qualified immunity

Gaps in SPD’s Disciplinary System

WA State Legislature News

This year’s WA state legislative session continues at the breakneck pace of a short session.
This Thursday 1/27, the House’s Public Safety committee will be meeting with several bills up for executive session. People Power Washington – Police Accountability encourages you to write to the members of the committee urging them to PASS HB 1507 (the independent prosecutor bill) and to NOT PASS HB 1788 (lowering the threshold of when officers can engage in high-speed vehicular chases). Click here for more information, scripts and email addresses.
Meanwhile it looks like HB 1202 (qualified immunity) is dead in the water for this session.
As expected, a lawsuit was filed last week saying the new legislative maps of Washington violate the federal Voting Rights Act because of the way they split Latino voters in Yakima Valley and Pasco into multiple districts.

Seattle News

Amy Sundberg
Good morning, and welcome to Seattle’s Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting. CM Mosqueda is not present.
There were two agenda items of note on this morning’s Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting: a consent decree update from Court Monitor Oftelie and the OIG report on their audit of SPD’s disciplinary system.
During the consent decree update, Court Monitor Oftelie touted the remaining two community engagement meetings on stops & detentions and use of force. He confirmed his office uses SPD’s own data in their assessments and implied that collecting any data independently would be too big a drain on resources.
CM Herbold asked about data from 2020 and 2021 not being a good measure because of differing conditions such as the pandemic. Monitor Oftelie was vague on whether running data from the last couple of years would be necessary to determine consent decree compliance, saying his office would be looking to the City Council for guidance. Perhaps most noteworthy was CM Herbold’s remark that there was a use of force “anomaly” in 2020.
The OIG’s audit of SPD’s disciplinary system found that collectively there was a need for improvement. Some interesting highlights:
  • When there’s a range of disciplinary options presented to the Chief, there’s been a preference for the minimum of the range.
  • The OPA director can recommend the Chief meets with complainants but hasn’t actually ever done so.
  • While no recommendations were made about officers with a repeated history of complaints, Lisa Judge said there have been additional questions raised about this.
  • There are more “not sustained” training referrals (with proof that something has in fact been done incorrectly) than there are sustained findings. They researched several other police departments and found all of them would have classified these same findings as sustained. It turns out this was changed in the last few years as a result of SPOG filing a series of grievances regarding this rung of the disciplinary ladder until SPD decided to stop using it. This is important both because sustained findings are recorded differently than not sustained findings, with not sustained training referrals not included in performance appraisals, and because it shows the level of SPOG influence on SPD policy.
  • While SPD employees aren’t allowed to work overtime on days when they are suspended, they can take overtime shifts every other day of the pay period, allowing them to offset suspension days with overtime. SPD believes fixing this would be an issue for collective bargaining.
  • While there haven’t been sufficient arbitration cases to see this in practice, the system as it stands does seem vulnerable to a certain kind of “gaming,” in which one could select an arbitrator for one case with an eye to which arbitrator would then be able to hear the next case.
  • There was a question about the difference between an OIG recommendation versus matters for consideration. Matters for consideration are not currently tracked nor followed up on by the OIG. Two of the main reasons cited for flagging a matter for consideration instead of making a recommendation were if the matter would require collective bargaining or the decision of a policy maker. CM Herbold pushed back on this way of doing things since it decreases accountability.
  • CM Pedersen announced he is now a member of the newly constituted LRPC (Labor Relations Policy Committee).
Meanwhile, at the CPC meeting last week, one of the SPD officers who serves on the CPC was apparently confused as to why there was anything objectionable about the Proud Boys ruse the SPD used in the summer of 2020:
CE Bick
I am currently listening in on the @SeaCPC meeting, and @SeattlePD Officer Mark Mullens just asked what exactly was wrong with the “radio ruse” re: the Proud Boys lie.
Finally, if you’re curious about continuing havoc wrecked by Omicron, Publicola reported on its impact on SPD this month:
On January 12, SPD reported that 124 officers were isolating after testing positive for the virus: more than at any other point during the COVID-19 pandemic, easily surpassing the previous record of 80 officers in quarantine in November 2020. As of last Friday, the number of officers in quarantine had fallen to 85. Nearly 200 SPD employees have tested positive for the virus since the beginning of January, doubling the department’s total number of infections since the start of the pandemic.

Recent Headlines

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WA State Legislative Session Begins; SPD’s Proud Boys “Ruse”

WA State Legislature News

There are several public safety-related bills that I’ll be talking about during the current session of the Washington State Legislature, which opened today. If you live anywhere in Washington State, you are eligible to give your feedback on these bills.
First up we have HB 1202, the qualified immunity bill. This bill would provide a cause of action for victims injured by police officer violence and authorizes the Attorney General to investigate employers (eg police departments) and police officers engaging in particular patterns of conduct.
Next are a couple of bills related to 2021’s HB 1310, which I referred to last year as the de-escalation bill. A big push from the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability is to OPPOSE HB 1726, which would change for the standard of use of force from that of established probable cause (this is part of what HB 1310 did) to that of reasonable suspicion that requires no evidence.
HB 1735 also relates to last year’s HB 1310, explicitly stating that police officers are not prevented from helping medical professionals and behavioral health providers and must perform live-saving measures such as medical assistance. The Washington Coalition for Police Accountability supports this bill.
On Thursday, January 13, there will be hearings for both the solitary confinement bill and the independent prosecutor bill, so I’ll send out information on Wednesday for how to register your support and submit written comments about these two bills.
For more information on housing, land use, and digital equity bills you might wish to support, please check out Share the Cities Action Fund’s recent newsletter.

Seattle News

Late last week the OPA released a closed case summary revealing the SPD had engaged in an improper “ruse” during the 2020 summer protests. In this misinformation effort, they fabricated radio chatter about armed Proud Boys marching around downtown Seattle and heading to confront protesters in Capitol Hill, information that was relayed to the protesters, further escalating the situation and undermining the protest.
As The Seattle Times explains: “Police are allowed to use a ruse only when undercover, to acquire information for a criminal investigation or to address “an exigent threat to life safety or public safety.” Even then, state law says a ruse can’t be so “shocking” as to violate “fundamental fairness.” None of those conditions applied to the Proud Boys chatter, Myerberg determined.”
This ruse was covered up and only came to light when journalist Omari Salisbury asked for body camera footage related to this at the end of 2020. The OPA launched an investigation when this footage couldn’t be located , completed in September 2021, but the release of the closed case summary was delayed further until last week. No discipline is likely to result from the case as the two officers who ordered and supervised this misinformation effort have both since left the SPD.
If you would like to share your thoughts about this “ruse” and its subsequent coverup, you have a chance to give public comment at Seattle’s Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting tomorrow, Tuesday, January 11 at 9:30am. Signups begin tomorrow morning at 7:30am and can be done online here.
Also tomorrow, Tuesday January 11 from 6-8pm is the first of three joint CPC and Court Monitor community engagement meetings. You can get the agenda and Zoom link here. The topic of this month’s meeting is crisis intervention, and there will be a chance for community members to ask questions and speak about what they’d like to see in terms of crisis intervention in the city of Seattle.
That’s all for now, but you’ll hear from me again in a couple of days to talk about a few state bills and more evidence uncovered in the Labor Day 2020 SPOG HQ protest case.

WA State Legislative Session Begins; SPD’s Proud Boys “Ruse” Read More »