The Seattle Police Department (SPD) has had some bad PR lately. The King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) has had its share as well.
That’s assuming, of course, you call punching, kicking, and killing citizens “bad PR.” In fact, they’ve received so much of this “bad PR” that the SPD were investigated by the Department of Justice, and the KCSO was the subject of a scathing internal audit. They have repeatedly used excessive force, and have a reputation for “escalating ordinary interactions into volatile, sometimes violent, situations.” That, my friends, is bad PR.
And today, they got some more.
On July 30, on a downtown street, officers of the KCSO and SPD isolated and intimidated a local reporter, threatening him with arrest and threatening to harass him at his place of business.
The reporter’s alleged crime? Photographing the police.
I’ll let you read the Dominic Holden’s article about the incident over at The Stranger (Seattle’s independent weekly). It is calm, reasoned, and totally infuriating. He describes the situation, identifies two of the officers involved, and details the responses from the departments’ officials which support his rights.
But here’s the takeaway, and it’s something we should all remember when we see something going down on one of our city streets:
We, as citizens, have a right to stand on public property and photograph police officers, as long as we stay out of their way and don’t interfere with their activities.
I would venture to say that it is more than our right; it is our duty.
The police force is an extension of us, as citizens and as a society. The police are hired by us, authorized by us, and they act on our behalf. They are us. We have a duty to point out when we see them acting wrongly and–as in the case of the KCSO and SPD, who have an established pattern of bad behavior–we have a duty to keep an extra-vigilant eye on them.
These days, we are all freelance journalists. Smart-phones makes each of us a roving reporter, a stringer waiting for that big story.
Don’t get me wrong. The job of cop is a tough one, and I respect the men and women who faithfully and honorably perform that dangerous and necessary duty.
The King County Sheriff’s Office and the Seattle Police Department needs to clean up their acts, educate their front line responders, and, frankly, expect heightened interest and oversight from their citizenry.