Mike McGinn's State of the City: Where Videotape Has Become the New Police Tape

The mayor's State of the City speech yesterday was rather about the future of the city he'd like to see, with more rail, one less tunnel, and peace and light in the police department. He was current on one aspect, however--the effect videotape has had on the image of his cops and the status of his administration.

The scandal over shooting and beating suspects, McGinn says, isn't going to be solved "just by firing cops after they make a big mistake on camera." It's something we explore at length today in SW's cover story on the series of alleged brutality cases: Nine out of 12 use-of-force cases occurring from 2008 though 2010--most of them still under police or court review--include video taken by car cams, security vid, or witnesses. Both dramatic and inscrutable, the incidents exposed by the tapes are the reason SPD is now under a Department of Justice civil-rights review.

Most of the current high-profile cases likely wouldn't be known to the public had it not been for the video revolution. Which raises the question: Has there been an increase in use-of-force incidents, or just an increase in incidents caught on camera? And are those videos giving a clear picture of what's happening between cops and citizens on Seattle's streets?

McGinn didn't distill the picture much yesterday. He said more cops--unlike 80 percent of the force and its chief--should actually live in Seattle to know its people and places better, and that the police guild should "come to the table and work around solutions that will help us hold officers accountable. Frankly, statements from the union suggest they are in a state of denial . . ."

Guild leader Richard O'Neill says right back atcha. "With the exception of the John T. Williams [shooting] incident, not one of the individuals involved in the different video incidents sustained any serious injury. Does that not show that officers are using some form of restraint when applying force?"

He thinks too many people, including top cops and politicians, misinterpret the video snippets. Greg Nickels' administration had more experience dealing with the media, he says, while McGinn's people "come out right away with a statement before they even bother to look at the situation in the proper context."

There's your state of the city--nose to nose.

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