By Erica C. Barnett
Last week, the new acting commander of the city’s south police precinct, Captain Rob Brown, sent a document titled “Captain’s Expectations” to his officers and supervisors, laying out a set of expectations that included an exhortation to “take care of our own” by handling “minor misconduct” internally, rather than reporting it to the Office of Police Accountability. The letter also said officers should view themselves as forces of “good” whose job is to “intervene and stop evil” in the world.
The letter begins with a number of benign directives for supervisors: Set clear expectations, teach officers about policies and procedures, ensure that officers’ uniforms look professional. Then—in what could be interpreted as a suggestion not to report misconduct—Brown says supervisors should address “well-intended error[s]” internally by reviewing potential misconduct and addressing policy violations through internal processes such as training or counseling. “If we don’t do so, then the prescribed discipline will be imposed by our external critics without our say in the matter.”
“Don’t leave to our detractors or our robust systems of accountability to seize upon the error and attempt to dictate the resulting discipline,” Brown continues. “Take care of our own.”
The Office of Police Accountability reviews allegations of misconduct and recommends discipline, if any, to the police chief.
Contacted by PubliCola, Brown said his intent was “absolutely not” to disparage OPA or suggest that supervisors and officers keep information from them.
“Fundamentally, our role in society is to fight evil. Evil is visited upon a family that happens to live in a house that is the random backstop for a gang shooting. Evil is the urge to rob a store at gunpoint to feed an insatiable addiction. Evil is the act of a drunk driver that plows head on into a car driven by a single mom headed home from work.”
“I never actually said OPA, for one thing,” Brown said. “I talked about external critics, and we’re often dealing with external critics that will actively look for and find minor policy violations. If we’re looking at minor misconduct [and addressing it] so they know it’s unacceptable, that keeps OPA from having to be involved in that process because the frontline supervisor has located the issue.” Dealing with minor misconduct internally, Brown added, helps keep OPA from being overloaded with insignificant cases.
The Open Oversight website, which includes a database of OPA complaints, shows that Brown—a former bike officer—has been the subject of 14 complaints since 2015. Most of those were not sustained, generally because an OPA investigator concluded they were unfounded, but they show that Brown has had extensive contact with the office that investigates potential officer misconduct.
On Monday, the Seattle Times reported that a federal judge found evidence that Brown, who is white, stopped and detained a Black delivery driver because of his race. OPA dismissed the racial bias complaint as unfounded, but the judge found evidence that Brown’s treatment of the driver, including the decision to draw his gun, showed signs of racial bias; she also found that a subsequent search of the driver’s trunk by Brown and other officers was illegal.
Brown was given a referral to training for one incident, in 2018, involving his supervisory responsibilities. Two of the incidents were designated “contact log,” which often (but not always) indicates that OPA doesn’t have enough information to investigate, while OPA referred another four incidents for “supervisor action,” or training to address performance issues or minor policy violations.
Later in the document, Brown tells officers that their job “matters more than any other profession to the maintenance of a free society.
“Fundamentally, our role in society is to fight evil,” Brown continues.”Evil is visited upon a family that happens to live in a house that is the random backstop for a gang shooting. Evil is the urge to rob a store at gunpoint to feed an insatiable addiction. Evil is the act of a drunk driver that plows head on into a car driven by a single mom headed home from work. You are here to intervene and stop evil, or at least do the best you can to restore safety and order.”
Asked about his repeated references to “evil”—an extreme and potentially loaded term—Brown said, “When I chose that word, I did not at any point characterize people as evil—I characterized acts as evil. … I did choose those words, ‘good’ and ‘evil,’ because I really wanted to strongly say to the officers how valuable the work they do is. 2020 was really hard, and I wanted to send a very clear message that what these officers are doing out on the streets, it’s very, very important.”
The South Precinct, which includes all of Southeast Seattle, has had a number of high-profile shootings in recent weeks, including an incident in the parking lot of the Rainier Beach Safeway in which five people were shot, and is home to the one of the city’s most dangerous streets for pedestrians and cyclists, Rainier Ave. S.
Read Brown’s full letter, which also says that supervisors should respond to serious calls alongside officers, here.