited about a complain they filed," he says. "There's no line in the sand. Certain incidents do draw a lot more attention. Access is determined by the level of the case. Some restaurant owner isn't going to get access to the chief of all police after some guy did a dine-and-dash."
A reasonable point, to be sure.
But how much the "seriousness of the case" is trumped by the level of potential embarrassment to the department when making access decisions is harder to quantify.