Seattle police department withholds records about internal police discipline

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is doing extraordinary work on Washington’s open records law and how those laws are honored–or not–in practice.

Investigative reporter Lewis Kamb’s piece yesterday, Seattle police policy on disciplinary records ripe for challenge, is based on his newspaper having sent open records requests to 270 police agencies statewide, asking for copies of public documents pertaining to how police are disciplined internally when there is an infraction.

When someone sends out that many open records requests, one of the things they learn is that different agencies respond very differently to the same request. In this case, the Seattle Police Department turned out to have the most secretive habits.

However, Seattle police chief Gil Kerlikowske maintains that his department is simply following Washington’s open records law.

One interesting twist in this situation is that the Seattle police department also asserts that their contract with the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild actually requires them to assert an exemption in response to open records requests:

They also pointed to language in the city’s contract with the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild that states the city, in response to public records requests, should seek to “assert” an exemption to state open records law by not releasing disciplinary information “essential to effective law enforcement.”

Open government advocates in Washington believe that the fact that many other police departments in Washington were able to provide the requested records creates a partial evidentiary basis for a successful lawsuit against the Seattle Police Department’s withholding of the public documents sought by the Seattle PI.

Additional resources:

Undue Influence, the Seattle PI’s complete series.

Og-Blog.

Washington Coalition for Open Government.

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