The Seattle Police Department released a public statement addressing the incident. Within the statement, the Department released the following information:
“In mid-February 2011, Traffic Captain Belshay began to review some supervisory inconsistencies within the Traffic Section's DUI squad. Upon closer examination, it was determined that administrative policy violations were in fact occurring.
Seattle Police Chief Diaz was briefed and Assistant Chief McDonagh of Special Operations, which oversees Traffic, forwarded this information to the Office of Professional Accountability. On March 8th an investigation was opened into the conduct of the DUI squad sergeant. The investigation was broadened into the conduct of three other officers assigned to the DUI squad.
The employees were administratively reassigned on March 16th. They include a 32-year veteran sergeant, a 23-year veteran officer and two 12-year veteran officers. The last remaining DUI squad officer has not been named in this investigation and remains on normal duty.
The scope of the investigation at this point focuses on the administrative policy violation of screening all arrests with a supervisor in person, which department policy requires. This investigation is in its infancy. The scope may change as new information is developed.
Seattle Police commanders have met with Craig Sims, head of the Criminal Division at the City Attorney's Office, and advised him of the internal investigation into members of the DUI squad. Seattle Police commanders believe that these concerns are limited to the DUI squad.
The DUI squad is comprised of one sergeant and four officers and works nighttime hours. Efforts are underway providing for temporary backfill for these duties while the involved employees are on administrative reassignment. The crime of Driving Under the Influence is also regularly enforced by on-duty Seattle Police officers outside of the Traffic Section.”
The statement was released as a video on SPD's website. The Department's choice of a video press release has been criticized since it means that there was no news conference and, therefore, no questions could be asked by news reporters.
The fact that SPD avoided making a public appearance through a news conference could make the Department seem like it is trying to circumvent a transparent process that the public is able to see. This is especially true amid the current suspicion about the business practices and professionalism of the SPD. The Department is currently under review by U.S. Department of Justice over allegations that officers used excessive force in several high-profile cases. The Justice Department, among other things, is looking at whether the Police Department has adequate procedures to ensure that front-line supervisors are performing their jobs.
The main concern with the state of the current investigation is that SPD is not making itself available to the public, and therefore, making its practices seem evasive and manipulative.
Seattle Police Officer's Guild President Rich O'Neill said there was a policy violation, but said it's not a big scandal. “Realistically it's just an internal paperwork issue and you could have turned the paperwork in with no signature on it and it would have been just as valid.” Even so, the investigation raises questions about how DUI cases might be affected.
The issue with the investigation is that for several months, sergeant was not screening the arrests in person. Sergeant Abe routinely did not report to work and approved DUI arrests by telephone. Officers began to use a rubber stamp to affix the sergeant's name to reports, instead of having the sergeant review the report himself. Now, it is speculated as to whether or not the sergeant was contacted at all to review the reports and perhaps the rubber stamps of the sergeant's approval were used by the arresting officers at their discretion.
SPD manual policy currently mandates that whenever officers arrest or detain someone in any type of crime, a sergeant “shall be notified so that an in person review of the incident can occur.” Once at the scene or the precinct, supervisors are supposed to review the circumstances of the arrest and the condition of the suspect. The supervisor is supposed to evaluate the appropriateness of any allegation, sign off on any jail booking or release, and ensure evidence is properly collected and preserved, according to the manual.
Even though this procedure may be unique to SPD (Washington State Troopers and Sheriffs are not required to have sergeants screen cases), it is still notable that the sergeant and officers were willing to circumvent implemented policy. This could also raise questions about whether these officers were disregarding other policies of DUI arrests, including the administration of Field Sobriety Tests and lawful arrest procedures.
The Department is trying to make the investigation seem like it is only an administrative paperwork issue, stating without the question of the sergeant's signature, the arrests were otherwise valid and supported by sufficient evidence. However, DUI officers arrest and process more than 1,000 drivers per year, meaning that this “administrative paperwork issue” could affect a substantial number of people.
Currently all but one member of the Seattle Police DUI squad are administratively reassigned and are being investigated. For now, other officers will be specially assigned to take over the nighttime squad's regular DUI-enforcement duties during the investigation and patrol officers will continue to watch for impaired drivers. One DUI Squad officer, Eric Michl, has not been named in the investigation and remains on duty.
The King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office is currently awaiting results of the police investigation to determine if it might have an impact on any DUI cases, including felonies involving injuries or deaths.
For more information and updates about the investigation, visit: