Blue Byline

A cop's perspective of the news and South Sound matters

“Cops Behaving Badly” – the Bellevue episode

Post by Brian O'Neill on Sep. 21, 2012 at 6:22 pm with 13 Comments »
September 21, 2012 10:03 pm

The scene: CenturyLink Field during the first quarter of last Sunday’s Seahawks game.

The characters: One Seattle police officer directing traffic; a Seahawks fan and his 12-year-old son; several allegedly drunk and obnoxious off-duty Bellevue police officers.

Welcome to another round of “Cops Behaving Badly.”

Let’s bring you up to speed on an incident which has sparked heated debate in Seattle and put the Bellevue Police Department under the media microscope. An article in The Seattle Times (9/21) gives this account:

Bellevue police cruiser/ courtesy

Three drunk off-duty Bellevue police officers enter the Seahawks game following an altercation with a Seattle officer directing traffic. The off-duty cops immediately start dropping F-bombs until a fan asks them to stop cursing in front of his 12-year-old son. More foul language and taunting follow until the man calls security. The two male and one female off-duty officer are escorted out, but not before the female allegedly tells the man to ‘”watch himself’ and not get pulled over in Bellevue.”

To sum up, booze-fueled fans acted like idiots during a rowdy sports event. This is a relatively common event, but obviously the involvement of off-duty police officers has brought the disproportionate media attention. But seriously, does the involvement of badly behaving cops really make this story newsworthy?

Yes. Absolutely.

Let’s start with the reaction of the fan whose report brought this to our attention. The 49-year-old man, who attended the game with his 12-year-old son, requested that his name not be used in the article because he was concerned about an officer’s veiled threat.

Hopefully, Chief Linda Pillo of the Bellevue Police Department appreciates the magnitude of this situation. It has already become larger than the individuals involved, who will almost certainly face discipline following what should be a thorough and transparent internal investigation.

It is not a small matter. To put this in perspective, there are many countries in the world where an atmosphere of fear and mistrust exists between police and the public. Egypt’s secret police, for example, were so feared and loathed by the populace that many were forced to run for their lives when the regime fell last year. In many countries, bribes, beatings and rampant corruption is all part of the routine for ill-equipped, poorly trained and undisciplined police.

The effect of corruption is evident in some migrant communities here in the United States where new arrivals, fearful that American police are no different than their foreign counterparts, are unlikely to call 911 to report any criminal activity. People become easy prey and their neighborhood languishes. Police officers must work hard to earn the trust and respect of newly landed immigrants, which is the first step towards making their communities safer.

That is why the altercation at the Seahawks game is so alarming. One man’s admission, that he genuinely feared the retribution of off-duty Bellevue officers, should get the attention of the Bellevue police chief, as well as any police administrator who is paying attention.

This episode of “Cops Behaving Badly” will play out, but the discussion it has created is also an opportunity for leaders in the police community to speak up, to take a stand against anyone who would use their badge to bully anyone. People deserve to be reminded that the trust and respect reserved for police officers is a two-way street.

And while you’re at it, can somebody get that poor guy a free ticket to the next Hawks game? Make it two.

Leave a comment Comments → 13
  1. Those that get drunk don’t buy good beer.
    There’s a little microbrew that makes fine beer.
    I have one and walk out of there satisfied.

  2. nwcolorist2 says:

    Thanks, Brian, for your perspective.

    Those who are in the public eye, such as teachers, police, sports and rock personalities- need to be especially vigilant about their image.

  3. jimkingjr says:

    Let’s address the Seattle cops bad behavior. That is what is the worst part of these incidents, but is being glossed over.

    Any other persons behaving toward Seattle cops as these Bellevue cops had would have been arrested. But “professional courtesy” allowed them to proceed unhindered, to disrup a family’s enjoyment of the game.

    Later they undoubtedly drove back to Bellevue drunk, endangering others.

    Will the Seattle cops be held accountable? Unlikely.

  4. Brian O'Neill says:

    Thanks for the comments.

    Mr. King, I did find your statement somewhat presumptuous. The Seattle police spokesperson said that the off-duty officers were not arrested because they did not commit a crime, and in reading the article I did not find any legal reason they could have been detained prior to entering the game. If being an obnoxious loud-mouth were illegal, we would certainly need to build a lot more jails.

    As for professional courtesy, which I define as any type of assistance provided by an on-duty officer to one off-duty, it requires that both parties be professional AND courteous. By all accounts, the cops from Bellevue deserved (and probably got) no special consideration.

  5. jimkingjr says:

    Mr. O’Neil- you seem not to have paid much attention to SPD behavior toward anyone else challenging them. If SPD higher-ups saw no reason to detain these boorish fools, there is- as I mentioned- something wrong at SPD. Your leapiong to their defense only reinforces my belief that too many of you in blue are too quick to cover for the faults of your colleagues. I was relieved that these Bellevue cops only harrassed a family at the game- I expected to read about the accident they caused driving drunk.

    The state just agreed to pay out $5 million apiece to two families because of official failure to take action. Just imagine what would have been paid out for a traffic fatality after SPD failed to act in this situation.

  6. Brian O'Neill says:

    I understand your outrage, Mr. King, but boorish behavior is not a reason to arrest someone, as I already have said. After reading the articles, I found no action taken by the Bellevue officers that could be construed as an arrestable offense prior to their entry into the game. If you discovered specific crimes committed, please enlighten us. I believe that both this column, and past ones, demonstrate my unwillingness to defend improper police behavior, which in this instance was limited to the allegations against the Bellevue off-duty officers.

    As for civil lawsuits, you should be aware that the state can just as easily pay out millions in damages to individuals whose civil rights were violated by an unlawful arrest.

  7. wyecoyote says:

    What I find as a possible double standard is the threat from the bellevue pd to the father. Assuming the Leo identified herself as such she then went on to threaten an individual. Reverse rolls if the father had threatened an officer on or off duty that has identified himself/herself that is a crime. Yet for an officer on or off duty to do the same is given a slap on the wrist and not charged with a crime. That is what IMHO people look at and decide that leos are given preferential treatment.

  8. Brian O'Neill says:

    That’s a fair statement, wyecoyote, but unfortunately that veiled threat is not a crime (assuming the words were quoted correctly in the paper). For a threat to be an arrestable offense under the state “Harassment” statute, it must be direct AND invoke fear in the victim. The alleged words of the Bellevue officer, paraphrased as “If you come to Bellevue, bad things might happen to you” appeared to cause apprehension in the victim, but the comment was not a direct threat.

    Had she stated, “I intend to find you and hurt you” or words to that effect, that would meet the standard of probable cause. It is a distinction in legal semantics, perhaps, but that’s the law as I read it in this instance.

  9. wyecoyote says:

    Direct threat that is what I wasn’t certain about. I know that it is a crime to threaten a govt employee don’t know if that is felony or misdemeanor.

    The only thing I’ve heard about that brings additional question is that outside they harrassed the SPD officer to the point a supervisor was called over and no incident report was written up. Is that normal or self determined that a report is only written by a supervisor at their discretion.

    Yes I can see why one would have cause for concern if a LEO issued even a veiled threat. Though most likely it could end up being a get out of jail free card. I could see it now, “your honor only reason I’m here today is that officer so and so said they would get me.”

  10. Brian O'Neill says:

    In response, I would just point out that police reports are written when a crime has occurred and/or further action is required on an incident. Nothing precludes an officer or supervisor from typing in lengthy notes following a call, whether for future reference or to cover their liability. My guess is that somebody kept notes on the incident outside the stadium, but without a crime the police report itself would be moot.

    Keep in mind that your use of the word “harassed” is different from the statutory term. Thanks for your comments.

  11. wyecoyote says:

    Brian, thanks for the information it was something I wasn’t certain of regarding if a “report” would be written up or not. As far as the harrassed SPD officer I understand I was going off the news story and like all newspaper words don’t always have the same meaning as they do in the law.

  12. Inthemiddle says:

    Just a question, Brian. Mr King infers there was some sort of special treatment from one dept to another. Assuming the Bellevue officers were off duty, and no move was made to arrest or detain them, how did the SPD officer know they were cops at all? After all, why would you identify yourself as a cop, all the while harassing another officer?

    By the way, I read your columns faithfully. You are a very good writer, and you express yourself very well. You are indeed a credit to your profession. Something that cant always be said about any profession. I appreciate your viewpoints.

  13. Brian O'Neill says:

    I appreciate your comment, Inthemiddle. Since we were not on scene during this ridiculous situation, it’s really hard to say how it played out. If I were the Bellevue cops, I wouldn’t flash my badge after mouthing off to a fellow cop. I know they were drunk, but that sounds like a bad idea whether one is sober or half in the bag. Bellevue PD needs to be very forthcoming with these results if they want to maintain the trust of their community.


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