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Seattle Police cars lined up outside Key Arena. Photo by Brittnay Bush Bollay.

Seattle Police cars lined up outside Key Arena. Photo by Brittnay Bush Bollay.

KUOW News

Seattle Human Rights Commission Calls For More Police Oversight

Joshua McNichols
01/11/2012

A new report by the Seattle Human Rights Commission says the city's police chief needs better citizen oversight when it comes to disciplining bad officers. Last month, the US Justice Department said Seattle Police frequently use excessive force when making arrests. The new report suggests better oversight could help police clean up their act. KUOW's Joshua McNichols has more.

TRANSCRIPT

Say you're mistreated by the police, thrown to the ground or punched without provocation. That's excessive force, whether you're guilty of a crime or not. You can complain, but in the end, the police chief will decide whether to punish the officers.

Chris Stearns: "I think our current chief, Chief Diaz, is a very good person."

That's Chris Stearns, chair of the Seattle Human Rights Commission.

Stearns: "But there might be some bias there. I mean, he is after all a leader of all the police ranks. And he's being asked to find that one or two or any number of them have committed misconduct. There's an inherent bias there."

Stearns says people deserve a chance to appeal the chief's decision. Under the commission's new proposal, the chief still has the final word. But Stearns says additional review by a panel of citizens would increase pressure on the chief to please the public. He says that's important because it could help rebuild trust between minority communities and the police force.

Stearns: "If the community does trust the police, and works with the police, in every jurisdiction where that has happened crime has gone down."

The report made two other recommendations: It suggests the police department meet with community groups to discuss policing strategies — that's already happening — and it suggests the department track the use of excessive force and firearms discharges. Officials would then analyze the data to see if minorities suffer disproportionately.

City Councilmember Bruce Harrell is the new chair of the council's Public Safety Committee. He says he likes the commission's recommendations, but he raises a question.

Harrell: "I'm trying to better understand: do they believe that individuals are making the wrong decisions or there has to be structural changes in place? They're proposing structural solutions. Before I start thinking about structural solutions, I need to better understand, and I think the public needs to better understand, whether we simply have the right people making decisions as well."

Harrell says the commission may have put too much trust in police leaders like Chief Diaz. He also says Diaz deserves more time to make changes in the department.

In the meantime, Harrell says he wants to hear police leadership respond to the Justice Department report.

For KUOW News, I'm Joshua McNichols.

© Copyright 2012, KUOW

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