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NY Times: University of Washington police officers claim culture of racism is unbearable

Students at the University of Washington in March 2020. (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

Five Black officers with the University of Washington’s police department have filed damage claims this week citing a culture of racism they say has affected their performance, advancement, and mental health, according to a report in The New York Times.

The officers did not name the specific people in the department who they say have made comments. The alleged comments include racial slurs directed at them and about Black people and the public. Legal notices filed with the state include a story about someone leaving an officer a banana and a note calling her a monkey. Another officer said a white supervisor hit him with a stick-like object and then said, “You people should be used to being hit with these.”

The officers said department supervisors knew about the conduct and sometimes engaged it in themselves, the Times reports.

The department, which employs 22 officers and 11 supervisors and commanders, has been without a police chief since John Vinson was reassigned to another position at the university in 2019, according to the Times. The department has been without a chief for about two years and suspended a search during the pandemic. Former deputy chief Randall West returned to the department to serve as interim chief. He did not return calls to the Times on Tuesday.

The officers are seeking $8 million in damages. The UW now has 60 days to pay or settle the claims, according to the Times. The university plans to conduct its own investigation.

The University of Washington released a statement:

We are stunned by the allegations outlined in these claims. Any one of the incidents described here would prompt an immediate investigation and appropriate disciplinary action based on the investigation’s findings. We recognize that the officers believe UWPD command staff are aware of the incidents outlined, however we have no record of any complaints being filed through the many avenues available to staff to do so. We have no record of any such complaints through the police union, the Office of Labor Relations, or the University Complaint Investigation and Resolution Office.

We plan to initiate our own investigation into these allegations now that they have been brought to our attention. The UW is committed to maintaining a fair, equitable and inclusive environment and provides employees with many avenues for reporting inappropriate or discriminatory behavior so they can be addressed immediately. Given the nature of these allegations and these pending legal claims, we have nothing further to add while the legal process is ongoing.”

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