A WITHERING assessment of the Seattle Police Department’s progress toward meeting the terms of a negotiated plan to address use of force and biased policing issues will serve double duty.
A draft of the report prepared by plan monitor Merrick Bobb focuses on the urgency of making headway — now. That’s ideal, but it is also a useful template for those looking to hire the SPD’s next chief of police.
Bobb keeps U.S. District Judge James Robart up on the work being done, but the insights about gaps in management and progress will inform other decisions.
Bobb’s 61-page draft report, made public by Seattle Times reporters Steve Miletich and Mike Carter, is a poke in the ribs, or elsewhere, to motivate efforts to overhaul departmental protocols and procedures.
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Bobb’s frustration with the quantity, quality and access to data about police activities boils out of the report. The SPD generates frequently erroneous and incomplete factual information about itself and officers’ performance, according to the report.
Bobb found ongoing attempts by the SPD to limit the authority and autonomy of the Office of Professional Accountability, which investigates complaints of police misconduct. The monitor was particularly frustrated by the failure of the department’s Firearms Review Board to do full, fair and impartial analyses of officer-involved shootings.
The subtext of the monitor’s report cries out for leadership to establish rigorous expectations among senior managers and hold them accountable.
The next chief must be an advocate for data collection, distribution and review. Problems with constitutional law enforcement are increasingly revealed in data profiles and activity reports, the monitor reports.
A variation on the theme of “who’s in charge here?” was evident in the department’s pull back on the use of a Wi-Fi network bought with federal Department of Homeland Security money.
Once again, SPD was caught in a nether world of official permission to proceed, but was vague on the intended law enforcement purpose. The department earlier bowed to public concerns about the use of drones and waterfront cameras.
The vendors always have belated descriptions of the value of their products, but the public feels excluded from the conversation before the grant request is filed.
Core management issues are at stake. Internal procedures have an extraordinary impact on how law enforcement is practiced on the streets, and on subsequent decisions about training and discipline.
Candidates to be Seattle’s next chief of police need to make clear they get the connections.