Seattle police officer quit over mistreatment by council, Kshama Sawant

Sep 5, 2018, 5:58 AM | Updated: 6:11 am
seattle police...
(File, Associated Press)
(File, Associated Press)

As a recruitment crisis looms at the Seattle Police Department, one officer has had enough. Sick of being demonized by the city council and, in particular, Councilmember Kshama Sawant, the officer made the decision to quit.

That officer made a lateral move to another law enforcement agency.

RELATED: Chief Best and SPD’s staffing issues

The news last month was positive for many officers. The Seattle Police Officer’s Guild reached a tentative contract agreement with the city and insiders believe the membership will approve it. Still, a lack of contract was only one of three major issues leading to what officers claim is record-low morale within the department.

Indeed, in this case, a new contract didn’t matter.

Seattle police officers have long-complained they are being mistreated by the city council and an over-zealous Office of Professional Accountability (OPA). Now, we have an inside look at why one officer is leaving the department.

The officer in question offered me access to a document he provided to HR explaining why he is leaving. The officer released this with the hopes of changing the attitudes between the SPD and the council and to back up claims of a “mass exodus” of officers leaving the department — or getting ready to.

I’ve agreed to keep his identity anonymous.

Constantly demonized compared to Nazis

The officer left the Seattle Police Department because of “the lack of support from the city” and how politicized the position became. The officer mentions Sawant by name, calling her out for labeling cops as “murderers” and claimed to be “forced to adhere to a political ideology that most officers disagree with.”

“Officers are feeling that they are nothing more than a political punching bag,” the officer said in the document. “…that they are the sacrificial lambs on the altar of so called police reform.”

I recently asked Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best about criticisms from the council. While she wouldn’t call out Sawant directly, Chief Best recently told the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH that she’s proud of her officers and will fight to defend them against spurious attacks.

“When I hear things that aren’t true, I’m going to make sure I will counter with the truth,” Chief Best explained. “All we can do is put the truth out there, the best way that we know it, and people are going to decide for themselves how they feel about it. What I do know is that officers are working hard every day, they’re saving lives … so I will counter anything with the truth.”

But the concerns go beyond the council. Indeed, the officer told me this isn’t his only issue and it wasn’t the only time he felt unfairly targeted. In the document, he argues he was “Subjected to demoralizing training” where cops were compared to Nazis.

“In 2017, all officers were mandated to attend an extremely offensive and demeaning training called ‘Law Enforcement and Society: Lessons from the Holocaust,’” the officer explained to me in an email. “This was not optional. We were forced to attend a day of training where we were subjected to a slideshow and lecture on how the German police were essentially converted into the SS in the Nazi Regime and did Hitler’s bidding by rounding up the Jews etc. and the lessons we would learn from it in our current police climate. We then broke out into discussion where we were asked how we think the public views law enforcement which was steered in a direction of negative perceptions. And we were encouraged to be more ‘understanding’ of these perceptions.”

It’s not that history isn’t important, the officer tells me. It’s that the training made it seem like officers are perceived to being close to turning into Nazis. Consequently, rather than appreciating the history, they ended up feeling slighted.

“We were made to feel like we, as cops, were complicit in the sins of the Nazis,” a second SPD officer tells me, backing up the claims made in the HR document.

OPA goes too far

Echoing the concerns of dozens of officers I’ve spoken to in the last several months covering the SPD, this officer took issue with the the Office of Professional Accountability. This organization investigates claims of misconduct and doles out recommendations for punishment.

The chain of command has been reviewing body camera footage looking for mistakes to turn over to the OPA, officers complain. They don’t take issue, they tell me, with serious cases of misconduct. They do, however, find it ridiculous to be investigated over small issues: filling out a form incorrectly or turning on a body camera a few seconds too late.

The officer in the document complained of “being subjected to nonsense complaints” by an “aggressive OPA, [and] out of touch Chain of Command.”

It’s an issue Seattle’s Chief of Police Carmen Best has heard and is addressing.

“We have to hold officers accountable … so we’re trying to strike the right balance,” Chief Best explained. “We’re still looking at making sure we get there. We haven’t reached perfection yet… [and] we want to make sure we’re holding people accountable, but we also want to let them do their job, so that’s what we’re doing.”

‘Dismal staffing’ and de-policing Seattle police

Is there a staffing crisis? My earlier report says the Seattle PD is nearing one. Officers argue it’s already happening.

According to the document, the officer complained he was “Being told to not on-view or be proactive” in his policing because of the “dismal staffing numbers” that’s even preventing officers from taking time off. The officer calls the issue “unsafe,” especially when they’re told they “cannot augment extra bodies when we are below minimum staffing levels … due to ‘budget.’”

This is a common complaint from officers, much of it due to a recruitment issue, which Chief Best describes as “significant” and says it concerns her.

“We’ve had a gap in recruiting,” Chief Best admits. She believes some of that stemmed from not having a new contract and hopes it will alleviate that part of the problem.

So, now what?

What’s next to address these issues is unclear. A contract certainly helps, cops believes, but it doesn’t get to the root causes of many concerns.

“The tentative contract isn’t swaying me to stay whatsoever,” the officer emailed me. “I became a police officer to make a difference. To enforce the law and serve the people. Don’t get me wrong. A paycheck is nice. But pride in my work and the freedom and autonomy to perform my duties for another agency and city that will actually appreciate it and not rake me over the coals for doing so are worth way more to me than a contract.”

What’s key for this former Seattle police officer — beyond being treated reasonably by the council — is changing the culture at OPA.

“High pay will mean nothing if I’m ever unfairly punished and have unpaid days off due to a bogus allegation investigated by an overzealous OPA,” he said.

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Seattle police officer quit over mistreatment by council, Kshama Sawant