Seattle’s citizen police commission asked a federal judge Monday to deny the city’s proposal to fix deficiencies in the Police Department’s disciplinary system, bluntly calling the plan “busywork” that does not “fully embrace” reforms.
The Community Police Commission (CPC) attacked the city’s response Thursday to U.S. District Judge James Robart’s request for a “methodology” to address weaknesses in the city’s contract with its rank-and-file police union. Robart found provisions of the contract in conflict with a federal consent decree, which he said undermine public confidence in the reform agreement.
In court papers, attorneys for the CPC described Mayor Jenny Durkan’s plan to hire outside consultants to study what other cities are doing as a “waste of precious time and resources” in light of exhaustive work that already has been done locally to identify solutions.
The attorneys urged Robart to order the city to adopt a new blueprint, similar to one previously proposed by the CPC. The commission has urged the city to swiftly seek talks with the police union, recommending officials look to remedies that were included in legislation passed by the City Council in 2017 but then stripped in a new contract reached last year with the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG).
“There is no need to reinvent this wheel,” the commission’s attorneys wrote.
The mayor’s office defended its proposal Monday, calling it a “full, data-driven examination” that would help the city “achieve a more effective and durable accountability system.”
Under the city’s plan, consultants would focus on issues raised by Robart, including appeal procedures for disciplined officers, artificial deadlines to complete internal investigations and a lack of subpoena power to obtain information about officers.
Once completed, the city would use the consultants’ information to push reforms, making them “top priorities” when the next round of negotiations with SPOG begins early next year, attorneys for the city wrote in Thursday’s response.
The CPC attorneys wrote that the city has “sidestepped” Robart’s directive to fix what the CPC called the “continued, embedded barriers to a transparent, fair, timely, effective, and procedurally just disciplinary system.” The filing echoed the sentiments of a letter and detailed analysis the CPC submitted to the city earlier this month, in which it rejected the proposed approach.
“Busywork is not a methodology to achieve compliance with the Consent Decree,” the CPC’s filing on Monday said.
The city’s stated reluctance to ask SPOG for talks out of fear of drawing an unfair labor practice complaint is a “strawman,” the attorneys wrote, adding, “The City can bargain in good faith and also guarantee constitutional policing, and insist on provisions” in the contract “necessary for constitutional policing.”
Officials in Durkan’s office have said they constantly consulted with a wide range of community members, city officials and others throughout the process.
However, city officials did not consult with the CPC, as previously directed by the court, until after they already had developed the plan to use consultants from a Chicago-based firm, the CPC’s attorneys wrote.
Robart is presiding over a 2012 consent decree between the city and the U.S. Justice Department requiring the Police Department to address allegations that officers too often resorted to excessive force and displayed troubling evidence of biased policing. The CPC, an advisory body that currently has 18 members out of up to 21, was created as part of the agreement.
In January 2018, Robart found the city in full compliance with the agreement.
But after the city signed the new contract with SPOG last November, Robart found the city partly out of compliance.
He cited, in part, an arbitrator’s decision last year to overturn the firing of an officer who had punched a handcuffed woman after she kicked him, saying it revealed a flaw in the disciplinary system.
In a separate ruling Friday, a King County judge reversed the arbitrator at the city’s request and reinstated the firing of Officer Adley Shepherd. The guild said it plans to appeal.
“That the city had to resort to such extraordinary measures to vacate this ruling — and that a King County judge has concluded the ruling contravened ‘public policy against the use of excessive force’ — underscores the importance of fixing the attributes of the accountability system,” the CPC’s lawyers said in Monday’s filing.