For years, accusations of misconduct by Seattle police officers would be met with the same response, whether from then-Chief Gil Kerlikowske or the department’s union leaders: Other cities have it worse, says the Seattle Times. Three years later, the U.S. Justice Department has come calling. Its Civil Rights Division — at the urging of the American Civil Liberties Union and 34 community groups — has opened an investigation into the Police Department after a string of high-profile confrontations between officers and minority citizens.
Mayor Mike McGinn and Police Chief John Diaz welcomed the probe, but Diaz seemed not to grasp its significance: he likened it to a “free audit” — a comparison met with stony silence by the U.S. attorney in Seattle, Jenny Durkan. With roughly 16,000 police and sheriff’s departments in the country, the DOJ has opened just four so-called “pattern or practice” investigations this year, Seattle among them. There are only 17 active cases nationwide. It was the Police Department’s sense of self-satisfaction that blinded top commanders to festering issues. The Times interviewed past and present officers and department officials, along with community and government leaders. They give an inside view of how the failure of police officials to recognize problems effectively obscured breakdowns in training, supervision, and community relations.