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Originally published Tuesday, May 31, 2011 at 3:56 PM

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Public has right to know names of disciplined officers

Concealing names of officers who engaged in misconduct simply doesn't win the public's trust — nor does it fit with Washington public-disclosure law.

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CONCEALING names of officers engaged in misconduct simply does not win the public's trust — nor does it fit with Washington's public-disclosure law.

The legal quarrel between the Seattle Police Officers' Guild and the city should end with the understanding that the state's commitment to open government is not optional. The labor arbitrator ruled that the guild could contract its way out of compliance with the Public Records Act, but such out-of-whack efforts should be stopped on appeal.

The city is right to assert that the union's fight against department policy to release names of officers subject to sustained findings of misconduct conflicts with disclosure laws. Worse, it violates public expectations of transparency.

If Seattle police hope to surmount the few highly publicized incidents — low moments captured on video that have soured public opinion of law enforcement — clear efforts must be made to increase officer accountability and transparency surrounding disciplinary practices.

There are certainly exceptions — a citizen's appetite for open government should not trump the safety of officers or their ability to perform their jobs.

Indeed, exemption from the Public Records Act may be justified if the police department finds redacting officers' names to be essential for effective law enforcement. So far, however, it does not.

Rightly so. Essential to effective law enforcement is the trust of the community, and a behind-closed-doors policy is counterproductive.

Seattle Police Chief John Diaz has demonstrated that he seeks a professional police force. In the public's eye, these steps toward accountability provide a sense that those who enforce the law do not view themselves above the legal system or professional standards.

The city's legal advisers acknowledge that the Public Records Act applies to Seattle police all the same. Seattle must continue to defend government transparency and uphold state law that guarantees it.

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