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Rantz: 91 percent of complaints against cops rejected, contradicts activist narrative

A vast majority of complaints against Seattle police officers were rejected according to recent data. (AP)

Some local activists can be quick to demonize cops after any use of force. Others, including a sitting councilmember, rush to call cops racist murderers. But new data from the City of Seattle directly contradicts the scurrilous claims suggesting the Seattle Police Department has a misconduct problem.

It’s no secret that the Seattle Police Department is losing officers at an alarming rate. Officer separations — which includes, among other things, resignations and retirements — show no significant signs of slowing, even after the “historically large” exodus. In both the Command Staff and Mayor’s Office, there’s growing concern over what to do.

After initially denying there was a staffing issue, the Mayor’s office has attempted to stem the tide of resignations, while bolstering efforts to recruit new officers (including a recruiting bonus). They even surveyed officers to gauge their concerns. The City just released some of their findings in a seven page document distributed via email and on display at Seattle precincts.

The document offers seven preliminary recommendations and it includes direct quotes from those surveyed. The recommendations range from expanding recruitment efforts in “non-traditional” fields to refining the way the City and Department express support for officers. Cops have long complained that they’re frequently demonized by the City, especially Councilmember Kshama Sawant. She routinely calls or implies cops are racist murderers while her colleagues sit silent.

But it’s the fifth recommendation that highlights long-simmering complaints from officers: The accountability efforts are over-zealous, onerous on the accused, and triggered by minor complaints. The data, provided by the City, may back this complaint up.

According to the document, 2018 saw 1,172 complaints filed with the Office of Police Accountability (OPA), an independent arm of the SPD that investigates police misconduct allegations. Between 60 percent and 65 percent of officers in the Patrol Ops Bureau received a complaint, with younger officers earning 47 percent of them.

To those that want to constantly demonize cops, this is proof positive that the SPD is full of bad apples that need to be purged.

Except, the complaints are almost always rejected, making the anti-cop narrative nonsense.

Of the 1,172 complaints investigated last year, the document reports an astonishing 91 percent were “not sustained.” This cuts to the heart of officer gripes: They’re being investigated on a dime by civilians and supervisors routinely complaining about either minor issues — or no issue at all. Beyond this, the complaints are down from 2017 (1,313).

“The latest OPA numbers reflect that SPOG members continue to professionally serve the citizens of the City of Seattle, despite drastically low staffing numbers,” said Officer Kevin Stuckey, President of the Seattle Police Officer’s Guild (SPOG), tells the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. “We also continue to serve and honor our oath, despite the unreasonable scrutiny by the activist anti-police crowd that falsely shouts that we engage in misconduct. These OPA numbers are in direct conflict with their narrative and it’s important to highlight that an overwhelming majority of complaints are minor acts of misconduct.”

The data itself is not without question.

OPA notes it did not actually investigate all 1,172 complaints (it was more like 519) and the percentage of investigations labeled “not sustained” is closer to 79 percent.

Still, whatever that percentage is, depending on how you analyze the data, it’s dramatic and positive.

Police I speak to overwhelmingly complain that it’s too easy to be hit with frivolous complaints. OPA suggests that decidedly frivolous complaints happen, but are rare, and that they’re mandated to investigate some complaints (bias and use of force).

Regardless, many cops have their OPA horror stories and some believe there’s an anti-cop bias within that office.

“[OPA] will take any complaint, regardless of how outlandish or that it is a known [crank], or have lied in prior OPA investigations,” one current SPD officer complained to me. “We have citizens that, if they don’t get what they want out of the call, they complain. When I first started, OPA did exactly what their mandate states. They investigate serious officer misconduct — now, they will investigate an officer for not stopping for a stop sign or the complainant felt as if they were talked down to. It’s a joke.”

Andrew Myerberg, the civilian director of OPA, strongly denies anti-cop bias.

“OPA’s investigations, which are conducted by sworn sergeants, seek to impartially gather objective facts,” Myerberg tells the Jason Rantz Show via email. “In addition, the recommended findings that I reach are reviewed and, in virtually every case (except three out of several hundred), agreed with by the Chief of Police.”

Not all complaints come from the public. Myerberg tells me 72 percent of the cases they investigated came from chain of command referrals.

Officers have complained to me that their supervisors routinely review body-worn cameras to fish for instances of wrong doing, which then gets turned into an OPA investigation that can last months while following officers throughout their careers.

“I have trouble coming to work,” an officer says, as quoted in the internal city document. He’s close to retirement and says the pay and benefits keep him there, for now, but complains how easily he can be investigated. “It’s not worth it. I would put my job, my family, myself at risk by getting in trouble, by getting sued, by being put on administrative leave. It doesn’t make sense.”

Myerberg understands the frustration coming from officers, and concedes the overall system handling complaints can be improved. In fact, he says some improvements are on the way.

“OPA is actively driving several initiatives intended to reduce unfounded complaints, re-empower supervisors, increase transparency in decision making, and improve officer morale,” Myerberg explains. “OPA also is active in making policy recommendations to ensure that officers are operating under clear guidelines.”

This sounds promising. But, officers are weary and impatient, with complaints about to process going back years, with little perceived improvement. And as staffing continues to decline, it’s fair to wonder how much longer officers will wait for improvements on this front.

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here.

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