If the intent of prostitution stings is to stifle the commercial sex trade, Seattle Police Captain Randal Woolery’s case offers the opposite lesson.
For years, most of Seattle’s anti-prostitution efforts have focused on prosecuting customers. It is an acknowledgment that the people buying sex are freely choosing to do so, while sex workers’ circumstances are often dire. The preferential treatment Woolery allegedly received by members of his own department after his arrest on suspicion of sexual exploitation not only raises critical questions about fairness in policing, it also sends a message that men of status can flout the law by purchasing sex illegally, be they influential businessmen, politicians — or police.
Woolery has pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor charge. An internal investigation is in limbo pending the outcome of that case. But a Seattle Times investigation by reporter Lewis Kamb revealed that Woolery’s arrest on Aurora Avenue North last November spurred an unconscionable pattern of preferential treatment that started at the scene when Sgt. Jeffrey Page learned Woolery’s identity and vowed to make the arrest as “painless as possible.”
Page then stopped recording the arrest on his body camera, in violation of departmental policy. Woolery bypassed a precinct holding cell and was taken directly to the King County Jail for booking, The Times reported. Police officials have not given a full public accounting of how these decisions were made, or given any reason why Woolery should have been handled differently from four other men arrested during the sting. Woolery, in fact, apparently didn’t spend any time behind bars that night.
Nearly 11 months later, Woolery remains on paid leave. In a discussion with editorial board members, Interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz declined to comment other than to say that the department is assessing the case.
The silence is deafening.
Police must know that even the appearance of favoritism erodes public trust in law enforcement. That is only more true amid heightened scrutiny and pervasive discussions of police reforms.
To restore that trust, police must be fully transparent in disclosing how the Woolery case was handled and what steps are being taken. This case calls for more than public outrage. It demands accountability and reform.