Patrol Sergeant Vanquishes the “Lack of Police Accountability” Myth

By Steve Pomper  

Whenever you hear police critics or, especially, the perennial cop haters comment on the police, they reflexively pull the police accountability arrow out of their quiver. It doesn’t matter how invasive and pervasive police officer accountability and scrutiny gets, it’s never good enough. They’re not satisfied even though police accountability has risen to the level of officers going through a virtual colonoscopy during each patrol shift.

Despite this level of personal invasion, officers are reacting to The Seattle Times reporting, “Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best hopes to address issues of officer accountability in upcoming negotiations with the Seattle Police Officer’s Guild.” Full disclosure, I like Chief Best and worked directly under her when she was a patrol sergeant. I also appreciate her delicate position, having been appointed by Mayor Jenny Durkan who was one of the Feds responsible for slapping the department with a bogus, debunked, consent decree.

But I hope she’ll keep in mind how her cops, already operating under a political Hubble telescope, feel when they hear their leader willing to consider even more scrutiny and accountability. Though Chief Best was admittedly vague in her comments, officers wish she’d have defended how accountable and scrutinized her cops are as it is.

When I think back, an early example of excessive scrutiny and accountability affecting police work was a simple one. While in her patrol car, a fellow officer saw a driver commit a flagrant traffic violation. I happened to be walking either to or from our precinct’s parking lot across the street. I saw the officer hit her emergency lights, whip the patrol around, and take off after the offender.

Later at the precinct, I asked her about it. She said she never stopped the driver. I asked why. She said she remembered the video/audio recorder activated automatically with the emergency lights. In-car cameras were new to our department at that time. Then she said, “I didn’t stop him because after the camera came on, I said, ‘oh, that asshole!’ I knew the offender would have access to the video for his defense. He’d tell the judge my language made me biased toward giving him a ticket over a warning.” She added, “I also didn’t want to get ‘beefed’ by the department for bad language.”

Think about that. Get into “official” trouble for using foul language while you are driving alone in your patrol car. Now, we’ll never know what would have happened to her because she didn’t make the stop. But doesn’t it make you wonder how many other officers feel compelled not to do something they probably should because of the insane scrutiny and accountability?

I’ll close with this distressing comment I recently read from a supervisor who had transferred from a follow up or specialty unit back to patrol. The sergeant wrote a Facebook comment that debunks the lack of accountability myth as well as any example could. Especially when you consider the severity of the crime the officers were dealing with.

Having been back in patrol for over a year now with close to 20 years on, I am astounded at the amount of scrutiny and accountability that our patrol officers have. Their every move, word and decision is gone over with a microscopic lens and they ARE held accountable. As a first line supervisor, I can speak to that. So, when the Chief doesn’t stand up for us on accountability, I’m confused.

Example: Two very capable patrol officers responded to a homicide scene several months ago. Shortly after arriving, a witness came forward and pointed out where the homicide suspect was (homeless encampment). When attempting to affect the arrest, the suspect resisted, resulting in a “help the officer.”

The suspect’s friend then came and began to pull and tug at one of the officers to get them off the suspect. The officer rolled (they were on the ground, from what I understand) and shot the second suspect with a taser. Both bad guys were arrested, and the officers weren’t seriously hurt.

What did these officers get in return for their hard work and grit for arresting a murder suspect? A counseling session because the language they used while fighting with the suspect was foul and coarse in nature.

This, folks, is why people are lateraling [transferring to other agencies] out of Seattle.

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