TGIF, amirite?
  • TGIF, amirite?
Seattle Police Chief John Diaz and several members of his command staff were gracious enough to give a revolving door of reporters a few minutes to hammer them with questions about the big news of the day: That Seattle Police officers routinely excessive force (especially batons) on suspects (especially minority suspects) instead of employing de-escelation tactics. Here's what I took away from my 15 minutes (in heaven!) with Diaz:

Do you believe the DOJ's findings that 20 percent—one in five—of use of force incidents are excessive?

Asst. Chief Clark Kimerer: We’ve been looking at this data for years and years and they didn’t come to the conclusions that we have. Some of their conclusions are based on the opinions of their consultants. That’s quite different from number crunching.

Diaz: I cannot say right now. I’ve asked the DOJ, let us see the numbers. I can say we use less force than most, if not all, major cities in the US.

We’ve done an exhaustive review of every single one of our use-of-force cases. We gave over 200,000 docs to the DOJ in the spirit of collaboration. We said we weren’t going to wait to the end of their investigation, we were going to implement as we went along and we've done so. Their suggestion for a Use of Force panel was a great one. We implemented it.

Let me make this clear: The department is not broken. [Our officers are] out there making this community safe. It’s one of the safest communities in the country. But are there things to improve? Absolutely.

Do you agree with the DOJ recommendation that the Office of Professional Accountability investigate all use-of-force complaints independently, instead of referring two-thirds of them to precinct supervisors?

Kimerer: This does not add up to our own experience and policies. They already investigate every use-of-force complaint.

Kathryn Olson, director of the OPA: I didn’t understand their concern that use of force cases were routinely being sent back to the precinct. Out of 160 cases in 2009 and 2010, only one case was referred to the precinct.

Diaz: We’ll be reviewing [the recommendation], along with all their other recommendations. But first, I'd like to see the data [that supports their conclusions]. If the data’s there, it’s there. At this point we're saying, let’s see the data, sit down, and talk about it.

Do you agree that SPD "does not collect adequate data to self-assess whether biased policing is occurring"? If so, what are you willing to do to address this problem, and what's you're message to the minority community in light of the DOJ finding that 50 percent of excessive force involved persons of color?

Diaz: I know you get sick of hearing this but we have to work on my three tenants—fighting crime, reducing the fear of crime, and building community. We have an outside entity that continues to survey the community every three months. [Our officers] have the highest ratings they’ve ever had.

But the DOJ's report suggests what you're currently doing isn't good enough. You've been Chief for 18 months and nothing's changed. So what are you willing to do differently?

Diaz: We’ve been working for 10 or 12 years on this issue. I want to sit down with Jack McDevitt [who worked with the DOJ on these findings] to find out how he found these conclusions and work on fixing the problem. But we do collect data now.

Much of the DOJ data—the idea that 44 officers generate 30 percent of the department's use-of-force reports—seems to suggest there are a few contemptive cops out there giving the whole department a bad rap. How do you plan to remedy this?

Deputy Chief Nick Metz: To say those officers are a few bad apples isn’t necessarily correct—

Diaz: Training, coaching, and discipline. You have to remember, we have hundreds of thousands of stops every year. We don’t use force in the overwhelming majority—it's used less than one percent of the time. But we need ongoing training, ongoing mentoring.

It seems that right now, there's not a lot you're willing to concede in this report. If the DOJ provides its data and you then disagree with their findings, what's the next step? Litigation?

Kimerer: Threats of litigation in a place like ours that’s been so cooperative and accountable, that’s not the way to get to the results we want to see made. If we agree with what they’re finding, we’re going to change.

Diaz: We’re a long way from litigation. We’ve agreed to collaboration. The report, as scathing as it was, was clear about how involved and committed in this process that we are.

The report notes that officers don't know how to differentiate a Terry stop from a casual civilian encounter. This is a fundamental and very basic aspect of policing. So, WTF?

Diaz: We need to push ongoing training. Our department is only getting younger. That’s why things like LEED are going to be so important. The moment they enter that academy, we’ve got to start with that communication standard.