Seattle officials submitted proposed police-accountability legislation to a federal judge Friday. The changes aim to reform the police department.
The Seattle Police Department would get a powerful new inspector general, and its Community Police Commission (CPC) would become permanent under a long-awaited proposal submitted by city officials to a federal judge Friday.
The proposed legislation shipped to U.S. District Judge James Robart would also retain the department’s independent Office of Professional Accountability (OPA), which investigates alleged misconduct by officers.
The OPA is already led by a civilian director. Under the proposal, it would also be staffed by civilians, rather than by sworn officers. The scope of its work would increase, Mayor Ed Murray said.
“Today marks a historic and critical juncture for the people of Seattle and their police department,” the mayor said in a statement.
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“We’ve been engaged for many months on the critical work of getting police reform right and today we agreed upon the strongest and most transparent police accountability structure in our city’s history.”
Murray initially promised to send the legislation to the City Council more than a year ago, having outlined a police-accountability plan in November 2014.
The plan stemmed in part from recommendations made by the CPC, and some steps were immediately implemented. But others, requiring changes in law, were delayed amid tensions between the mayor and the CPC, leading to Robart stepping in.
The judge is presiding over a 2012 consent decree requiring the Police Department, in response to U.S. Department of Justice allegations of excessive force and biased policing, to adopt sweeping reforms, including reforms related to officer accountability.
In an August hearing during which he slammed the city’s police union and emotionally proclaimed that, “Black lives matter,” Robart told Seattle officials he would need to review their proposed legislation before the council considers it.
City Attorney Pete Holmes pledged to submit the legislation to the judge by Labor Day weekend, then wound up asking for more time.
Friday’s proposal is mostly made up of policies agreed upon by various stakeholders, including Murray and the CPC. For areas still lacking consensus, it identifies options for Robart to choose from.
The proposal appears at first blush to be a victory of sorts for CPC members fighting to make the group a permanent part of the police-accountability setup.
“The package would make the CPC permanent. How robust and independent it would be remains to be seen,” CPC co-chairs Lisa Daugaard and Harriett Walden said in a written statement. “The commission believes that all of the proposed oversight bodies should have real clout as an acknowledgment of the seriousness of the problems we’ve historically faced in Seattle, as a reflection of the right of the community to have a meaningful voice on policing, and as protection against interference with oversight work.”
The CPC was created under the consent decree as a temporary, citizen-run advocacy group meant to give regular people a voice in carrying out of reforms.
The brief Holmes filed Friday along with the legislation says the new office of an inspector general would be “far-reaching and powerful.” The role would be to “provide rigorous audits and analyses of SPD policies, procedures and practices, and to act as a permanent ‘monitor’ to verify that SPD maintains its standard of excellence and its commitment to and practice of constitutional policing,” according to Holmes’ brief.
Under the legislation, five CPC members would be selected by the mayor, five by the council and five by existing members of the CPC.
After a three-week comment period, Robart will have 90 days to review the proposed legislation. Then, with his approval and potential changes, Murray will send the legislation to the council.