The federal judge issued a significant finding calling for the city to use a lower standard of proof to fire an officer for dishonesty.
In a major step toward police-accountability reform, U.S. District Judge James Robart cleared the way Friday for the Seattle City Council to consider sweeping legislation ranging from officer discipline to broad oversight of the Police Department.
Robart, who is overseeing a 2012 federal consent decree requiring the Police Department to address excessive force and biased policing, issued an order allowing most of the city’s proposals to go forward.
However, Robart issued a major finding calling for the city to use a lower standard of proof to fire an officer for dishonesty.
The long-delayed draft legislation calls for the creation of a civilian-led Office of Inspector General to provide broad oversight of the department and to act as a permanent monitor to verify it carries out constitutional and effective policing.
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It also would maintain the civilian-led Office of Professional Accountability, renamed the Office of Police Accountability, to perform internal investigations, but with increased independence and the possibility of civilian staffing.
In addition, the legislation would make permanent the Community Police Commission, a temporary civilian advisory body created as part of the consent decree, to work with the community to ensure lawful and bias-free policing.
Robart has previously clashed with the commission over its role, so it was significant he allowed the council to consider making it permanent.
Mayor Ed Murray will now submit the package to the council, which includes direct provisions and some with options.
At the request of federal attorneys, Robart, in Friday’s order, eliminated two options that would impose a higher standard of proof — clear and convincing evidence — to fire an officer for dishonestly, rather than by the lower standard of a preponderance of evidence.
Federal attorneys argued the higher standard would undermine “confidence in the disciplinary system without any clear basis.”
Robart agreed the higher standard would be inconsistent with the “purposes of the Consent Decree,” noting the police chief must be able to ensure the “corps consists of officers who are not dishonest.”
“Wow,” responded Kevin Stuckey, president of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, who called the judge’s finding disappointing and contrary to current contract language requiring clear and convincing evidence.
The finding also conflicts with national standards requiring clear and convincing evidence to take away the livelihood of employees in various professions, he said.
“It should be the higher standard,” Stuckey said.
Stuckey said perhaps the council can sway Robart to change his mind, but, on a conciliatory note, he said he was open to accepting the change as part of moving forward with the federal reform effort.
He said the guild could seek to bargain over the issue, but that he also didn’t want to prolong the reform process.
The police-accountability package is one element of the reform effort, which already has led to broad changes regarding use of force, bias-free policing and other procedures.