The court-appointed monitor overseeing sweeping reforms in the Seattle Police Department said in his first official report on the process that the city has taken the first steps toward compliance, but that implementation has been uneven so far and resistance remains strong.
On the plus side, monitor Merrick Bobb praised interim Police Chief Jim Pugel and his efforts to spearhead the changes. He said the department is close to final drafts of new policies addressing when and how officers can stop and detain citizens and how it reviews the use of force.
The department has provided considerable access to data and the precincts to members of the monitoring team, Bobb said in the 22-page report filed Friday in U.S. District Court. He said his relationship with Mayor Mike McGinn is improving — McGinn opposed his selection as monitor — and that the mayor’s appointment of the new Community Police Commission was a positive step.
However, Bobb said many challenges remain, and it is expected it will take years to bring the department into compliance with the settlement agreement, which was reached in July after difficult negotiations with the Department of Justice (DOJ) following a civil-rights investigation that found Seattle officers had routinely used excessive force. The DOJ also found disturbing, if inconclusive, evidence of biased policing.
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Bobb, the founder of the Los Angeles-based Police Assessment and Resource Center, said resistance to the agreement can be found at every level in the department. He pointed to a fractious command staff and the intransigence of the unions, and he said they will continue to be a hindrance to the reforms if not addressed.
“Infighting up and down the command staff level has been a concern,” Bobb wrote. “The SPD does not appear settled on a unified vision of what is to come.”
Bobb said he hopes Pugel “will articulate that vision by embracing the Settlement Agreement.”
Meantime, he said, “A part of the SPD, mostly but not exclusively within the union-organized ranks, remains ‘dug in’ and continues to resist the force and implications” of the settlement agreement.
Echoing sentiments expressed by U.S. District Judge James Robart last month, Bobb wrote that “the time has come for all persons in the SPD, and particularly those with influence and authority, to move past their disagreements with the DOJ and get on with reform.”
He said he will be watching for improvement over the next six months, when his next report to the court is due, “including efforts by command staff to make clear that the Settlement Agreement is here to stay and is not going to be fed to the shredder.”
U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan called Bobb’s report a “frank assessment” of progress — and the lack of progress — to date.
“We are at a new juncture — where all eyes and efforts must be on the road ahead,” she said. “Getting reform right, in a way that increases public safety and public confidence, has to be a priority for everyone in the department.”
While Bobb said he was impressed with the department’s nascent efforts to better monitor the use of force by officers — including the formation of a Use of Force Review Board run by Pugel — he pointed out that the board did not find a single instance, out of 120 cases reviewed, in which an officer’s use of force violated department policy. He encouraged the board to expand its discussions.
Bobb saved some of his harshest criticism for the department’s Firearms Review Board, which reviews all shootings and firearms discharges. Deputy Chief Clark Kimerer oversees the board.
“They fail to reach the higher standards of the Use of Force Review Board,” he said, noting that “there has been some activity that, at minimum, raises the potential or appearance of skewing testimony by those seeking to protect an officer.”
Moreover, Bobb said that on two occasions, an unidentified “presiding SPD executive chilled open and free discussion of the merits by prematurely announcing their own views on them.”
Bobb said there have been “serious issues” surrounding the monitor’s access to the Firearms Review Board, while the monitor has actively been allowed to participate in the Use of Force Review Board. However, Kimerer said Friday that Bobb and the monitoring team had been given “unprecedented access” to the Firearms Review Board.
Mike Carter: firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-3706