Understanding the Mayor’s police reform legislation

Last Friday the Mayor released his proposal for police reform legislation, submitting it to the judge overseeing the consent decree. Running to 53 pages, it offers a new structure for civilian oversight of SPD as well as a number of other measures to increase transparency and accountability.

In the Mayor’s proposed oversight structure, there are three major bodies:

The OPA and CPC already exist, though the new proposal makes several modifications to their responsibilities and powers. The Inspector General is a new position.

The OPA is the primary watchdog over SPD. It has a civilian Director, appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by the City Council for up to 3 four-year terms. It also has a civilian deputy director, and will be required to switch all of its supervisor positions to civilians within 18 months of the ordinance going into effect. The team of investigators can be a mix of civilians and sworn officers “on loan” from SPD, but by enforcing the whole management structure to be civilians the ability of police officers to be lenient on other officers is curtailed.

OPA receives complaints of police misconduct and conducts investigations. It also has the authority to instigate its own investigations and complaints, with broad jurisdiction on the types of misconduct it can look into. It is “organizationally” in SPD for the purposes of granting it access to all police department resources, communications and information, but it’s housed outside of SPD facilities and in all other respects it is completely independent. It has the authority to issues subpoenas to compel people to testify and to gather evidence as part of its investigations, and it is required to respond to the scene of all officer-involved shootings and serious “use of force” incidents. Finally, OPA is required to complete all investigations within 180 days of a complaint being filed.


The Inspector General, in turn, is the primary watchdog over the OPA, and the backup to OPA in oversight of the police department. It provides independent review of OPA and SPD policies, procedures and practices. It also provides third-party review of OPA’s investigations:

After OPA believes an investigation to be complete, OIG shall review all investigations involving misconduct allegations concerning violations of law; honesty; use of force; use of force reporting; bias-free policing; integrity; ethics; professionalism; use of position or authority for personal gain; conflicts of interest; gifts and gratuities; off-duty conduct; retaliation; harassment; responsibilities of employees regarding complaints of misconduct; discretion and authority; primary investigations; stops, detentions and arrests; or search and seizure.

The rules require that the Inspector General review and certify all of OPA’s investigations that fall under these categories before they are released; or the IG can decline to certify them if OPA’s process was faulty with instructions on how to correct it.

The OIG does a lot of high-level reviews and reporting as well, including SPD risk management and performance evaluations, assessment of inquest procedures, quarterly and semi-annual aggregated reviews of aspects of OPA complaint-handling, and handling complaints that involve OPA staff (so OPA doesn’t investigate itself).The “police intelligence auditor” function is rolled up into the OIG, and the office is also required to run a whistleblower hotline.

The Inspector General is appointed by a 3-person Special Committee of the City Council, which receives up to three candidate recommendations from a search committee.  The IG can serve for up to two 6-year terms. It is a civilian position; the IG is not required to have law enforcement experience though is required to have relevant background and knowledge of law enforcement procedures.


The Community Police Commission is a 15-member commission mandated to “provide participatory oversight of SPD policies and practices” on behalf of the residents of Seattle. It’s self-governing and functionally independent, with its own Executive Director and office to provide support. It’s main duties are to provide advice to OPA, OIG, SPD, the Mayor, the City Council, and other city departments looking for community input on public safety and police issues.

CPC has several specific activities, including organized events to gather community input as well as report out to citizens and residents; monitoring and reporting on SPD’s implementation of recommendations from OPA, OIG and CPC; and serving on the search committees as necessary for the Inspector General and OPA Director. CPC reviews closed OPA investigations to identify opportunities for systemic improvements, but it is expressly prohibited from reviewing individual cases (that’s the IG’s job).

CPC members can serve for up to three 3-year terms. Of the 15 CPC members, five are appointed by the Mayor, five by the City Council, and five by the sitting members of the CPC. The terms are staggered so that in any given year only five CPC members end their term. The legislation lists several demographic requirements to ensure diversity among the CPC members.

The OPA, OIG, and CPC all have significant requirements for meeting with each other, SPD, the Mayor and the City Council.  They also have a litany of annual, semi-annual, and quarterly reports that they must generate and publish to the Mayor, the City Council, and the public at large.


The Mayor’s proposal also includes several mechanisms to increase accountability at SPD. They include:

  • In response to the current situation where there are two potential paths for a police officer to appeal a disciplinary ruling, it abolishes the eyebrow-raising Disciplinary Review Board (a 3-person panel where two were required to be SPD employees) and mandates that the Public Safety Civil Service Commission (required under state law) is the only avenue for disciplinary appeals. The PSCSC has three members, none of whom may be city employees (therefore no SPD officers). The commission members may serve up to three 3-year terms; two are appointed by the Mayor, one by the City Council.
  • SPD is required to respond in writing within 30 days to any report from OPA, OIG, or CPC that provides recommendations for the department.
  • SPD may hire civilians to perform any SPD management and operational functions at the discretion of the Chief of Police. Today, many positions that could be done by civilians are filled with sworn police officers.
  • The “preference point” hiring system that is used today to give preference to veterans is extended to other demographics in order to increase the diversity of the sworn officer corps. Points now can be given for attributes such as speaking multiple languages.
  • An internal office, run by civilians, is set up to manage “secondary employment” of police officers who work additional hours at private events or through private security firms while in uniform. This is a practice many other cities have put in place to track where officers are working and their overall hours worked (to prevent fatigue on the job).
  • SPD personnel files and OPA case files are retained for at least ten years beyond the end of the officer’s employment at the department.
  • There are tightened rules for de-certifying officers who are fired for cause or resign just before an investigation finds against them but whom are not in “good standing.” This prevents those officers from easily jumping to another city’s police department; it also revokes their permit to carry a concealed weapon.
  • When criminal cases are to be filed against an officer that involve misconduct and a civilian death, they are referred to a prosecutor not affiliated with Seattle or King County. This is to ensure that the prosecutors don’t “go easy” on an officers that they might need to work with in the future.
  • SPD’s internal investigative units and “force review” boards must complete their investigations with in 90 days.
  • There are some suggested principles for the use of body-worn and vehicle-mounted cameras by police, to guarantee privacy of citizens while ensuring that video is captured and retained.

The rules also stipulate that all of these measures override any terms within collective bargaining agreements, and that future collective bargaining agreements must be negotiated to comply.  This is a very clever move on the Mayor’s part; after recently having a hard-negotiated contract rejected by the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild because they didn’t like the accountability measures, he is effectively pre-negotiating the agreement by putting the terms he wants into law. And he is using the leverage he has with the judge overseeing the consent decree, who recently told SPOG in no uncertain terms that he would not allow the union to stand in the way of police accountability.

If approved, this would be a major step forward for police accountability in Seattle. However, it is still far from being law. The judge has 90 days to review the Mayor’s proposal and give feedback; if he approves it, then it is submitted to the City Council which will run it through its legislative process — and if it makes substantive changes then it will need to go back to the judge for another round of review. The most optimistic scenario has it passing into law perhaps in March.

It’s also not without its critics; Crosscut has a piece on places where the Mayor has compromised where it could have gone further.

In the meantime, the SPD budget for 2017 and 2018 is currently a topic of debate.