Do minority police officers face harsher treatment within SPD?

SEATTLE -- The Seattle Police Department will have an outside, impartial source examine whether minority officers face harsher treatment within the force.

The announcement came Friday from Interim Chief Jim Pugel, who says in his two months in the position, he's heard numerous complaints from officers about the issue.

"This is something that I take very personal as the leader of this organization," Pugel said. "And if the feeling is out there, then it definitely has to be looked at. The questions have to be asked, and we have to find the truth."

"If the community doesn't see us as credible, they're not going to work with us," he added.

Pugel said he couldn't discuss individual cases, but minority leaders pointed to two recent high-profile incidents and how they were handled.

The first, in April 2010, involved Officer Shandy Cobane, who was caught on camera stomping a young minority suspect and yelling a racial slur. The second, in December of the same year, involved off-duty Officer Garth Haynes, who was caught on videotape kicking a handcuffed suspect outside a Ballard bar.

Haynes, who is black, faced an assault charge in his case but was later acquitted. Cobane, who is white, never faced criminal charges, points out Carlos Bratcher, president of the Black Law Enforcement Association of Washington State.

"There's a perception that officers of color are not being treated the same," Bratcher said. "We didn't condone what happened (with Haynes), but for whatever reason, criminal charges were pursued, in contrast to the other high-profile case involving Cobane. There was some serious things that occurred there and no type of criminal charges were even thought about."

"So that's the issue," he added. "That's what we're talking about."

Pugel will meet next week with Matthew Hickman, a criminal justice professor at Seattle University, to examine the complaints. The interim police chief - who has been with the Seattle Police Department for 30 years - says he wants Hickman to examine both complaints made against officers by the public as well as internal treatment within the force, along with other issues.

"When I was assigned this position, I told both the internal audience and the external audience that I will be honest and I will be as transparent as legally possible," Pugel said, adding that some of these efforts tie in with the department's 20/20 plan, an outgrowth of a federal investigation into the department's use of excessive force.

"One of the common themes in 20/20 is to be transparent," Pugel added. "That's not only looking outside our walls, it's being transparent inside."

Bratcher said he supported an investigation by an outside source.

"A different set of eyes is always good, especially if they're bringing someone that's impartial to the framework," Bratcher said. "As long as the discipline is consistent and it's fair, then everybody will be just fine with that."