Time for Seattle to accept DOJ's medicine for a wounded police force
The more the city of Seattle delays on installing an outside monitor of the Police Department, writes Sharon Pian Chan, the more the work of the whole department is tarnished by the transgressions of a few officers.
Seattle Times editorial columnist
Twice last month, Seattle police officers were met with hostile crowds when they showed up at crime scenes. A crowd assaulted an officer after a shooting in South Seattle, preventing medics from reaching the victim, who died. In Capitol Hill at Cal Anderson Park, the crowd rejected police officers after someone was cut with a knife.
We've hit a new low in this city's public safety.
Police have not connected the antagonism to accusations of excessive force in the department — a finding in the U.S. Justice Department's investigation. But Doug Honig of the ACLU Washington is certain the two are related.
"Oh, you better believe it," Honig said. "The issue has become very high-profile and a real spotlight has been shined on this issue."
That high-profile finding and recent disturbing events can't be too far from people's minds when officers arrive on any scene.
• Video of a Native American crossing the street, a police officer following him with a gun, then a passer-by jumping when loud shots echoed down the block, captured by dashboard camera.
• Blurry video of a police officer threatening to "beat the (expletive) Mexican piss" out of a Latino robbery suspect.
These images burn in our memory like an Instagram feed gone bad.
They echo the dark video of Los Angeles police officers beating Rodney King. This year marks the 20th anniversary of riots in that city, set off when a jury exonerated the white and Latino officers who brutalized the African-American man.
The Justice Department reported in December that some Seattle police officers routinely used excessive force. The report also found strong, though inconclusive, evidence of racial bias. It called on the department to reform and to install an outside monitor.
The city presented its own reform plan, initially rejected the idea of an outside monitor and said the Justice Department's reforms would cost $41 million. Or something like that. It seems the Police Department came up with that estimate before talking to city budget analysts.
Since, Mayor Mike McGinn has suggested he might be willing to accept a monitor. It's promising that this week McGinn met with the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., and that negotiations continue.
This is an open sore on our city. The longer city officials continue to argue with the federal demand for reforms, the more it festers. The more the city delays on installing an outside monitor, the more the work of the whole department is tarnished by the transgressions of a few officers.
These negotiations need to conclude quickly.
Otherwise, it feels like the city just wants to pour salt on the wound. Last week, a city attorney court filing said the term "Mexican piss" had "no appreciable discriminatory effect."
City lawyers argued that using the remark was intended to control the suspect. Peter Holmes, the city's attorney, says he's making the argument in federal court because it's his responsibility to defend the city's general fund from paying damages to the man, who has sued the city.
"It doesn't mean that we don't take the (Justice Department's) report seriously and that we aren't negotiating hard to arrive at a plan and get us the best Seattle Police Department," Holmes said.
He objected to the remark, on a personal level. "I find it personally offensive," he said. But "I have to safeguard the city treasury." The city stands to pay up to $5 million if the court rules against the city, he said.
The detective, Shandy Cobane, has apologized and accepted a demotion. He owned up to the impact of his remarks and submitting to discipline. Thank you.
It's time for the city to submit to its discipline.
Sharon Pian Chan's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Email email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @sharonpianchan.