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After Latest Seattle PD Incident, It’s Time for a Sex Offender-Like Police Misconduct Database

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Slade Sohmer

By Slade Sohmer on February 15, 2012

In 1955, the Los Angeles Police Department conducted a contest to come up with a new motto for its police academy. Officer Joseph S. Dorobek submitted “To Protect and to Serve,” which not only became the academy’s official motto, but it became the unofficial motto for departments all across the country.

In an era when bad police misdeeds end up on YouTube or elsewhere on the Internet, the “To protect and to serve” motto has never been so tested. Between pepper-sprayings and unnecessary brutality and arrests over videotaping and routine traffic stops gone wrong, it’s unclear just who many police departments are protecting and serving. In clip after clip, it doesn’t appear to be the citizenry.

The latest such incident comes from Seattle, which has a naughty history of police misconduct. Josh Lawson and Christopher Franklin on Monday filed a claim against the city of Seattle for excessive force and wrongful arrest after the pair was mistakenly arrested at gunpoint on November 16, 2010 — something they clearly didn’t do. When arresting officer Brad Richardson told them they’re going to jail for robbery, Franklin asked why, and the officer responded, “Yeah, I’m gonna make stuff up.” Credit KOMO 4 News in Seattle for digging up the dash cam and filing this incredible, must-see report on Tuesday.

Hard to stomach? Absolutely. Shocking? In this era, hardly.

Here’s the important part of the story: “We showed Seattle Police Sergeant Sean Whitcomb the arrest video, and he admits the ‘make stuff up’ comment was inappropriate. But he says the department’s Office of Professional Accountability investigated the complaint and exonerated the officer,” KOMO reported.

Exonerated. Officer Richardson faced no criminal punishment for a false arrest, accusations of police brutality and placing the fear of God in two innocent men. And then Sgt. Whitcomb tried to reassure the public with this whopper: “I can tell you we take (complaints) seriously but people have to believe that and they have to trust the system they have to trust the process.”

How can they? How can anyone trust the system as so many of these brutality and misconduct videos show up online? A few rotten apples may not spoil the bunch, but when departments rally around dirty cops, the citizenry cannot be expected to trust a process that treats innocent people like criminals.

Now let’s get to the broader theme here: Lawmakers seem to be very concerned with low-priority items like file-sharing and culture war issues at the moment. When they pull their head out of their arses, perhaps they ought to think about fixing this mess. After all, this isn’t about some amorphous concept like “policing,” this is a major failure on the part of the state. Thomas Jefferson said, “When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty.” And the government can’t have resistance. This needs to be corrected.

So what’s the solution? Perhaps lawmakers can look to some sort of sex offender-like database, a scarlet letter that follows criminal cops for the rest of their lives. If a high-school kid forwarding risque text messages can be branded as a sex offender for all his days, then why can’t the same apply for authority figures who misuse their positions of power? In this case, Officer Richardson was exonerated, but maybe if this new system were in place, he’d keep his job but at least have an asterisk in an official database.

And even if he lost his job and had to find work in a new sector, a future employer could see that he worked as a police officer, punch him up in the system and see that he isn’t a man who can be trusted with any serious authority. It may not be totally effective, but it’s a jumping-off point for discussion.

What other solutions can you think of? Harsher criminal and civil penalties? Loss of pensions for repeated violations? Public flogging? Weigh in with your thoughts in the comments below…



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