Beset on all sides by critics and host to a record of unconstitutional and illegal practices, the Seattle Police Department is proving once again that it simply doesn't get it.
Last week the Department of Justice announced that what everyone from the ACLU to the NAACP to everyday residents have been saying all along is true: That SPD regularly engages in "discriminatory policing practices", illegal uses-of-force and whitewashing of its own transgressions.
The blistering 67-page report shows that the department is "broken" as Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez puts it, and calls for federal intervention in the agency's doings, until it can prove that Seattle cops have cleaned up their act.
Among the DOJ's findings are that officers regularly use "excessive" force--as in one out of every five times they use force at all; that officers routinely use race-based policing tactics; and that the department's Office of Professional Accountability almost always simply passes the buck with citizen complaints, offering neither professionalism nor accountability in the process.
In response to the DOJ report, some Seattle Councilmembers like Tim Burgess called the report "constructive criticism", and came out ready to accept the findings and work toward a better police department.
But for SPD Chief John Diaz and Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, the response has been to bury their heads in the sand and attack the DOJ and its methods, rather than to address the problems that everyone seems to know are there but them.
Diaz, hours after the report was released, insisted that his department "is not broken" and he sent the following message to officers:
"We have many reasons to question the validity and soundness of the DOJ's conclusions. At this time, the city's simple request is to examine the data, methods and analyses used in support of these allegations and to reach these conclusions."
McGinn, again, rather than admitting that the city's police force has serious issues that need to be addressed, simply echoed Diaz's call for the DOJ to further prove how it came to its conclusions.
The questionable incidents, meanwhile, continue to pile up.
As Nina Shapiro reported just this morning, attorney James Egan has released a new video of Seattle police officers slamming his client Hugo Perez onto a cop car while promising to "skull fuck" him. The officers' explanation for their actions: That they were practicing "de-escalation" tactics.
This video alone is enough to lob strong criticism at the department for allowing the officers to escape with little punishment (which, in this case, was exactly what happened). But the fact is that this video is small potatoes compared to many of the other antics that SPD has made its hallmark.
Names like Ian Birk, Shandy Cobane, and James Lee with their respective shootings, stompings and kickings are just three of the most high-profile cases involving Seattle cops using excessive and illegal force against minority residents.
Dozens of other examples are available for those who want to look.
Par for the Course
SPD's attitude that the DOJ and other critics are simply engaging in a witch hunt, and that any problems at the department are either invented or exaggerated matches with its overall mentality in its day-to-day dealings with the public and the press.
From a journalist's perspective (namely, my own), there is no police organization in the state (indeed, in any state that I've ever reported in) that goes to greater lengths in order to be secretive, unhelpful, aggressively rude and all-in-all unprofessional.
SPD spokespeople like Mark Jamieson, Renee Witt and Jeff Kappel (the folks paid to talk to the press and provide information) routinely respond to requests for information with the kind of combativeness and secrecy that is usually reserved for politicians caught in sex affairs or corporate executives found polluting rivers with industrial waste.
The department pulls out all the stops when it comes to finding inventive ways to deny records requests and to hide information. Indeed, KOMO News is currently in the middle of suing SPD because the department refuses to make thousands of hours of police-car dash-cam videos available to the public.
Examples of problems at SPD go on and on. Yet still the police brass refuses to see the issues. To them, residents of Seattle simply don't understand what it's like to be a cop and they don't don't appreciate the good things that officers do.
I beg to differ. Hundreds of great cops work at SPD. I've had the pleasure of meeting several of them, and residents do appreciate seeing an officer do his job with poise and professionalism.
At some point SPD needs to get the memo.