National Policing News
Let’s start off today’s newsletter with a look at some national trends. The Washington Post began tracking fatal shootings by on-duty police officers back in 2015, and has discovered the fatal shootings reported by the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program are vastly lower than shootings the Washington Post has been able to substantiate–indeed, less than half the number. When reading about UCRP numbers, remember that these are voluntarily self-reported by law enforcement agencies, which is why projects like that being done by the Washington Post are so valuable. In fact, it reports that in 2020, only 27 percent of American law enforcement agencies contributed data to the National Use-of-Force Data Collection Program, covering 42 percent of officers.
The Washington Post‘s data shows a new high of 1,021 fatal shootings by on-duty police officers in 2020. This is in spite of the pandemic and all the protests against police brutality that took place last year. The data shows police shoot an average of almost 3 people per day, and usually about 1,000 people per year. As the article states:
Since Ferguson, departments across the country have taken steps toward reform, but these efforts have been inconsistent and incomplete. Most police departments still do not use body cameras. Experts in law enforcement and criminal justice say there have not been the large-scale policy or legal shifts that might reduce uses of force. And sending mental health teams in response to people in crisis, alongside or instead of armed officers, remains the exception.The article goes on to say that racial disparities have been documented in police use-of-force, and that Black people are shot and killed at higher rates than White people.
Meanwhile, over at FiveThirtyEight, Samuel Sinyangwe, the founder of the Police Scorecard, says the data shows that cities that have reduced arrests for minor offenses saw fewer police shootings. Indeed:
Reported crime fell in jurisdictions that cut low-level arrests; in fact, it fell by just as much as those cities that made more low-level arrests. Consistent with recent research, cities that reduced low-level arrests did not experience an uptick in violent crime — or murder, specifically — compared to other cities during this period. Moreover, cities that made fewer arrests for low-level offenses did not see a substantial reduction in violent crime arrests, suggesting a more lenient approach to low-level offenses has not resulted in police being less responsive to serious public safety threats.
So much for the broken windows theory of policing. And there is still room for improvement. Sinyangwe says low-level arrests still made up 55 percent of all arrests reported in the nation’s largest cities, and 69 percent of all arrests nationwide, in 2019. It’s possible that further reducing these arrests might reduce the number of police shootings even more, while continuing the move away from criminalizing poverty, mental illness, and drug addiction.
SPD Asks for More Money for Staffing, Again
Mayor Durkan has proposed new legislation that would reinstate $15,000 hiring bonuses for lateral transfers into SPD from other cities, as well as $7,500 bonuses for new recruits to SPD, in addition to adding other incentives to boost hiring, such as mental health professionals for officers. The total legislative package comes in a bit over $15m, which would be accessed by lifting provisos and using SPD attrition salary savings. $1.54m is proposed for Triage One, a CSCC protocol dispatch system, and the Peacekeepers Collective (under the subheading “Community Safety Reinvestments”), with the remaining $13.75m being spent on various SPD budget adjustments including the hiring bonuses.
Because this legislation is being presented as being in response to the recent gun violence in Seattle, the Mayor has emphasized this legislation needs to be passed as soon as possible. CM Pedersen is on the record as saying he wants to vote for the legislation next week. If you don’t wish to see SPD’s budget grow or increased hiring of police officers beyond the current staffing plan in 2021, now would be a good time to write or call your CMs.
The Pink Umbrella Case Strikes Again
Back in May, SPD Chief Diaz raised eyebrows when he overturned the OPA’s decision to discipline Lieutenant John Brooks for the part he played during the Pink Umbrella Protest in the summer of 2020. After saying he had evidence the OPA didn’t have–a claim he later walked back–Chief Diaz eventually disciplined Captain Steve Hirjak for the incident instead by demoting him from Assistant Chief.
Well, now Captain Hirjak has filed a discrimination and retaliation claim against the City of Seattle. He argues that he has been treated unfairly because of his race, and points to errors made by white command staff that have not been disciplined, as well as promotions for Lieutenant John Brooks, among others. The Seattle Times discusses the letter accompanying Captain Hirjak’s claim, saying:
Those identified include Brooks, who received a de facto promotion and pay raise despite racking up 14 misconduct complaints during the protests; Assistant Chief Thomas Mahaffey, who hasn’t been disciplined for ordering officers to abandon the East Precinct; and Assistant Chief Deanna Nollette, who faced no consequences for failing “to gather and understand relevant intelligence” and leaving the department unprepared, according to the letter.
Following the lawsuit brought against the University of Washington by its Black campus police officers earlier this summer claiming unbearable racism, this continues to raise questions as to how minorities are treated when they join law enforcement.
The City and Chief Diaz have until August 11 to agree to mediation in this case; otherwise Captain Hirjak will most likely file a lawsuit.