Seattle Mayor Ed Murray is expected to announce his nomination for a new police chief on Monday. Here are two perspectives on what the new police chief needs to accomplish in his or her first 100 days on the job.
In a recent meeting with the editorial board, Murray called the department “opaque” and “probably the most dysfunctional police force of any major city in America.”
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The department is under intense scrutiny after a U.S. Department of Justice investigation criticized use of excessive force and biased policing. The city agreed to make reforms overseen by a federal monitor.
Here are two perspectives on what the new police chief needs to accomplish in his or her first 100 days on the job. Also, check out our editorial board’s perspective in the editorial “Mayor Ed Murray’s SPD chief to-do list.”
New police chief must reach out to the rank and file
N my 20 years as a Seattle Police officer, I have served under seven different police chiefs, both permanent and interim.
Soon Seattle will have a new police chief. The community and I both have high expectations. The new chief will inherit an awesome opportunity to move the Seattle Police Department further into the 21st century and ensure this fine department is a model nationwide.
Though the Seattle Police Department is currently under a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, make no mistake, the department is made up of ethical and professional brave men and women who serve the people of Seattle selflessly each and every day.
As president of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, I would like to see the new chief reach out to as many rank-and-file officers as possible in the first 100 days by attending a roll call for every shift in all five precincts and explaining his or her vision and expectations.
Within the first 100 days, the new police chief should ensure that all assistant chiefs work at least one patrol shift per month alongside the rank and file. It is crucial that the command officers of the department stay in touch with what is going on at the ground level. Sadly this has not been the case for a long time.
I hope the new police chief will not only command respect, but also return the same respect by ensuring the tone within the department is to Listen and Explain with Equity and Dignity, or LEED, the communication model taught to everyone at the Seattle Police Department. It has fallen short in recent years. How can one expect the rank and file of Seattle’s finest to employ this model out on the street, if the way they are treated internally is diabolically different?
The new police chief needs to be ready to jump in with both feet and make reforms dictated by the city’s settlement agreement with the Department of Justice. All required and pertinent training, as well as the funding for such training needs to be allocated so the department can meet the benchmarks set by the federal judge.
The new chief needs to establish him or herself as a strong leader with the ability to resist the Seattle way — a “set a meeting to set another meeting” mentality. With a strong police chief reporting to Mayor Ed Murray, there is no doubt that Seattle police can satisfy the terms of the settlement agreement sooner rather than later.
The new police chief has a ripe opportunity to make huge strides in improving labor relations, a crucial area. Improved collaborative labor relations can save the city money and ensure that there isn’t a backlog of grievances and discipline hearings.
The rank-and-file officers who make up the ranks of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild are yearning for a visionary leader to guide the Seattle Police Department into the future.
The future is bright and the opportunities are endless. It is high time the men and women of the Seattle Police Department be seen in a different light by the citizens we serve. The new police chief has a real opportunity to set this in motion in the first 100 days.
Detective Ron Smith is a 20-year veteran of the Seattle Police Department and president of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild.
Hold officers accountable for misconduct
DURING his election campaign, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said that choosing a new police chief would be the single most important decision he would make as mayor.
Fortunately, the mayor’s office has announced that all three finalists for the job come from out of state. This means that the next police chief won’t be hobbled by pre-existing loyalties, or vendettas, within a bureaucracy that has stymied much needed reform.
This appointment presents a unique opportunity for the Seattle Police Department to turn things around and make the department accountable to the community it serves.
Because a quick start will be critical, here’s what I suggest the next chief aim for during his or her first 100 days:
First, negotiate a new labor contract with the police union, the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, that reforms how officers accused of misconduct are held accountable. Because the existing contract expires at the end of this year, negotiations with the union will start immediately after the new chief is appointed. These negotiations are critical because accountability procedures are baked into the union contract.
The existing contract has to change because it provides officers who are accused of misconduct more protections than the criminal defendants that they arrest — ironic because those arrestees have several constitutional amendments written exclusively to protect their rights.
In effect, the police union has negotiated for itself a “Super Bill of Rights” that all but ensures bad apples within the department can evade substantive discipline.
That dynamic has to change if the Seattle Police Department is serious about reform. The new chief needs to negotiate a clear, streamlined and less obstructive process by which complaints against officers — particularly those involving excessive force — are adjudicated.
Second, the chief should give up the authority to veto or dilute discipline that has been imposed on officers found to have committed misconduct. Discipline is determined by the civilian director of the Office of Professional Accountability.
Recently, the public has witnessed a steady drip-drip-drip of stories related to officers who evaded substantive discipline even after complaints were sustained against them, simply because the police chief disagreed.
The chief’s power to veto the civilian overseer’s determination is the hallmark of arbitrariness. It is also an incredibly effective strategy for a new police chief to destroy any semblance of credibility in the public’s eyes. What good is civilian oversight if the civilian’s ruling is overturned?
The chief should also have the ability to impose discipline — but he or she should not dilute or veto discipline that’s already been imposed.
Some may argue that if the chief loses the ability to veto or dilute punishments, then the chief also loses leadership credibility within the department. This is a straw man. The chief’s credibility should be based on his or her ability to implement and enforce policies that prevent misconduct, not on the ability to let officers evade discipline.
A chief who supports the civilian overseer’s disciplinary determinations will signal to the community that he or she considers civilian oversight an opportunity to highlight accountability, rather than an inconvenience to be swept under the rug.
Third, the new chief should embrace a procedural-justice model early on. Procedural justice acknowledges that police officers must be seen as “legitimate actors” by the communities they police in order to be effective.
To earn that legitimacy, the new chief should not measure success by crime rates alone. Success should also be measured by how Seattle police officers are treating the individuals they are sworn to protect. Ultimately, the community’s cooperation and trust will be the difference between success and failure.
But trust can’t be fostered so long as the department continues to protect the slim minority of bad apples. That’s why, for any of these recommendations to take root, the next chief must hold officers who engage in serious misconduct accountable, rather than insulate them from discipline.
A chief that commits to these three items in his or her first 100 days will be a breath of fresh air from day one.
David A. Perez is a constitutional law attorney in Seattle. He served on the mayor’s Citizen Advisory Committee to select a new police chief. On Twitter @davidaperez1