Have you ever seen a cop apparently take an illegal left turn, speed unnecessarily, or generally drive like an asshole, and then wonder whether they’re really above traffic laws? Well, they aren’t! And you–a normal-ass Seattle resident–can help try to stop that bad behavior by reporting irresponsible driving to the Office of Police Accountability. Doing so may reduce serious injuries or death, and help the City save hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process. 

To report a badly driving cop in a patrol vehicle, all you need to do is record the time, date, and location of the incident, give a brief description, and file a report with the OPA. You don’t even need to grab the car’s license plate. SPD has multiple kinds of tracking and surveillance on and in their vehicles, and investigators can check the department’s internal data systems to find out if an officer violated any traffic laws. In some cases, even officers responding to a call may face some sort of supervisory action if they drive at higher speeds than necessary.

Reporting bad driving won’t just help us, it’ll help the cops as well. In 2019, an officer in the Southwest Precinct hit fellow SPD officer Domingo Ortiz as he was walking through the precinct parking lot. Ortiz ended up settling that case with the City in May of 2023 for a million dollars. Maybe if that officer had felt some pressure to pay more attention while driving, the City might have avoided such a costly settlement, and the officer might also have not hit Ortiz. 

In another case, the City paid about $176,000 to Kassahun Defersha after they filed a lawsuit in 2020 that claimed SPD Officer Kristopher Shen ran a red light and totaled not only Defersha’s SUV but also Shen’s own patrol vehicle. 

Cops can obviously injure and kill civilians with their careless driving, too, and even minor accidents come out of the City’s budget. Between 2020 and 2022, the City settled 41 claims related to bad police driving that caused property damage, racking up about $200,000, according to data from the City Finance Office. The data show that at least 20 claims remain open, some of which went to litigation. The data describe cops who made sudden u-turns, ran red lights without sirens, and more than half a dozen instances where an SPD officer hit a parked car. The data even show the City paying out a claim for Harbor Patrol hitting another boat, and a claim for an SPD cop on bike running into someone’s vehicle behind Seattle Community College.

Narcing on a cop for bad driving probably won’t get them fired, but the report creates a record that can lead to more serious punishment from the department if an officer violates department policy repeatedly. Public pressure will help SPD to take these violations seriously. If SPD’s top brass sees enough officers becoming a lawsuit liability, then maybe they’ll start cracking down on officers for endangering the public on our roadways.