IF YOU'VE BEEN FOLLOWING THE NEWS ABOUT Police Chief Norm Stamper and the SPD's lax Internal Investigations Section (IIS), it's likely you've read, and could now write yourself, the following sentence: "In recent months, Stamper has come under fire after one of his homicide detectives, Earl "Sonny" Davis, Jr., was charged with stealing $10,000 from a crime scene. The case highlighted the department's failure to police itself."

Seattle's dutiful press corps have simply been trying to give readers some context. The problem--as evidenced by Stamper's recently announced 12-point plan to prevent officer misconduct--is that the "Sonny" Davis case only serves to obscure the real issue. The majority of complaints against SPD officers aren't about wayward cops stealing money from dead men and tampering with evidence. The bulk of complaints (indeed, 98 percent of them) are about beat officers violating civil rights, targeting minorities, using unnecessary force, and misusing authority in a variety of ways. On this point, according to cop watchers, Stamper's proposal misses the boat. "If you're interested in cracking down on police misconduct, why resist an outside review for the bulk of the complaints?" asks ACLU attorney, Julya Hampton.

Stamper's plan, which even wowed his harshest critics in City Hall (two weeks ago, councilmembers like Richard McIver seemed to be calling for the chief's resignation), lays out 12 steps to ensure that misbehaving cops are dealt with appropriately. Some of Stamper's ideas are good ones. The plan calls for an "Early Warning System" to flag troubled officers before they spin out of control. It calls for "Integrity Testing," which, to the chagrin of the police union, will potentially establish sting operations and undercover investigations of cops suspected of misconduct, like seizing drugs for personal use. And, while a bit timid, Stamper's plan does address the power of the police union, the Officer's Guild, which has flexed its collective bargaining muscle in the past to thwart IIS reform. Stamper, for example, wants to expand "investigative options when employees are named in IIS cases as witnesses."

It's point number one, however--the recommendation that generated the first positive headlines for Stamper in months--that frustrates civil rights advocates most. Stamper calls for a "referral of investigations to the FBI Public Corruption Unit." Essentially, the FBI would take over IIS investigations into allegations of corruption--allowing an outside party to do fact-finding in matters like the Davis cover-up, where cops violated the law.

What's wrong with bringing in the FBI? Well, for starters, according to Don Alexander of the Seattle Human Rights Commission, it diffuses the call for citizen investigations into allegations of police corruption. He says, "It's not only important, it's necessary that we as citizens of Seattle are able to watch the police. Who guards the guard? I'm not comfortable with a dictatorship, no matter how benevolent." Currently, critics note, only 10 percent of allegations against the SPD are sustained.

More importantly, the plan does not call for any third party investigations--FBI or otherwise--into the more widespread instances of alleged misconduct, like misuse of authority (threatening an arrest when it's unwarranted), failure to take appropriate action (blowing off a domestic violence call), and the use of unnecessary force. "They've admitted that an outside party like the FBI makes sense for corruption investigations, so why not use the same standard on the larger percentage of complaints?" says the ACLU's Hampton.

Hampton raises a compelling point. According to the 1998 IIS audit, only five of the total 338 allegations of SPD officer misconduct would have received FBI scrutiny. Says Jerry Sheehan, legislative director at the ACLU: "[Stamper] is conceding that the department shouldn't investigate itself on certain matters. So why isn't that the standard for cases like the black woman in the Central District, who's complaining that her son is getting pulled over every third week?"

Stamper's office walked us through highlights of the 12-point plan, but they did not respond to questions related to the ACLU's criticisms. This is rather ironic, given that Stamper's plan is couched as an attempt to address public accountability.

Retired Judge Terry Caroll, who conducted the 1998 IIS audit, says the ACLU is absolutely right, and that Stamper's plan will not bring the majority of IIS allegations to the attention of the FBI. He does, however, applaud the chief's decision to bring in the feds on serious criminal allegations like the Davis case. "I've been calling for this for a long time," he says.

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