As Seattle's shooting spree escalates even more tragically, some city leaders are suggesting that an agreement between police and the Department of Justice would help put an end to the violence. That's an extremely rosy view.
"If you punch a kid one day and come to talk with him about what he knows another day, he might not be motivated to help," Bible said, according to The Seattle Times.
Council member Nick Licata talked in the same vein during the briefing, calling lack of community trust "one of the biggest barriers to effective policing."
Maybe a commitment to DOJ reforms will improve collaboration between police and the community. But experience in places that have already been through a DOJ shake-up, like Cincinnati, suggest that outcome is a years-long process.
In the short term, there are some things to worry about. As we reported a couple weeks ago after talking to Cincinnati insiders, that city saw a police slowdown as DOJ reforms took hold, and an outside monitor--the likes of which the DOJ wants here--began asserting himself. That wasn't necessarily the DOJ's or the monitor's fault. But the fact is that police were resentful. And, according to Charlie Luken, who was mayor at the time, crime went up-- not down.
You can already see that resentment starting to creep into SPD. In a column on Saturday, the Times' Danny Westneat mentions a police officer who wrote to him to warn of "more violence as long as the force has one arm tied behind its back by the feds and the media."
And then there's the question of manpower. The DOJ is asking SPD to dramatically up its number of sergeants in order to increase supervision of line officers. Sounds nice in theory, but since when has thickening middle management been the answer to anything?
Right now, it seems obvious that what we need are more officers on the street where the shootings are happening. If 54 seasoned officers are promoted to sergeants, as the feds want, the city will have to recruit and train new officers to replace them. That means rookies, dealing with the most confounding spate of violence Seattle has faced in years.
That is not to say the DOJ, overall, won't bring needed change. But we should be realistic about what the feds can--and can't--do.
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