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Seattle Police effort to plug leaks uncovered

Seattle Police spent over a year and thousands of hours trying to uncover the source of media leaks within the department. (AP image)

Seattle Times reporter Steve Miletich is used to getting the inside scoop from sources. Now he’s learned the Seattle Police Department spent more than a year in a massive internal investigation trying to figure out who was leaking information to him and other reporters.

“The breadth and scope of this was far beyond anything we’d ever heard of. It went on for well over a year, lots of hours of work because we know they looked at 120,000 phone calls. That alone would be a pretty monumental task,” Miletich said in an interview with Ross and Burbank.

Miletich reported on the investigation in Wednesday’s edition. He said the department took the “highly unusual step” to probe several cases; including the investigation into the death of Seattle police officer Timothy Brenton in October 2009, the search for the suspect in the killing of four Lakewood police officers the following month, and another case involving a search warrant.

“I think their fear was that information would get out that would compromise the investigation, make it harder to find a suspect, tip off a suspect, hurt their effort to solve the case and bring the suspect to justice,” he said.

But Miletich said the Times actually withheld some sensitive information it learned about the Brenton case until police arrested suspected killer Christopher Monfort. “But it apparently triggered great concern in the police department that we knew about it,” he said.

“What I’m struck by is how much manpower (that) went into this thing, which you reported was ultimately inconclusive,” said KIRO Radio’s Luke Burbank.

Officials refused to disclose how much time and money was spent on the investigation, Miletich said.

“I think history will show that whatever the organization, whenever they do these leak investigations, they’re usually futile. They spend a lot of time looking and come up with very little, if nothing.”

The aggressive search for the source of the leaks isn’t the first under Chief John Diaz. Miletich previously reported the SPD hired an outside law firm last year to try and find who was providing inside information into the investigation of an officer who threatened a Latino man with violence and a racial slur. That effort cost taxpayers $12,000, Miletich said.

“It’s a shot across the bow,” said Burbank. “They don’t like the fact that the media, this show among them, is often critical of SPD. They want to keep the information in there. They don’t want the media having access to anything.”

None of the stories seemed to have an adverse impact on any of the investigations. Miletich stands by the Times reporting, despite a desire by some in the SPD to silence his sources.

“Besides the public interest in this, we felt the employees of the Seattle Police Department should know that this had occurred and they should be aware of that possibility,” he said.

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