Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Seattle Police Office Of Professional Accountability: 2009 Complaint Statistics

by Matt Rosenberg May 17th, 2010

SUMMARY: Seattle police had 450,355 contacts with the public in 2009, including 22,983 arrests, plus dispatch calls, traffic stops and on-view citizen contacts. (Source: SPD). SPD’s Office of Professional Accountability was formed in 1999 by the City Council, has a civilian head, and reports to the council and mayor, not to police. OPA reports that in 2009, 12 percent, or 24 of 198 serious misconduct complaint investigations completed were upheld, or found justified by the evidence. Of these 198 cases closed, 105 involved allegations of unnecessary or excessive use of force by police officers. Zero of the 105 excessive force cases closed in 2009 were sustained. Additionally in 2009, 176 new investigations of serious complaints were opened. (Source: “key link” document, below).

KEY LINK: “2009 Complaint Statistics Report,” Seattle Police Department Office Of Professional Accountability. Presented to Seattle City Council Public Safety and Education Committee, 4/22/10.

KEY FINDINGS

  • In 2009, 1,442 contacts were made by the public with the Seattle Police Department’s Office Of Professional Accountability. The “great majority” were information requests or referrals. 176 of the contacts were classified as complaints of alleged officer misconduct to be investigated either by department supervisors or the OPA. (There were 175 such classifications on 2008, and 166 in 2007). Contacts not classified as allegations of serious misconduct regarded matters such as service quality, disputes about incident reports or citations, enforcement discretion, officer demeanor, and courtesy.
  • Investigations were completed or “closed” on 198 complaint investigations in 2009 and 12 percent, or 24 were sustained. (13 percent were sustained in 2008). One-third involved off-duty misconduct such as DUI, disorderly conduct or reckless driving. Others involved failure to report becoming a subject of a criminal process, discretion, misuse of records, misuse of authority, evidence handling, courtesy, investigation regulations. Discipline actions included termination, suspension, written reprimand or transfer.
  • Another 12 percent of the 198 complaints closed in 2009 were referred for supervisory intervention – meaning department policy may have been violated, but not willfully and/or not in a way constituting misconduct. Examples: mishandling evidence or property, failure to use in-car video and audio recording devices during traffic stops, sleeping. Training or counseling resulted.
  • Among the 198 complaint investigations closed in 2009, 105 had alleged unnecessary or excessive use of force by police officers; zero were sustained. In 2008, two use of force complaints were sustained, and none in prior years following OPA’s creation in 1999 (p. 18 of the OPA 2008 complaint report). Improper use of force complaints were lodged against 111 officers in 2007, 98 officers in 2008, and 72 officers in 2009. The total number of improper use of force allegations was 313 in 2007, 298 in 2008 and 318 in 2009. (Multiple allegations are sometimes made against individual officers).The report states: “Seattle Police Department has a stringent policy regarding the reporting of use of force. All force incidents are reviewed by a number of people to ensure the force was within policy,” and OPA investigates when complaints are filed. Although none of 105 force cases closed in 2009 were sustained, several led to supervisory intervention stemming from reporting problems such as failure to activate the in-car audio/video recording system.
  • 85 percent of officers were not the subject of any complaints in 2009 (up from 80 percent in 2007 and 2008), and of the 15 percent who were, the majority were exonerated or not responsible. The OPA report states: “The vast majority of police actions do not involve misconduct and most complaints filed with OPA are not sustained. However, OPA strives to ensure…that misconduct complaints are investigated fairly, thoroughly, and expeditiously.”
  • Total contacts between police and the public in 2009 numbered 450,355, according to information obtained directly from Seattle Police. This includes dispatch calls, traffic stops, arrests, and on-view contacts. The figure for 2008 was 493,922 (source: p. 16 of the Seattle Police 2008 Annual Report).

RELATED INFORMATION

Seattle Police Office of Professional Accountability
OPA “About” page

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