A citizen advisory panel dealt a setback to Mayor Jenny Durkan on Wednesday when it unanimously rejected her proposal to address deficiencies flagged by a federal judge in the city’s police-accountability system.
The Community Police Commission (CPC) reached its conclusion after reviewing a draft plan in which five outside experts hired by the city would examine procedures in 20 other cities to help Seattle respond to concerns raised by U.S. District Judge James Robart.
The CPC, in its 10-page analysis released after a vote of commission members, expressed concern that Durkan’s approach “fails to adequately address the Court’s concerns and will lead to further unnecessary delays in achieving appropriate and long overdue disciplinary system reforms.”
In a statement to The Seattle Times, the mayor’s office said the draft plan includes some initial feedback from the CPC and others, and “we look forward to reviewing the written feedback from all parties including the CPC. The City will continue listening and looking at how we can best incorporate feedback from community members and accountability partners into the methodology that will be proposed for the Court’s approval.”
Robart, citing provisions of the city’s contract with its rank-and-file police union, found the city in May partly out of compliance with a 2012 consent decree between the city and U.S. Justice Department. The agreement required the Police Department to address allegations that officers too often used excessive force.
He ordered the city to develop a “methodology” to fix the deficiencies, particularly longstanding disciplinary-appeal procedures that contributed to an arbitrator’s reinstatement of an officer who had been fired for punching a handcuffed woman.
As part of his order, Robart directed the city to work with the CPC and the court’s monitor, Merrick Bobb, on devising a blueprint.
The city’s contract with the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG), reached last year, stripped away provisions of a landmark police-accountability ordinance passed by the City Council in 2017 that eliminated outside arbitration in favor of new appeal procedures more tightly controlled by the city.
Durkan has resisted asking SPOG to reopen the contract in order to make changes in the appeal process. Instead, she has proposed a comprehensive study of police-accountability practices that would be carried out by a Chicago-based consulting firm, 21CP Solutions, and take months to complete.
Labor groups who have been key supporters of Durkan have opposed reopening the contract, saying that doing so would show disrespect for the collective-bargaining process.
In a July 26 letter to three Seattle City Council members who urged Durkan to reopen talks with SPOG, the Seattle Coalition of City Unions (CCU) declared its support for the police union.
“The CCU wants to make it perfectly clear that we strongly disagree with any unilateral attempts to reopen SPOG’s current collective bargaining agreement (CBA),” the letter said. “The CBA was bargained in good faith over the course of several years and signed by the Mayor and Seattle City Council.”
It added: “Any and all efforts to put undue pressure on SPOG to reopen this agreement are inappropriate. The members of SPOG have the right to determine, on their own terms, what course of action they want to pursue.”
The three council members — M. Lorena González, chair of the council’s public-safety committee, Teresa Mosqueda and Lisa Herbold — called on Durkan, in a July 15 letter, to ask for new talks with SPOG on the collective-bargaining agreement, rebuking what they described as a recalcitrant strategy toward addressing police-accountability flaws.
The CPC, created as part of the consent decree that Durkan spearheaded in her previous role as U.S. attorney in Seattle, said in its analysis that the city should provide Robart a schedule for “swiftly curing these problems and getting back into compliance with the Consent Decree.”
The commission’s 12 to 0 vote to send the critical analysis of Durkan’s proposal, with two abstentions, comes a week before the city is due to submit its response to Robart on Aug. 15.
The mayor’s office said experts have helped develop the draft plan with “dozens of productive calls, meetings and work sessions.”
“The City’s goal is to comply with the Court’s order on a proposed methodology, and most importantly, the City wants to create the best accountability system in the country that builds trust,” the statement from Durkan’s office says.
Durkan’s proposal also drew criticism Wednesday from Michele Storms, executive director of the ACLU of Washington, who said in a statement that Durkan’s “decision to engage out-of-state consultants to compare Seattle’s accountability system with those of other cities concerns us.”
The consent decree’s terms will not be met by a comparative analysis, the statement said.
“Judge Robart has already diagnosed the problem, and asked the city to collaborate with the Community Police Commission and the Court Monitor. The path to building community confidence and full compliance is implementation of the Accountability Ordinance. There has been no explanation as to why the Mayor is not pursuing this course”.