The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports on a recent Department of Justice civil rights investigation over just how often the Seattle Police Department uses force and on what grounds; according to the paper, the investigation was publicized 11 months ago, but the process began well before the police department was embroiled in such high-publicity incidents as the June 2010 fatal shooting of a deaf woodcarver who was holding a three-inch knife (reported on by Radley Balko here).
The DOJ did not investigate specific cases such as the above, but they noted a wide-spread pattern of "unnecessary or excessive force" by officers. Some of the worse parts? Officers turn "too quickly" to batons and flashlights. More than half of the uses of the former are again "unnecessary or excessive." And many incidents involve minor crimes such as traffic violations.
Although more than half of the recipients of police violence were minorities in a city which is 70 percent white, the DOJ found no official "pattern of discrimination" (which was one of the questions they asked in their investigation) but noted that certain interactions with pedestrians had potential to be discriminatory.
They further found that there was very poor internal reporting on use of force incidents by the department and the city's citizen's police review board is not effective either.
The P-I notes that certain officers seem to get in more confrontations than others:
Last year, just 20 of the department's 1,300 officers accounted for 18 percent of the uses of force reported, the investigators continued. Put another way, those officers on average each filed a use of force report nearly once a month; more than 789 officers didn't file a single report the entire year.
Not to mention, the DOJ's press release notes that people who may not be in full control of their faculties are getting hurt by police:
SPD officers escalate situations, and use unnecessary or excessive force, when arresting individuals for minor offenses. This trend is pronounced in encounters with persons with mental illnesses or those under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This is problematic because SPD estimates that 70 percent of use of force encounters involve these populations.
And the P-I again:
[U.S. Attorney Jenny] Durkan said the department has done little to investigate after officers report using force and has not looked into whether those officers who do so frequently need more training, reassignment or disciplinary action. She also suggested that training conducted by the state police academy doesn't give officers the tools they need to defuse potentially violent situations.
"Police officers are taught how to win fights but not how to avoid them," Durkan said.
Of the 1,230 use of force reports filed by Seattle officers in 2010, only five received significant review within the department. No actions were taken against any supervisors for failing to investigate or review their subordinates actions in the field….
Two-thirds of the complaints received by the office were routed back to the precincts were the abuses were alleged to have occurred. The investigations done at the precinct level were described by an Office of Public Accountability employee as "appalling."
Not to overly praise the DOJ, but this is my favorite part of their report:
"Officers must have a sufficient factual basis to detain or investigate someone, or a person is free to walk away from police and free to disregard a police request to come or stay. In these circumstances, a person's decision to 'walk away' does not by itself create cause to detain."
The Feds and the police department are currently negotiating over reforms, which will also involve an independent outsider coming to oversee and make sure they are proceeding as mandated. The whole process could take several months.
Whole thing here.
Reason on police.
(Hat tip to sloopyinca.)