Just days after filmmaker, writer, and political activist Grant Cogswell alleged that he and a friend were the victims of a gay-bashing in Belltown, the city council's civil-rights committee, headed by Council Member Nick Licata, sat down to talk about a report by City Auditor Susan Cohen's office, critiquing the Seattle Police Department's handling of hate-crime allegations. Although it was clear that Licata—along with committee members Tom Rasmussen and Sally Clark—had questions for the police department about its policies and procedures for documenting hate crimes, they didn't get a chance, because no one from SPD bothered to show up.
On August 13, assistant city auditors Virginia Garcia and Mary Denzel briefed the council's civil-rights committee on the report, which recommended that SPD provide officers with additional training to be able to assess potential hate crimes and make changes to how incidents are documented.
It's unclear why the department wasn't at the meeting (SPD did not respond to requests for comment), but it certainly didn't sit well with council members, who appeared ready to press the department on why it isn't keeping pace with cities like San Francisco or Sacramento, which have more centralized systems for tracking hate-crime incidents.
In an interview after the meeting, Rasmussen expressed his disappointment at the department's absence. "I know [SPD does not] tolerate hate crimes," he says. [But] I think they really need to improve and... sharpen their practices. I was hoping the police department would be [at the meeting] so we could have that discussion."
The next day, Licata sent a letter to SPD Chief Gil Kerlikowske, questioning the department's practices and asking specifically about SPD's handling of Cogswell's case, which is not being investigated as a hate crime. Cogswell claims that he and a friend, who was in drag, were attacked by four men who called them "faggots"; the alleged homophobic taunts, and the fact that Cogswell's friend was in drag, are not recorded in the police report. Which is exactly the kind of thing the auditor says SPD needs to be doing.
It's clear the council wants SPD to do something to improve how it handles and tracks bias crimes. Now it just has to find a way to get the department to listen.