Friday, January 01, 2010

I'm so disgusted with the Seattle Police Department right now that I'm at something of a loss for words.

As a bartender in a nightclub, I've had more than a couple of opportunities to call 911, including during assaults on my person. It's a difficult situation to be in, since because I'm on the clock, I'm legally representing the business, and so my hands are tied in the application of physical force save in the service of self-defense. There's probably a bit more wiggle room than I'm allowed at the particular establishment at which I work, as my employer is adamant about this sort of thing, being rightfully worried about lawsuits, but there are real constraints on what we can do to/about people who become problems in and around the bar.

So when someone gets out of line, or becomes physically violent, we call 911.

I've called 911 at least a dozen times in the last five years. Not once has an officer arrived in less than 45 minutes. Not once.

Even worse, when calling 911, the operator, instead of acting with any expeditiousness at all, wants me to fill out a fucking questionnaire about the incident before calling dispatch. Now, I understand that having some detail would be helpful to the officers if/when they finally show up, but I've had a 911 operator keep me on the line with inane questions for minutes on end while a guy is standing in front of me, being held back by his friends and my employer, literally yelling "I'll kill you!" at the top of his lungs over and over. On at least one occasion, I lost my phone because the guy sucker-punched me while the operator, who I was calling for the fourth time, asked me the same goddamned questions as the last three times.

But last night just absolutely took the cake.

Around 1:30 am, there's an altercation outside the bar. This drunk asshole is trying to start a fight with just about anyone he can make eye contact with. He's on to the fifth or sixth one by the time we go out to intervene. I look over, and there's a cop car at the light. I wave and wave, to no avail. It's like the officer doesn't see me. We've already called 911 at this point, for what that's worth (see above). The street's mostly empty, so I walk over to the police car, where I'm told to get out of the street. At this point, the guy's running rampant right there on the corner, in full view of the officer, who has yet to even turn on his lights. Seriously, the guy's taking swings at people and the officer not only won't intervene, he won't even get out of his car or turn on his flashers until more cops show up. They finally do, and soon enough there are five police cars outside the bar. They put the guy in handcuffs, put him in the back of the car, and we all breathe a sigh of relief and go back in to clear out the bar and start cleaning up.

Now here's where it gets really fucked up.

Half an hour later, the police roll out. But they've left the guy. Apparently they decided that as long as he and his brother are willing to take a cab to a hotel that they're going to let him go. The guy's been running up and down the block in front of the bar for most of an hour, swinging on any- and everybody that he even thinks is looking at him cross-eyed, whether they are or not. I mean, if there is any point whatsoever to having police, any justification at all for the monopolization of legitimate force that government has arrogated to itself, surely it is to get this guy off the street and under control. Seriously, he's like a mad dog. And, despite the hour, it's not like they have something else they're supposed to be doing. I mean, there were five of them. Surely one could be spared to take the guy downtown and book his ass. But I guess DUIs are more profitable or something, and the city couldn't spare the revenue. So they let the guy go and drive away.

He then proceeds to hang around for another half hour, starting more fights, even going so far as to assault a girl. He even tries to sneak up the back stairs, back into the bar. Finally, after who knows how many assault and battery incidents, he and his brother finally get into a cab and go away.

I really have no idea what to say. I'm so outraged that I'm flabbergasted. As I mentioned earlier, I was already pretty unimpressed with SPD's responsiveness to 911 calls, having been in personal physical danger as a result on more than one occasion. But this takes the cake. The guy is literally assaulting people, in full view of the the police. They put him in handcuffs in the back of the police car, and then, for reasons that defy explanation, decide to let him go and leave, so that he can continue his rampage.

What the fuck? Seriously. So much is wrong with this situation that it literally boggles the mind. I mean, SPD is famously unhelpful when it comes to bars and bar staff. I've heard of at least one incident where an officer was at a bar, dressing the owner down for being at or over capacity, while a fight broke out in front of the club, which the officer ignored in order to concentrate on the club's supposed fire code violation. And don't let me even get started on the Mardi Gras riots, when the SPD famously stood by while Pioneer Square was overrun with drunks and hooligans and a guy got beaten to death right there on the street in front of them.

It shakes my faith in civil society. I mean, what's the point of having police if they're not going to keep people from randomly assaulting other people on the street?

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