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:
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?
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.