A 5-0 committee vote virtually guaranteed passage when the package goes to the full, nine-member council for a final vote Monday.
The Seattle City Council’s public-safety committee passed sweeping legislation Thursday to bolster police accountability and oversight, marked by more civilian involvement in internal investigations and tighter appeal procedures for officers who have been fired or disciplined.
The committee’s 5-0 vote virtually guaranteed passage when the measure goes to the full, nine-member council for a final vote Monday.
The long-anticipated ordinance then would be reviewed by U.S. District Judge James Robart, to decide if the legislation conflicts with a 2012 consent decree between the U.S. Justice Department and the city requiring the Police Department to address excessive-force and biased policing.
The committee did not take up last-minute requests to alter the legislation from the Community Police Commission (CPC), Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole and City Attorney Pete Holmes.
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The legislation was approved by Councilmember M. Lorena González, the committee chair; Tim Burgess, the vice chair; and council members Sally Bagshaw, Rob Johnson and Mike O’Brien.
The ordinance would create a three-pronged, independent oversight system, including a new civilian inspector general with broad powers to review officer discipline and other workings in the Police Department.
The department’s internal-investigation unit, the Office of Professional Accountability (OPA), would be renamed the Office of Police Accountability, retaining a civilian director while replacing uniformed supervisors with civilians and adding at least a mix of civilian investigators to the staff.
The CPC, a temporary body of community members created as part of the consent decree, would become permanent and grow from 15 to 21 members, with a bigger budget and an advisory role on substantive policy and the hiring of the inspector general and OPA director.
The committee did not act on an 11th-hour effort from the CPC to gain more say over the inspector’s work plan, as well as formal authority to evaluate the performance of the inspector and OPA director.
The committee also didn’t elevate the inspector general’s role to be the main conduit for recommendations to the department, as requested by Holmes and O’Toole to streamline the oversight process.
González disputed their concerns in a letter sent to O’Toole and Holmes on Wednesday.
“I agree that the IG (inspector general) will serve an important and critical function in our iterative reform efforts and continuous improvement of accountability systems,” she wrote. “However, the IG’s role will be enhanced if it is rooted in the knowledge and understanding of the deep needs of impacted communities. That is precisely why the legislation requires intentional collaboration between the IG and the CPC both in development of the IG’s work plan and in the IG’s community engagement efforts.”
O’Toole would retain final say over internal disciplinary decisions under the legislation.
Appeals of those decisions would be dramatically altered under the ordinance; the arbitration route that critics believed could be manipulated by officers would be replaced by a revamped three-member panel or a city hearing examiner.
The 180-day limit to complete internal investigations would be clarified to end what some have viewed as an ability to game the system.
Negotiations over the implementation of changes affecting the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, which represents officers and sergeants, and the Seattle Police Management Association, the union for lieutenants and captains, would commence when the legislation reaches final approval.