Audit: Seattle Police regularly failed to comply with law to protect youths

Dec 22, 2023, 7:22 PM | Updated: Dec 23, 2023, 9:29 am

Image: A Seattle Police Department vehicle...

A Seattle Police Department vehicle (Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

(Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

A new report finds the Seattle Police Department (SPD) regularly failed to follow a recently enacted law meant to protect young people.

In 2020, the Seattle City Council passed an ordinance known as the MiChance Dunlap-Gittens Ordinance. The law, which was named after the 17-year-old teenager who was shot and killed by Des Moines police, requires police to provide children with access to an attorney after an SPD officer provides the child with a Miranda warning and before the child waives their constitutional right to remain silent or talk to an attorney.

An audit, conducted by Seattle’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) at the request of councilmember Lisa Herbold (District 1), found SPD followed that law just 4% of the time since it went into effect. (A PDF of the OIG report can be seen here.)

Specifically, the audit noted in 2021 through October 2022 SPD officers only implemented the legal requirement twice out of the 50 cases they reviewed.

Meanwhile, the Office of Public Defense reported this year that more than 180 other law enforcement agencies have implemented a similar Washington law. Combined, those agencies provided children attorney consultation 2,327 times as of Dec. 31, 2022.  (A PDF of the Office of Public Defense’s statement reporting those numbers can be seen here.)

Herbold said the law is working well everywhere but Seattle.

“We know compliance is possible. (Over) 180 police agencies across the state are participating in the state version of the ordinance,” Herbold said.

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The OIG audit also reported SPD officers asked children potentially incriminating questions before even giving them Miranda warnings ten times.

In several cases, officers verbally acknowledged restrictions on questioning a juvenile but also did not appear to discuss the requirement or possibility of providing access to an attorney.

In its executive summary, the audit reported, “widespread non-compliance limited the effectiveness of laws designed to protect some of the community’s most vulnerable members and steps are needed to address systemic reasons for non-compliance.”

As Axios noted earlier this year, research shows “kids’ brains are less equipped to consider long-term consequences than adults.”

“Young people don’t understand their rights under Miranda. They can be read their rights. They don’t necessarily understand what it means to waive those rights,” Herbold said. “Younger people often have a greater tendency to give up their right without understanding what the consequences are.”

The original ordinance was co-sponsored by Herbold (District 1) and Tammy Morales (District 2) and came directly from community stakeholders concerned about youth not understanding their rights when interacting with police officers, according to a 2020 release.

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What’s next for SPD

In its audit, the OIG made eight recommendations for changes that SPD should make to comply with the Seattle and Washington laws. Among them included the department needing to update its policy manual to “reflect changes in state youth attorney access law.”

The agency also said SPD should “complete development and issuance of training on juvenile access to attorney requirements, and include a knowledge assessment sufficient to evaluate understanding.”

The department responded to the OIG recommendations and concurred with all eight.

“I am thankful for the OIG’s work to uncover this problem,” Herbold said in a statement. “While I am pleased that SPD has accepted all eight of OIG’s recommendations, it should not require oversight from the city council and police accountability agencies to ensure the department is following the law.”

Contributing: Steve Coogan, MyNorthwest

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Audit: Seattle Police regularly failed to comply with law to protect youths