Response times, response times, response times–everybody wants the Seattle Police Department to reduce response times, which currently average at about 10 minutes for the highest priority calls. In 2022, that timing actually put Seattle slightly ahead of similarly sized cities, such as San Francisco (11.7 minutes) and Portland (16.4 minutes), according to data from Jeff Asher, who reviewed numbers from about 20 different agencies. 

But people want SPD to return to the glory days of 2019, when cops could respond more than a minute faster, averaging 8.7 minutes for priority one calls. To achieve that end, the Mayor and SPD want to fund about 150 new police positions in addition to filling SPD’s open positions, which would bring SPD’s total number of trained officers to 1,450. In 2021, SPD Chief of Police Adrian Diaz said for every 50 open cop positions, Seattle residents could expect an additional minute in response times. 

However, when it comes to slow response times from SPD, some recent Office of Police Accountability investigations suggest that the number of officers may not be the problem so much as the quality of their work.  

Dining Over Domestic Violence

Case #2022OPA-0331

On Sept 23 of last year, two cops went out for a meal instead of handling a domestic violence call, according to an investigation by the Office of Police Accountability (OPA). 

The case started when a woman called 911 because her kid’s dad refused to leave the apartment. The dispatcher heard two people screaming at one another and marked the call “priority 1”—the highest priority–and dispatched two of Seattle’s finest, officers Michael R. Griffin and Terry J. Persun. Parked outside a Safeway just eight minutes away from the caller’s apartment, Griffin and Persun could provide fast, efficient help to the caller.

However, the two cops took more than 20 minutes to get to the apartment, first driving past it to stop by the south precinct for a bathroom break. Once they finally made it to the scene, the cops stayed for less than two minutes before concluding that the apartment looked pretty difficult to get into, giving up, and then heading to a restaurant near the west precinct. Neither cop asked dispatch to call the 911 caller back to see if she could let them into the building. The report suggests neither cop even got out of the car. 

OPA discovered they’d gone to dinner after reviewing Persun’s body-worn video, which activated at one point about an hour after they’d left the apartment building. The video showed the two cops paying and leaving a restaurant.

The cops logged the call an hour after they gave up so that it looked like they’d assisted someone rather than blowing it off and having a snack instead. Throughout his interview with the OPA, Griffin repeatedly said they had “so much going on that night. It was a Friday night, and it was so busy.” 

Diaz suspended Griffin and Persun for seven days, the lowest discipline recommended by the OPA. The agency also opened another investigation involving Griffin and Persun’s response to an Oct 4, 2022 call about a domestic violence court order violation. While the OPA hasn’t released the details of that case, 2022OPA-0336, the office’s complaint tracker shows that incident also resulted in Diaz suspending both cops without pay. 

Coffee Over Domestic Violence

Case #2023OPA-0246

In a similar case, SPD Sgt. Rene Miller and Officer Robert Paine Stoke sat at a Starbucks for about 40 minutes while a domestic violence suspect attempted to enter a victim’s house, according to a dispatcher’s report to the OPA. The dispatcher said they alerted Miller and Paine Stoke to the situation multiple times by radio.

The OPA investigation into that incident is still ongoing. 

"The New Normal"

Case #2023OPA-0081

An officer seemed to write off an incident involving a maintenance person repeatedly trespassing into a tenant’s apartment despite a dispatcher reporting that the maintenance person was acting aggressively.

On Nov 17, 2022, a woman called 911 to say a maintenance worker had entered her home without permission. Dispatch told the caller an officer would respond, but no cop ever showed. About an hour after the initial call, Officer Eric F. Whitehead spent about four minutes responding to the call. He “cleared” it by marking it as a civil matter and never actually speaking with the caller.

When Whitehead spoke to OPA investigators, he said he cleared the call the way he’d seen sergeants and lieutenants do it, and he called it the “new normal.” He said he’d wanted to be efficient due to his heavy workload that day. However, OPA investigators said he acted in an unprofessional manner. Dispatchers determine where police resources go, not individual cops. Plus, at minimum, he should have called the woman to tell her he didn’t plan on responding, according to the report. In a follow-up interaction with the woman a couple weeks later, he told her she should just move. 

The department gave him a written reprimand for his unprofessionalism. 

Slacking Off at SPOG 

Case #2023OPA-0135  

Though some might argue the above cases represent minor trifles in the grand scheme of 911 emergencies, we’ve also seen a recent example of cops dragging their feet in response to a shooting incident. 

As DivestSPD reported, on Dec 18, 2022, dispatch alerted Officers Clark Dickson and Jason Atofau to a call about a shooting at the Showbox SODO. Atofau told dispatchers he and Dickson, as well as their student officer, would respond to the call. Dispatch kept providing updates, including that a witness saw a possible injured victim running south on First Avenue. For about 20 minutes after receiving the call, the cops remained at SPOG headquarters, a short four-minute drive from the scene. 

The OPA complaint tracker shows the agency sustained the performance-of-duty and professionalism complaints against both officers, but it does not show how the department plans to discipline the cops. 

Tap, Tap, Tap–You’re on Camera

Case #2023OPA-0058

This next case breaks with our slacker theme, but I wanted to include a screenshot from an OPA case regarding Acting Det. Terry C. Bailey and a use-of-force incident that happened while he worked on a US Marshals violent offender task force operation. 

Bailey did receive a written reprimand for failing to call for medical aid after he hit a person with a so-called less-lethal round, but the OPA found insufficient evidence to sustain an allegation that he aimed the round at the person’s genitals. He also got written up for failing to turn on his body-worn camera at the proper time. 

Aside from all that, the OPA included a description of how Bailey reacted to watching a Snohomish County Sheriff’s deputy stomp the man after cops had him pinned to the ground. 

The OPA did not sustain a complaint against Bailey for failing to intervene on a questionable use of force, saying the incident didn’t last long enough for him to act. The OPA also pointed out that his announcement about his body camera recording, “whether intended or not,” stopped further use of force. A hero.