The Seattle Times documents payoffs to police on January 13, 1967.

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 5/26/2001
  • Essay 3292
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On January 13, 1967, The Seattle Times runs the first of a series of articles documenting police corruption in Seattle. The five-month investigation reveals that officers solicited money from tavern operators in the downtown area in exchange for being allowed to operate. The articles trigger a series of events over the next four years that further expose the payoff system and result in several dozen public officials being charged with corruption.

The investigation began in the summer of 1966 when The Times learned of the payoff allegations. Reporters interviewed witnesses and conducted surveillance of beat officers. Beat officers were found to be playing poker and drinking beer on duty. The officers failed to make any of the hourly calls from call boxes, which went unnoticed at headquarters. Within days of the articles, five officers were suspended for misconduct.

Subsequent articles documented how beat officers solicited bribes from tavern operators, particularly those with a gay and lesbian clientele. If an operator was unwilling to make payments, officers harassed customers and liquor inspectors found ways to suspend liquor licenses.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation looked into the allegations in 1966, but failed to document a violation of federal law. The Seattle Times series prompted Mayor J. D. "Dorm" Braman (1901-1980) to empanel a blue-ribbon commission to investigate the allegations. The committee of three men interviewed the Times reporters and other witnesses, but did not develop sufficient information to justify the filing of charges.

The commission did recommend that the Seattle Police Department be evaluated by the International Association of Chiefs of Police. This association recommended a substantial reorganization of the department, which was completed in 1968. This set of reforms effectively ended the payoff system. Over the next six years, several dozen officers, public officials, and tavern operators were charged in state and federal court with crimes such as conspiracy, perjury, bribery, graft, and contempt.


John Wilson and Marshal Wilson, "Ramon Probes Report Some On-Duty Policemen  Play Poker in Tavern," The Seattle Times, January 13, 1967, p. 1, 9; John Wilson and Marshall Wilson, "Downtown Police Beats Reshuffled To Minimize Temptation of Payoffs," Ibid., January 16, 1967, p. 1; John Wilson and Marshall Wilson, "Tavern Operators Describe 'Payoffs,'" Ibid., 4; John Wilson and Marshall Wilson, "$30-a-month Payoff Grew to $370, Says Club Operator," Ibid., January 17, 1967, p. 19; Douglas Willis, "Mayor to Appoint 3-Man Committee To Check Reports of Police Payoffs," Ibid., January 18, 1967, p. 1; John Wilson and Marshall Wilson, "Violations Inevitable in Drinking Places," Ibid., p. 2; "John Wilson and Marshall Wilson, "Police Suspensions Begin," Ibid., January 19, 1967, p. 6; the Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History,  "Grand jury hands down indictments in wide-spread police corruption scandal on July 27, 1971" (by David Wilma) (accessed May 2001).

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