Seattle Misses a Deadline in Long Police-Reform Effort
The move added further delay to a long-running process aimed at bolstering civilian oversight and assuring that police officers are held accountable for misconduct
By Steve Miletich, Seattle Times staff reporter
After pledging to produce police-accountability legislation before the Labor Day weekend, the city of Seattle informed a federal judge Thursday it will need more time.
With no timetable provided, the move added further delay to a long-running process aimed at bolstering civilian oversight and assuring that officers are held accountable for misconduct.
City Attorney Pete Holmes provided the Labor Day timing to U.S. District Judge Robart at an Aug. 15 hearing. Robart is presiding over a 2012 consent decree requiring the Seattle Police Department, in response to a Department of Justice report, to adopt reforms to address excessive force and biased policing.
In a letter sent to Robart on Thursday, Holmes apologized for not meeting his “good faith” representation, explaining that participants working on draft consensus legislation were grappling with “important and complex issues” relating to reform.
The additional time “does not reflect any lack of commitment on the part of the City to reform,” he wrote.
“Over the past two weeks, the Mayor’s Office has engaged with other City stakeholders to reach as much consensus as can be achieved, and I have been informed that substantial progress has been made,” his letter says. “However, that process has not yet been completed.”
When the draft is ready, it will be shared with the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington, the Justice Department and Robart’s federal monitor for further discussion and refinement before it’s presented to the court, Holmes wrote.
Robart laid out his own blueprint at the hearing, including streamlined appeals of officer discipline, internal investigations conducted by civilians rather than sworn officers, and the creation of a civilian inspector general with broad oversight powers.
He asked the city to first submit its proposed legislation to him, so he can flag any provisions that conflict with the consent decree. The legislation would then be submitted by Mayor Ed Murray to the City Council for consideration.
Murray first unveiled a proposed police-accountability plan in November 2014, stemming in part from recommendations made that year by the Community Police Commission (CPC), a temporary civilian-advocacy body created as part of the consent decree. Some steps were immediately implemented, while others were slated for legislation.
But tension between the mayor and CPC delayed action, and Robart eventually halted proposed legislation last year over concerns about expanding the CPC’s role.
Since then, the legislative effort has been tied up in talks and deliberations.
The effort also has been linked to the city’s failed attempt to reach a new contract with the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG), which overwhelmingly rejected a tentative agreement reached in May containing key reforms.
During the Aug. 15 hearing, Robart said he wouldn’t let SPOG hold the city “hostage” by linking wages to constitutional policing, prompting guild President Kevin Stuckey to say afterward the union is prepared to negotiate with the city.
Information from Seattle Times archives is included.
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org