Police Watchdogs Circumvent Mayor, Send Proposal for Permanent Status to City Council  

Seattle’s Community Police Commission voted today to circumvent the Mayor’s Office and go directly to the Seattle City Council with a proposal that would codify the CPC as a permanent civilian reviewer of police policy and training. They’re going to talk to council about their proposal immediately, and transmit a written proposal within a week or so.

Mayor Ed Murray promised last year that he would quickly deliver police accountability legislation to the council. But in an article published yesterday, he told the Seattle Times that that promise was “a rookie mistake,” and that the issue of instituting reform “is far more complex than I realized.”

“We just sort of read the tea leaves that it’s not going to be possible to get to a point of total agreement with the Mayor’s Office in time,” says CPC co-chair Lisa Daugaard. The CPC has to move now, she says, if it wants the proposal to have a shot at becoming city law this year. The commission's reform recommendations were issued over a year ago, and members recoil at the prospect of waiting yet another year for action. With city council elections ramping up, the city budget process looming in the fall, and the prospect of a new city council in January, there’s unanimous agreement at the CPC that action needs to happen this year, and that the only way for it to happen this year is to go directly to the council, right now.

“We have found the discussions with the Mayor’s office to be productive, so it isn’t a verdict on that,” Daugaard says. “It’s that we don’t have time to spend several more months in that process.”

The proposal to the council would transform the CPC from a temporary advisory body into a permanent feature of city government. The CPC does not, and would not, have any explicit authority to accept or reject policy. Instead, they would function as an avenue of civilian input—and a bullshit-alarm that would go off anytime Seattle Police Department policy moved in a murky direction.

The CPC originated out of the 2011 Department of Justice investigation into SPD, which found routine excessive force and possible racial bias. The city entered into an agreement with the federal government to reform its police department, and the CPC was created as an advisory body to that reform process.

But it’s been evolving, says former Judge Anne Levinson, to fill a vacuum of broad civilian authority over city police. Levinson is auditor to the Office of Professional Accountability, the semi-independent office that reviews specific complaints against SPD (say, a shooting by a police officer). The CPC, by contrast, deals in big-picture police policy, such as training standards and arrest procedures.

“There may be buyer’s remorse for having created us,” says retiring CPC member and ACLU deputy director Jennifer Shaw, “but we’re here.” And now that they’re here, she thinks, the CPC has connected police with their critics enough to replace the “echo chamber” that has heretofore characterized the quest for Seattle police reform.

There are four basic sticking points that have held up negotiations with the Mayor, Daugaard says:

1. How much to codify the CPC’s recommendations into city law, versus allowing the city’s executive branch to institute them (or not) at its discretion.

2. Requiring the council’s consent if the mayor wants to fire the director or auditor of the Office of Professional Accountability. This would insulate them, Daugaard says, against undue executive influence.

3. Making explicit the right of members of the CPC and OPA to take information they get through their oversight work to other city officials or the public, if that information is concerning but falls outside their own wheelhouse.

4. Make explicit in city legislation that the CPC’s role is not just limited to narrow issues of police accountability per se.

There’s also disagreement over whether the OPA should have subpoena power similar to that of the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, Daugaard says.

The CPC’s proposal to the council will go to the Public Safety, Technology, and Civil Rights committee, chaired by Bruce Harrell.

We have sent requests for comment to the Mayor’s and Harrell’s offices.

UPDATE: June 11, 2015

The Mayor Responds:

At the beginning of my administration, I set the ambitious goal that Seattle’s police department would become a national model for urban policing. It has been our priority to rebuild the trust between the public and our police so that everyone in our neighborhoods feels safe and receives the same high level of police service.

Working with our partners in the Community Police Commission, the department has made significant progress. We’ve hired a new police chief, improved SPD training techniques and ensured that all officers are trained in de-escalation and crisis intervention. We’ve improved transparency through the use of body cameras and thoroughly reviewing all uses of force – all in our efforts to become a national leader in constitutional policing.

The Chief and I are surprised because we believed there was an opportunity to reach a deal together. Reform requires a lot of input from many stakeholders. We’ve been focused on a consensus oriented approach. There was substantial agreement on a deal, and now that the CPC has decided to introduce its own legislative package, we look forward to the council’s deliberations on reaching our shared goal of achieving meaningful police reform.”


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