Attorneys for the city of Seattle argue that the Community Police Commission is wrong about the impact of the new police labor contract on accountability reforms, arguing the city remains on track to get out from underneath federal oversight.
The city of Seattle took a swipe at the citizen-run Community Police Commission (CPC) in new court filings aimed at convincing a federal judge that the Seattle Police Department remains in compliance with court-ordered reforms, arguing the commission has misrepresented or misunderstood the impact of a new police labor contract on accountability measures approved by the mayor and passed by the City Council.
The CPC has argued in federal court filings that the city is on the verge of falling out of compliance with a 2012 settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to address findings that Seattle police officers have routinely used excessive force and displayed a troubling pattern of biased policing. The commission contends the city’s new collective bargaining agreement with the Seattle Police Officers Guild undermines reforms contained in the settlement.
U.S. District Judge James Robart found the city in preliminary full compliance with the consent decree laying out reforms in January, triggering a two-year trial period that could see the end of federal oversight of the SPD if the city continues to meet the agreement’s provision. However, Robart has since invited the city, the DOJ and the commission to persuade him why he shouldn’t agree with the CPC in light of the controversial decision by an arbitrator to reinstate a police officer who was fired for punching a handcuffed woman.
Robart has also asked for input on whether the new police contract otherwise conforms with the reforms mandated by the settlement agreement.
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The CPC says that in order for the city to be in full and continued compliance, it needed to adopt and implement the city’s accountability ordinance intact. Instead, the document was modified as a result of negotiations between the city and the Seattle Police Officers Guild.
“The City is in the uncomfortable position of defending a contract that undoes major parts of an accountability ordinance that passed with near-unanimous support from all branches of city government,” said CPC spokesman Jesse Franz in an emailed statement. “The CPC stands by its analysis and looks forward to receiving further guidance from the federal court.”
The city argued to the court in its filing Wednesday that the CPC knew the ordinance would be modified in keeping with the final police contract, but that those changes don’t dilute the ordinance, and in fact improves the system. Moreover, the city’s attorneys argued that the ordinance and its changes “is the result of the city’s democratic process” and the give-and-take of union negotiations. To change it back, they argue, would violate the law.
“The CPC now seeks to set the clock back on overturn this process, arguing that the only acceptable accountability system is the one set out in the original ordinance,” the city wrote. “There is no authority for this assertion.”
The CPC contends the contract undermines a sweeping accountability ordinance passed by the City Council and leaves in place a flawed disciplinary-appeals system that protects officers at the expense of the chief’s prerogative to discipline them and see it stick. While the CPC is not an actual party to the settlement agreement, it was formed through a memorandum of understanding at the time the agreement was signed with the aim of ensuring public input into police accountability and policy matters. Robart asked the CPC to submit arguments as a friend of the court.
Over the past seven years, the city and the DOJ have rewritten and implemented thousands of pages of policy and training, and begun gathering meaningful data on policing. The city recently passed an unprecedented package of police-accountability reforms that overhauls the disciplinary system and was designed to put into place a fair, independent and robust system to investigate and discipline police misconduct.
Both the DOJ and the city have said the rehiring of Officer Adley Shepherd after he was terminated for using excessive force on a handcuffed woman is an “outlier” and should not be taken as an indicator that the disciplinary process failed. The city has said it is “vigorously” attempting to overturn the decision.
In its filing, the CPC said the arbitrator’s ruling in the Shepherd case represented a departure from the aims of landmark police-accountability legislation enacted by the city in 2017, as well as other reforms. That will make it harder to uphold misconduct findings and appropriate discipline, in addition to undermining the authority of the police department’s internal investigation process and the police chief, who makes the final decision on discipline, it said.
Robart has not set a date for a hearing on the matter.