Attorneys for the city of Seattle asked for a one-month delay Wednesday to respond to a federal judge’s request for a plan to fix police accountability, saying city leaders need more time to develop a blueprint while leaving unclear whether Seattle’s powerful police union will be enlisted to join in the effort.
U.S. District Judge James Robart granted the request Thursday.
Robart had ordered the plan be submitted to him by July 15 after finding in May that the city had fallen partly out of compliance with federally mandated reforms, largely because of deficiencies in the city’s contract with the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) that allowed an outside arbitrator to reinstate an officer fired for punching a handcuffed woman.
Included were instructions to the city and federal attorneys to work with the court’s monitor and the Community Police Commission (CPC) to show how the city proposes to achieve compliance.
But in its seven-page request for a delay until Aug. 15, the city laid out an elaborate plan, as previously reported by The Seattle Times, to use a team of outside consultants to help devise a plan that will be “responsive to the Court and will increase public confidence in the accountability system.”
The motion does not say whether the city intends to seek remedies through changes in the SPOG contract. When asked for comment, Mark Prentice, spokesman for Mayor Jenny Durkan, also did not say whether the city would seek the contract changes.
City attorneys wrote that their plan to use consultants is consistent with how they’ve approached other parts of a 2012 consent decree between the city and U.S. Justice Department, which required the police department to address allegations that police too often used excessive force and displayed troubling evidence of biased policing.
But police-reform advocates have condemned the use of the consultants, saying the city is undercutting longstanding local work to improve accountability. The CPC’s leaders said Wednesday they were never asked about the hiring of the team.
Some activists expressed concerns that the real purpose is to convince Robart the contract doesn’t need to be changed, by using the consultants to bolster the city’s view that its police-accountability measures exceed other cities’ and that its collective-bargaining agreement includes widely used national standards.
“What the City is proposing is not responsive to Judge Robart’s order,” said Anne Levinson, a retired judge and reform leader who for years served as a city watchdog overseeing the police department’s internal investigations and disciplinary system.
Durkan, in a letter sent Wednesday to concerned community groups, wrote, “I believe our work on the Court-ordered methodology will realize our shared goals of robust community participation and ensure the SPD remains in full and effective compliance with the goals of the Consent Decree.”
But a Durkan ally, the Martin Luther King, Jr. County Labor Council, which worked closely with her in reaching a contract with SPOG last year, recently sent an email to the City Council making clear that reopening the agreement was not an option.
“Collective bargaining is a fundamental right awarded to all workers,” said the June 24 email from Nicole Grant, the council’s executive secretary-treasurer. “Unilaterally opening a collectively-bargained contract between a workers’ union and their employer undermines these rights and disrespects the entire collective bargaining process.”
Councilmember M. Lorena González, who heads the council’s public-safety committee and knew Wednesday’s request was coming, said, “The city could use some more time.”
The council member said she has “a lot of questions and concerns” about the scope of the work Durkan’s consultants will carry out, how long it will take and how much it will cost taxpayers.
Under a consulting agreement made public Wednesday, total compensation shall not exceed $53,000.
Seattle Times staff reporter Daniel Beekman contributed to this story.