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News

Two Programmers Expose Dysfunction and Abuse In the Seattle Police Department 249

reifman writes: Programmers Eric Rachner and Phil Mocek are now the closest thing Seattle has to a civilian police-oversight board. Through shrewd use of Washington's Public Records Act, the two have acquired hundreds of reports, videos, and 911 calls related to the Seattle Police Department's internal investigations of officer misconduct. Among some of Rachner and Mocek's findings: a total of 1,028 SPD employees (including civilian employees) were investigated between 2010 and 2013. (The current number of total SPD staff is 1,820.) Of the 11 most-investigated employees—one was investigated 18 times during the three-year period—every single one of them is still on the force, according to SPD.

In 569 allegations of excessive or inappropriate use of force (arising from 363 incidents), only seven were sustained—meaning 99 percent of cases were dismissed. Exoneration rates were only slightly smaller when looking at all the cases — of the total 2,232 allegations, 284 were sustained. This is partly why the Seattle PD is under a federal consent decree for retraining and oversight. You can check out some of the typically excellent Twitter coverage by Mocek from his #MayDaySea coverage.
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Two Programmers Expose Dysfunction and Abuse In the Seattle Police Department

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 06, 2015 @11:51AM (#49630163)

    How can we trust them since /. hates PHP so much?

  • I'm shocked ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Wednesday May 06, 2015 @11:52AM (#49630169) Homepage

    You mean when the police investigate their own misconduct they find there was none?

    I'm shocked I tell 'ya.

    And the police wonder why they're no longer treated with respect, while being people who regularly abuse their power and ignore the law. All cops need to start wearing body cameras at all times. Because it has reached the point where taking them at their word is a stupid idea.

    If the police choose to ignore the law, they should be charged like the rest of us.

    • Re:I'm shocked ... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Hussman32 ( 751772 ) on Wednesday May 06, 2015 @12:24PM (#49630459)

      One item the media seems to dismiss is that there are almost 40 million [bjs.gov] police interactions every year. About 1.4% claim there was force used, and the majority state it was excessive. The number that has made the recent news is a dozen or so.

      I will be the first to say that 1.4% is far too much, but you can also note that 98.6% follow procedure, and all beat cops have a non-zero probability of being shot when they go to work that morning. Their job is hard (and quoting stats comparing cops to fisherman is pointless, fish don't have shotguns in the back seat).

      I have a friend whose husband was killed in the line of duty, he was stopping a warehouse robbery. It didn't make national news, and her kids grew up without their father. Yes, there are issues with the thin blue line and the recent monitoring with cell phones is a benefit, but before anyone goes around blasting cops without considering the whole picture, just imagine what it would be like if they did not protect us and serve us from the anarchy that would be there without them.

      • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

        by drinkypoo ( 153816 )

        I will be the first to say that 1.4% is far too much, but you can also note that 98.6% follow procedure

        What? No, you can't note that. We don't know anything about what they're doing at other times from that statistic.

        • Re:I'm shocked ... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Forgefather ( 3768925 ) on Wednesday May 06, 2015 @01:24PM (#49631047)

          Really. It's not possible to extrapolate anything from that number. After all one of the biggest abuses of policing is the way that they deliver routine tickets in such volume that it financially cripples a community. Ferguson has more warrants for arrest than people and almost all of them are for failure to pay traffic fines. Living in fear of a police officer pulling you over for being over the limit by a single MPH (Yes this does happen) and giving you a ticket that will put you in debt for years (and possibly prison) is the very definition of abuse.

          Granted not all of that rests on the heads of cops. Most of it resides on the government and court system that allow loan sharks to take over the collections of tickets in a way that traps the people in debt. These agencies offer to take over collections for free but then add a service charge to ticket payed by the person cited. All of the money that the person pays goes towards that fee until it is payed off, but the fee keeps increasing with missed payments. The result is that these people are stuck in a cycle of payments until a warrant goes out for their arrest for failing to pay a ticket and then they are sent to prison.

          As the Ferguson report on policing practices said: when the city mayor asked the police chief to deliver 10% more revenue he responded "we can try."

          I'm sure that most of these stops were perfectly routine. Doesn't mean that the police aren't being abusive.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Look, policing is a hard, dangerous, often thankless job, and you have to understand that not everybody who wants to do it is qualified. When you hand an unqualified person a badge and a gun, they don't suddenly become qualified -- in fact, they become a liability to police everywhere.

        You know how everybody is calling for police to wear cameras nowadays? It's not because we want to see what a day in the life of a policeman is. It's because cops are so untrustworthy that the only way to know if they're lying

        • One must also consider that in some communities witnesses will often intentionally lie or make conflicted statements against the police as well. So, the body cameras would protect both sides from false allegations.

          From a privacy standpoint, though, we must also consider adjusting the law so that recordings of unrelated crimes cannot be prosecuted outside of a certain time frame or context. Otherwise, you will have police departments scanning footage, either by eye or software, looking for misdemeanors and
        • Look, policing is a hard, dangerous, often thankless job, and you have to understand that not everybody who wants to do it is qualified. When you hand an unqualified person a badge and a gun, they don't suddenly become qualified -- in fact, they become a liability to police everywhere.

          It seems that a good solution would be to make sure that people who get badges are qualified. Make police officer a trained profession with standardized requirements. If becoming a police officer required three years of schooling, training and taking standardized tests you'd weed out some of the deadbeats and end up with police officers who have a decent understanding of both the law they're supposed to enforce and of how to enforce it without holding everyone they meet at gunpoint. With time it might turn

      • Re:I'm shocked ... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by tweak13 ( 1171627 ) on Wednesday May 06, 2015 @01:37PM (#49631175)

        Their job is hard (and quoting stats comparing cops to fisherman is pointless, ...

        Why is using actual data on how dangerous the job is compared to other jobs pointless? Because it doesn't support your argument?

        ... fish don't have shotguns in the back seat)

        Neither do the vast, vast majority of people.

        • Why is using actual data on how dangerous the job is compared to other jobs pointless? Because it doesn't support your argument?

          ... fish don't have shotguns in the back seat)

          Neither do the vast, vast majority of people.

          Agreed on the second part, but the issue is the police officer's job is to insert themselves into situations where the suspects are doing wrong and have an interest avoiding prison. This leads to return actions from humans that are often violent, and that is not something most people deal with everyday. No other job, except for firemen and the military, has that as part of the job description.

          Maybe it wasn't clear in my first post, but I stated that the abusive cops need to be removed (the thin blue line)

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Their job is hard (and quoting stats comparing cops to fisherman is pointless, fish don't have shotguns in the back seat).

        Why is it pointless? Is feeding people less important than guarding them? For every cop who lost a buddy on the job, there's a fisherman who has lost a dozen. Do you truly believe that fishermen don't face that reality every day? For every cop that gets shot, five farmhands drown while cleaning grain silos, falling in and suffocating on corn. Just because they won't get a parade or a headline doesn't mean they don't understand the risks. The cop patrolling the highway is half as likely to die serving you

    • Re:I'm shocked ... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Andy Dodd ( 701 ) <atd7@@@cornell...edu> on Wednesday May 06, 2015 @12:25PM (#49630463) Homepage

      Body cameras will help a little, but they won't solve the problem.

      Expect body cameras worn by corrupt cops to have serious reliability issues.

    • And the police wonder why they're no longer treated with respect, while being people who regularly abuse their power and ignore the law.

      No longer? Police have never been the embodiment of the Officer Friendly persona, on the whole. There are bright spots here and there to be sure, particularly in laid back suburban communities with high pay and low crime, but police have a history of abuse and extortion. See *any* third world country for an example of what our own police used to be. Police behavior has

    • Personally, if I was a cop, I'd be ASKING to wear a body camera 24/7 now.

      But then again, I'm not a cop because I know it's a crazy hard job and that I'd probably just wind up shooting someone for being "1000th person to lie to my face today".

      And I'll say it again here as I've said in other places, there should be a "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?: clause in the law, whereby anyone with authority over something is punished at a category-higher severity than a normal person, when the crime relates to that thi

      • I live in the Corporate States of America. Here, the more responsibility you have, the less responsible you have to be. The guy hired last week to mop the floors will be fired immediately if a bottle of floor wax should come up missing. The CEO can artfully relocate millions of dollars, and he'll get a bonus for doing it.

        Crazy world we live in.

  • Stay objective. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 06, 2015 @11:52AM (#49630179)

    On the one hand, routine dismissal of serious allegations suggests protection of corruption.

    On the other hand, allegations do not imply guilt. Any criminal that dislikes being caught by the police can make such allegations.

    I will reserve judgment until the evidence is available.

    • by bigpat ( 158134 )

      I will reserve judgment until the evidence is available.

      This is both the point and not the point. That is the question. The people with the power and authority to collect and present the evidence are the people with the power to suppress the evidence about themselves.

      A free press and real public oversight are supposed to be the answer in a free society. But many state have laws make it a felony to record the police without their knowledge and if you make the police aware they are being recorded while they are committing what you perceive as a criminal act th

      • by PPH ( 736903 )

        The people with the power and authority to collect and present the evidence are the people with the power to suppress the evidence about themselves.

        Not so much in Washington State (Seattle). Body cam and dash cam videos are available via the Public Records Act [wa.gov]. So, not much suppression going on here. In fact, adoption of body cams has been hindered. Not by concerns of the authorities, afraid that their behavior will be observed, but by members of the public who might end up as the subject of a recording and want to protect their privacy.

        police aware they are being recorded while they are committing what you perceive as a criminal act then you endanger yourself.

        This needs to be fixed. Probably at the federal level*. If members of the public are far enough back from some activi

        • by bigpat ( 158134 )

          police aware they are being recorded while they are committing what you perceive as a criminal act then you endanger yourself.

          This needs to be fixed. Probably at the federal level*. If members of the public are far enough back from some activity to not be interfering with it, then holding a camera shouldn't change that.

          Agreed. The former chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court was on the radio today saying that this was her strongest dissent in an opinion. The same supposedly liberal court that legalized gay marriage also said that people could be prosecuted under the state wiretap law for recording audio of what they perceive is police misconduct.

          If it is a felony to record audio of public officials performing public duties in a public place, then there is no freedom of press.

  • News at 11 (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 06, 2015 @11:59AM (#49630275)

    Two Seattle programmers were arrested on alleged drug charges, and passed away while in police custody. The SPD will investigate the incident.

  • by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Wednesday May 06, 2015 @12:07PM (#49630327)

    Isn't Seattle already under a "consent decree"? (That's basically when the Feds descend on a police force - ala Ferguson - because they want to clean it up.)
    http://www.seattletimes.com/se... [seattletimes.com]

    And isn't there already a full body - with it's own web site - monitoring it?
    http://www.seattlemonitor.com/ [seattlemonitor.com]

    • by guruevi ( 827432 )

      It seems like neither of those sources are doing anything good. If Seattle is already being cleaned up and has it's own monitor website and then a couple of nerds uncover troves of issues, then neither the government nor the monitor is doing it's job and is more likely helping to cover things up rather than expose them.

      • >> neither of those sources are doing anything good

        Failure ahead for Obama in Baltimore, then? However, note that the "nerds" research only covers 2010-2013: that's BEFORE the consent decree went in. In other words, if they can show it's STILL going on...

        >> more likely helping to cover things up rather than expose them

        Admittedly, that's half the attraction of a consent decree to a local police department. The Feds come in but no one gets sued.

  • by bkr1_2k ( 237627 ) on Wednesday May 06, 2015 @12:14PM (#49630389)

    Can they expand their investigation to include other jurisdictions? This kind of information needs to be available (and compiled) for every police jurisdiction in the country. If we can do that we might get some accurate records of police actions since the government is disinclined to do so (even though they passed a law requiring it 4 or 5 years ago.)

    • by Andy Dodd ( 701 )

      It sounds like not all states have the kind of public records disclosure laws that Washington has.

  • by Jim Sadler ( 3430529 ) on Wednesday May 06, 2015 @12:19PM (#49630423)
    Law is one thing and order quite another. My view of the cops is that they are aware that they can no longer hold the line and are in a sort of panic. What is orderly is often confusing and very subjective whereas what is legal is usually more sharply defined. Part of the problem is money. Tax payers don't like to pay taxes and as a consequence we do not require college degrees for cops. The consequence is that we end up with some pretty primitive personalities working as cops. Sloppy language results in sloppy thinking. For example police have to be instructed on how to stay safe and stay alive. But the cops on the receiving end of the training falsely translate that training into an idea that they must have absolute safety. Absolute safety is not available for any type of employment much less being a cop. That is why we are seeing cops that are a bit quick to get violent and their training amplifies the problem. For example if they shoot a suspect one time should they really be trained to keep shooting until the subject is down and not moving at all? The public is also at fault as in days gone by any person who ran for any reason was subject to being shot so very few people tried to run. Now running from cops is common and the cops do not shoot simply because a person is running and that exposes cops to a lot more risk. And these three strikes laws cause a lot of violence as well. A bad guy has nothing to lose by running if a third incident will get him life without hope of parole. Cruel and unpleasant jails also assure and create violence as resisting arrest is sort of logical if one is about to be dropped into some kind of degrading hell pit. There is plenty of guilt to go around and as much guilt falls on the tax payers as upon the criminals.
    • Once a decision to use a firearm is committed to, putting a stop to whatever that threat is takes precedence. At this point (condition red: the Cooper Color Code philosophy) speed and violence of action to immobilize the threat has to be your only goal. That usually means multiple rounds as close to center mass as possible regardless of what may happen to the target until the threat is no more. This is just common sense and a reality some may not want to acknowledge no matter who is wielding the gun: cri

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Actually it's quite the opposite.

      Abuses arise when cops don't care about law, they care about "order". Order is a nebulous concept that they can enforce however they see fit.

      This is, likewise, why many people don't see the problem with cops murdering a black man in Baltimore, but they are very upset about people burning down a CVS. The first is in keeping with the order of things -- cops are supposed to beat up black people -- whereas burning down a store is the essence of disorder.

    • " in days gone by any person who ran for any reason was subject to being shot"

      Here, you err. In days gone by, fleeing and evading the police was a mere misdemeanor. In the years immediately before 9/11/01 there was controversy about making fleeing and evading a felony. A cop was NEVER authorized to use deadly force to prevent a misdemeanor. Cops have ALWAYS been authorized to use deadly force to prevent the commission of a felony. The controversy over this issue was pretty lively - until 9/11/01. So

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Whoops. Too late.
    Look, I get that the assumption from TFA is that the 99% exoneration rate is too high, but what have we in the way of substantive evidence that this is actually so? [crickets]
    Yeah, thought so, and that is a problem. It's always a case of who do you believe, the cop or the criminal, when investigating cases of corruption and brutality, and it is more than reasonable to assume that, more often than not, the criminal is full of shit. So how do we do justice to those who actually do have a va
    • The criminal or the accused?

      Every time it comes up where the police have murdered some guy in the news, in the ensuing investigation in the following weeks, it always transpires that the police lied and covered up.

      Fills one with a great deal of confidence.

  • and everyone arrested claims inappropriate use of force. Unless someone goes case by case, these statistics mean nothing. Both sides are biased, that's why police body cameras and bystanders recording video are such hot topics lately.
  • Statistics (Score:2, Informative)

    In 569 allegations of excessive or inappropriate use of force (arising from 363 incidents), only seven were sustained—meaning 99 percent of cases were dismissed.

    Okay, those are some numbers. Are they good? Are they bad? What percentage of dismissals would be "good" if - as is implied - this statistic is indicative of something being wrong?

    In a less rhetorical tone, how does this compare to other similar-sized forces around the country?

    Exoneration rates were only slightly smaller when looking at all the cases — of the total 2,232 allegations, 284 were sustained.

    Exoneration rates might be "slightly smaller" - 87% down from 99%, which isn't that slight - but if you look at it the other way, the "sustainment" rate is over 10x higher. Tricky things, numbers.

    Among some of Rachner and Mocek's findings: a total of 1,028 SPD employees (including civilian employees) were investigated between 2010 and 2013. (The current number of total SPD staff is 1,820.)

    Okay, sounds pretty bad. What were the

  • by ErichTheRed ( 39327 ) on Wednesday May 06, 2015 @01:16PM (#49630955)

    I think that most people understand there are a certain percentage of truly bad cops who will tamper with evidence, lie, etc. to get what they need. The thing that's new is the Internet, social media, and the ability for guys like these to collect and publish records. If a bystander hadn't taken (or published) the video of that guy in South Carolina being shot, the cop would still be working today and no one would have said a thing. It used to be extremely rare that something like this surfaced, and it often took a major news organization to do the kind of investigating and analysis.

    You can't go into law enforcement without having at least some tendencies towards being a bully. I think that, plus the unlimited authority police get, plus the fact that they deal almost exclusively with "bad" people produce the police that make the headlines. I don't know how most are able to keep their bully tendencies in check when they never work with good people, plus racism and fellow officers reinforcing bad behavior probably have an effect over time as well. The end product of that is the stereotypical "bully with a badge" that gets the most media attention.

    In the age when anyone can post video of bad police behavior, the only answer is to have tamper proof cameras on police every time they interact with the public. It's too easy for people to make false claims, and it used to be too easy for the police to sweep things under the rug.

    • I think the police must and can change. The bullying can be kept to a minimum, through screening and training. The training also needs to change.

      One problem is higher up. It's not just the police, it's local governments. For example, a few weeks ago, I got a letter about my grass being too high. In a neighboring city, the bureaucrats actually escalated an unmown lawn into jail time! [wfaa.com] They had kept a dossier of lawn care violations dating back nearly 20 years! Wow, welcome to East Germany. I had mow

  • I have no doubt a lot of allegations they get are vexatious. However they are likely obligated to investigate just about all of them. So in one sense it is good that so many investigations have taken place (i.e. they are following rules/guidelines).

    However still it does make you wonder with just the numbers involved.

    I know for things like FOI there are exemptions for vexatious requests, just as I am sure there probably is for allegations. However I know to meet those requirements the bar is so high as to it

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