Friday, January 28, 2011

Who Watches the Watchmen--Seattle Police

The Seattle Times recently reported that, in response to a Public Disclosure Act request, the Seattle Police Department withheld correspondence from Seattle City Councilman Tim Burgess to Chief of Police John Diaz. Mr. Burgess emailed Chief Diaz urging him to allow an outside agency to investigate the John T. Williams slaying. Of course, that never happened. Instead, the internal SPD investigation was peer reviewed.

The Seattle Times now reports that SPD received "high marks" for its internal review of the John T. Williams shooting, from peer reviewer, the San Diego Police Department. Another peer review investigation is still pending.

The review was not all glowing, however. The Times explains, "the four-page review faulted the department for doing too many telephone interviews that produced confusing information, and for initially putting out "factually inaccurate" information about the shooting, forcing a retraction of its statement that Williams advanced on Birk before the shooting."

Factually inaccurate information about whether Williams was a threat to the officer when the officer shot him multiple times? This is the central issue of the entire investigation. The SPD either knowingly misrepresented the facts of the case to the public or failed to investigate evidence in its own possession. If a lawyer did this, he would be punished for ethics violations. When a police department does it, it gets "high marks" on peer review.

Every specialized profession has some kind of internal and/or peer review system, some more effective than others. Only the profession of policing, however, entails the authority to take away life and liberty. Peer review of an internal review is not enough, especially when it looks like this.