It may be in the Seattle Police Officers Guild’s (SPOG) interest to keep officers employed, but it was in the city’s best interest that Officer Cynthia Whitlatch no longer wears a shield.
The East Precinct officer came under fire last year for what has been described as biased policing: She stopped a 69-year-old black man on Capitol Hill, who was walking with a golf club as a cane, and eventually arrested him, even after a more even-tempered officer had intervened to cool down the situation.
Whitlatch did nothing to help her case, giving investigators several accounts of why she stopped William Wingate, the details weighing less in her favor every time she told her story.
She certainly didn’t do herself any favors by later by making a Facebook post that expounded on “black racism” in the United States, bringing up the riots in Ferguson, Mo., which were fueled by the actions of a police officer who shot and killed a black man. Nor did she ease concerns among high-ranking police officials when she told investigators with the Office of Professional Accountability (OPA) during her second interview why she thought charges filed against Wingate were dismissed: It couldn’t have been because she went too far. No, it was because they’re black, she said.
“What race were these?” she’s reported to have said. “The judge was black, and the chief is black, so I mean to me…how does that look? It, it doesn’t support the officer, that’s for sure.”
Yes, chalk it up to black racism against an otherwise well-intentioned white police officer. Never mind the police dash-cam footage, her shifty recollection of what prompted her to bother an elderly man minding his own business and the fact that she forcibly arrested a man after another officer was able to — through a short and mild interaction — get Wingate to relinquish his walking club.
Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole made the right call firing Whitlatch. Despite the major issues surrounding Whitlatch’s handling of this arrest and her later Facebook rant, O’Toole’s decision to fire the officer was undoubtedly difficult.
Seattle is experiencing major growth, and with that comes an increase in crime, as the city has been experiencing this summer. More officers are needed, and it’s something Mayor Ed Murray has asked O’Toole to prioritize.
But Seattle residents also need all of the current officers to be honest and unbiased and focused on serving the community at the high standard assumed when one puts on a police uniform.
Whitlatch violated the trust of the Greater Seattle community when she violated Wingate’s rights and exacerbated that distrust with Facebook posts and less-than-candid statements to investigators.
SPOG President Ron Smith said he would have no choice but to appeal O’Toole’s decision prior to Whitlatch being fired. That’s what a union does: It supports its members. In this case, SPOG says the deadline for discipline had passed. But this is the kind of semantics a union leader is expected to make, when the bottom line is protecting a union member.
But what Whitlatch did can’t be overlooked based on semantics. What she did hurt the image of the police department and bred distrust among the Seattle residents it is sworn to protect. No amount of sensitivity training would expunge the black mark Whitlatch made with her actions.