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SGN INTERVIEW: Police respond to Bias Crimes Audit
SGN INTERVIEW: Police respond to Bias Crimes Audit
by Mike Andrew - SGN Contributing Writer

In an exclusive interview with the Seattle Gay News on Tuesday, Assistant Police Chief Jim Pryor, commander of the Seattle Police Department's Criminal Investigation Bureau and Captain Dave Emerick of the SPD's Violent Crimes Section responded to recommendations made in the Bias Crimes Audit released to the Seattle City Council last week.

Capt. Emerick has direct oversight over the SPD's Bias Crimes Coordinator, the detective assigned to investigate bias crimes or receive reports on bias crimes investigated by other units. Chief Pryor heads the police bureau which handles investigations of major crimes, including Capt. Emerick's section. Both had seen advance drafts of the report and had been invited by the OCA to comment on the Audit prior to its publication.

The Audit, which reports on bias crimes in the period 2006-2007, was prepared by the Office of the City Auditor (OCA) at the request of Seattle City Council members Nick Licata, Tom Rasmussen, and Sally Clark. In its report, the OCA made nine recommendations, most them involving changes in SPD procedures.

Despite reports at last week's City Council committee hearing that the SPD was unhappy with the Audit's description of their work merely as "adequate," Pryor gave the report a positive spin. "The audit was fairly clear about our performance," he said. "I hope people can tell it's a priority for the City and it's our job to carry out the City's policy."

"We'll look at the recommendations and see how we can incorporate them into how we do business," Pryor promised. He noted that some changes are already in the works, especially in the key area of data collection and reporting. SPD is in the process of converting to a new computer-based incident reporting system, the so-called SPIDER (Seattle Police Information, Dispatch, and Electronic Reporting) system.

At last week's City Council committee hearing where the Audit was introduced, community activist Ken Molsberry, the author of a groundbreaking report detailing Seattle bias crimes in the period 2000-2005, criticized SPD's data collection and reporting as "inadequate." Accurate collection and reporting of bias crimes data is important because SPD assigns its resources on the basis of expected needs. "It's all needs-driven," as Emerick noted. Data that omits some bias crimes will result in fewer SPD resources assigned to bias crime investigation.

Pryor expects significant improvement with the new computerized system. "We have high hopes and high expectations for SPIDER," he said. "Our priority is getting more accurate information." Emerick added, "It's exciting to see what SPIDER makes doable. SPIDER tracks much better, and allows us to extract data better and more quickly."

The SPIDER system includes a Bias Crimes Field that asks the reporting officer if the incident in question is or is not a bias crime. It is not a required field, however, and the concern raised by the OCA Audit is that officers might omit answering the question, thus leaving some bias crimes unreported.

Pryor promised attention to this problem. "We will be on the lookout to make sure nothing falls through the cracks," he said. "After we get some experience with it, we will discover its working limitations, and the modifications and work-arounds we need."

One of the issues raised at the City Council committee hearing last week was an unexplained four and one-half month gap in SPD data for the period July-November 2006. Pryor seemed mystified by the missing data. "I haven't heard an explanation why that would have happened. Maybe it was due to the transition to our new reporting system." He added, however, that "there's probably greater payoff in following up some of the Audit's other recommendations than trying to figure out how there came to be this gap in data."

Even if the data was missing, SPD actively pursued every bias crimes case during that period, Emerick added. "We pursued the investigation of all these incidents. Every one was aggressively looked at. We've always done well at investigating bias crimes." Emerick's claim seems to be confirmed by the Audit. All of the four bias crime victims interviewed by the OCA reported that they were very satisfied with their treatment by responding officers and the detectives investigating their cases.

The Audit reported 27 bias crime incident reports in 2006 - not counting those that may have occurred in the gap between July and November 2006 - resulting in three arrests, with no convictions; in 2007 there were 52 incident reports, resulting in 24 arrests, nine convictions, and five cases still pending.

Emerick emphasized that SPD's ability to make arrests and bring suspects to trial depends on getting good information from crime victims and witnesses. "There were 52 incidents in 2007," he noted. "A portion of them were serious reports, in the sense that we could follow up, make arrests, and prosecute. In many, we had no suspects, no information, no leads. & Our investigative guidelines are set in stone. We want to collect the statements, evidence, and proper information to be able to prosecute."

"That's why we did the posters," Emerick continued. "I'm sure you saw them - don't be a victim, call 911, note descriptions, note exactly what was said. Without information, it's hard to follow up."

Training officers to recognize and respond to bias crimes is a high priority for SPD, according to Pryor. "We have a new training video we produced with Mike Hogan from the Prosecutor's Office," he said. "We distributed the video to all supervisors, and they will schedule times for the officers to see it. It's in-service training, that could be shown at roll-call & or detectives don't have roll-call, so at some scheduled time."

"On cultural diversity training, we do a six-hour block at the academy," Emerick added. "We have a diversity of cultures and communities in Seattle, and it's important to understand the ins and outs of cultures."

Asked about the Audit's recommendation that SPD add refresher trainings annually or on promotion to higher rank, Pryor indicated that SPD could do so if directed. "We establish policies and protocols. Priorities start with the Mayor's office," he said.

Another key recommendation of the OCA's Audit was to improve reporting on bias crimes to other City agencies and to the public. Pryor described the flow of information on crime data. "A report moves up the chain of command and comes to me. There's a weekly report for the command staff. The mayor gets a Monthly Crime Capsule."

"The communication between our department, the City Council, and the mayor is very good," according to Emerick. "Often Council members will get communications from citizens about particular crimes, and then they will contact us to follow up." SPD also receives 10-12 e-mails per week from the City's website, Emerick says.

As for reporting on bias crimes to the general public, "We do our best to provide useful information," Pryor said. "We may be able to look at this again when SPIDER begins generating reports. We may add information to our website."

While Pryor acknowledged that more public discussion of bias crimes might generate improved cooperation with SPD, he was cautious about committing SPD to more active engagement with the media. "We could look at something. I'm afraid we'd get into trouble if we disclosed something when we're still investigating the crime," he said.

The full Bias Crimes Audit can be read online at http://www.seattle.gov/audit/2008.htm#biasReport. To read the full report, "Bias Crimes and Incidents in Seattle: 2000 to 2005: An analysis by type of bias and neighborhood," written by Ken Molsberry and edited by Kristina Armenakis of the Hate Crime Awareness Project and Seattle LGBT Community Center, go to tinyurl.com/plj72.

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