Mayor Finds His Feet on Police Discipline But Is Politics Getting in the Way of Answers?

After a week of turmoil over police discipline, Deputy Mayor Hyeok Kim told City Council members this afternoon that her boss was fully committing himself to reforming a system that she described as “outdated,” “overly complicated” and lacking in transparency. The mayor’s consultant on police issues, Barney Melekian, will lead a broad review of the discipline process, including the behind-closed-doors handling of officer appeals.

In the mean time, Kim announced at a briefing of the city council’s public safety committee, six settlements in appeals cases signed by Interim Police Chief Harry Bailey will be put on hold. Melekian will also lead a review of those cases.

After stumbling in his response to a public outcry that arose over one such case of overturned discipline, involving a cop’s harassment of Stranger news editor Dominic Holden, it seems that Mayor Ed Murray has finally found his feet. His resolve may have been strengthened by what an informed source says was a discussion on Tuesday in the mayor’s office involving Department of Justice officials and the court-appointed monitor overseeing a settlement between DOJ and the police department.

A letter sent yesterday to the police department by Anne Levinson, a retired judge serving as the auditor for SPD’s Office of Police Accountability, might also have helped convince the mayor that this was an issue that wasn’t going away. In her letter, Levinson asked a series of probing questions, such as: How many cases have been reopened in the past three years? What were the resolutions? Who participated in the final decisions?

As Levinson acknowledged in an interview after this afternoon’s council briefing, those questions are still on the table, even though Kim and Tina Podlodowski, the mayor’s top in-house adviser on police issues, attempted to provide some information to council members. What’s strange is the way the mayor’s staff appear to be unable to pin some things down.

For instance, Kim said her office “has not been able to determine at what point this past fall SPD leadership gave the clear signal” that the six settlements now on hold should be approved. Since the controversy broke about those cases, Murray has made a point of saying that the settlements, although signed by Bailey, were negotiated in the previous administration, when Jim Pugel served as interim chief. Yet, Kim related, no documentation of Pugel’s approval of these settlements could be found.

Could that be because Pugel did not, in fact, approve those settlements? You would think that the mayor and his police chief would call Pugel into their offices and ask him. Remember, Pugel, although kicked out of the chief’s office and relegated to a basement office far from headquarters, still works for SPD. The seeming lack of communication speaks to the weird dynamic that has been at work through a series of SPD shakeups that have resulted in a near-complete turnover of the command staff.

One gets the sense that some complex dance of politics may be weighing down the flow of information. As Bruce Harrell, chair of the council’s public safety committee, said at one point this afternoon, “We got a lot of folks wanting to take ownership of reform.”

Meanwhile, Rich O’Neill, offering a parting shot on his very last day as president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild, suggested at the briefing that another kind of political dance was playing out. Expressing outrage at the recent criticism of Bailey, whom both SPOG and the Seattle Police Management Association recommended for the job of interim chief, O’Neill said that “the events of the past few days have been nothing but a power grab from some who want to wrestle power away from the chief of police.”

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