Police accountability legislation headed for final approval Monday

This morning the Council made its final amendments to the police accountability legislation and sent it on its way to final approval at next Monday’s full council meeting.

Over the past week, there has been a fair amount of tension between the Council and other stakeholders in the legislation: the City Attorney, the Chief of Police, and the current CPC. Last Friday, City Attorney Pete Holmes sent a letter to the Council expressing his concerns with the legislation.  Monday, SPD Chief O’Toole did the same. Her letter calls out her concern that the legislation “seems to overly externalize influence over systems and processes set in place through the Consent Decree that by design must be internally driven,”  referring to “policy, training or systems for continual reform” but most notably the officer disciplinary process. She also complains about the “abject complexity of the proposed model.” Finally, she raises concerns that SPD is being set up to be the servant of three politicized masters (OPA, the OIG, and the CPC) and argues for giving the Inspector General a much strong role as coordinator and central point of communication to SPD of feedback and recommendations.

Tuesday it was the CPC’s turn, when as part of a scheduled evening public hearing they got one more chance to lobby for changes they want to see in the legislation. Some of what they asked for the Council was already leaning towards granting them: a clear statement of budget expectations (even though the 2018 budget won’t be written until the fall), changing the requirement for CPC members from a strict residency requirement (which Holmes pushed for) to allowing CPC members who live and/or work in Seattle. That’s particularly important given that many underserved communities who have most felt the negative impacts of overpolicing have people who still work in Seattle but have been forced to move out of the city because of high housing costs.

On other issues, the Council was less receptive. CPC members once again pushed to be given responsibility for writing the performance reviews of the Inspector General and the OPA director; Council member Burgess challenged them over whether organizations ever have one person control hiring and firing while another person does the performance review. CPC member Lisa Daugaard tried to argue that since the Inspector General and OPA Director might need to criticize the Police Chief, they need a shield from political pressure from the Mayor (who also hires the SPD chief). But it was in vain; the Council didn’t budge.

Some of the CPC’s recommendations were scheduled for formal consideration at this morning’s committee meeting, including changes to the disciplinary process to clarify appeals, and designating the OPA, OIG and CPC’s representatives as technical advisors to the city during collective bargaining with the police unions.

Yesterday, Council member Gonzalez replied to the letters from Holmes and O’Toole. In her letter, pushes back hard on the characterization of the legislation as “abjectly complex.” She also bluntly assesses the underlying issue that splits Holmes and O’Toole from the CPC:

I think it is more accurate to state that you have expressed concerns about who is running the show. You collectively argue that it should be the Inspector General while the Community Police Commission argues it should be the 21-member CPC.

She goes on to explain that the Council rejected both approached, opting instead for a model that creates “three co-equal organizations who have an unfettered ability to self-govern and call out failures in the system,” one that “requires collaboration strategic overlap in key functions and streamlines obligations to report and respond to recommendations.”

Gonzalez compares the new CPC with the old OPA Review Board, which she claims “had limited power, limited access to information and limited influence over the accountability system and police reform efforts.” She attached to her letter a document that lists the duties, responsibilities and authority of both the OPARB and the proposed CPC to highlight the enhancement to the CPC. That said, she also points out to Holmes and O’Toole that “the CPC has consistently been on the opposite spectrum of your collective perspectives with the level of control it should have over collective bargaining, the OPA Director, the IG, itself and the overall system,” noting her belief that the Council’s legislation provides “a middle ground between these differing perspectives.”

Gonzalez also pushes back on Holmes’ lobbying to keep a strict residency requirement, and to make all of the CPC members appointed by either the Mayor or the Council. “There was a clear sense,” Gonzalez explains, that allowing a community-focused organization to self-select its members and its executive director was critical to retaining the trust of those most affected by unlawful policing.”

Gonzalez takes pains to emphasize at several points in her letter that the Council consulted at great length and on multiple occasions with Holmes, O’Toole, the current CPC, community members, the DOJ, experts in police reform, and many others in the process of writing the legislation.

That brings us to this morning’s committee meeting, which Gonzalez intended to be the wrap-up session on the bill. There was one “omnibus” amendment incorporating several small, technical changes and clarifications and a handful of more substantive items. Among the more notable changes:

  • codifying that CPC members shall either reside or work in Seattle, and eliminating the requirement that 80% of CPC members must live in the city.
  • clarifying that while SPD is required to schedule a regular review of the SPD Policy Manual in consultation with CPC, OPA and OIG, those bodies’ recommendations are advisory, not mandatory.
  • expanding the Chief of Police’s authority to place an SPD employee on leave without pay in situations where the allegation could lead to termination, or where the Chief determines it is necessary for employee or public safety, or security or confidentiality of law enforcement information.
  • clarifying that employee appeals related to discipline must go through the Public Safety Civil Service Commission (PSCSC), and changing the makeup of the PSCSC to include two Mayoral appointees and one Council appointee. Also, the PSCSC may delegate its authority to the Hearing Examiner.
  • clarifying that police intelligence auditor functions required by city law are to be performed by the Inspector General or designees.

Council member Gonzalez offered a second (mercifully shorter) amendment which added into the preamble of the bill a statement of the city’s commitment to provide sufficient budget to fully staff and resource all three oversight groups in the 2018 budget.

Council member Johnson offered a third amendment, which attempted to thread the needle between a CPC request to have its own legal counsel, and City Attorney Holmes’ objection — and his observation that the Seattle City Charter requires that the City Attorney’s office be the legal counsel for all city government departments and agencies. Johnson’s amendment codifies what is already standard practice:

When, due to a conflict of interest, lack of technical expertise, or capacity reasons, the City Attorney’s Office declines to provide legal representation to an oversight entity in any legal matter, enforcement action, or court proceeding, that oversight entity shall be entitled to representation by private legal counsel.

This is sort of what the CPC wanted, but not really. It relies upon the City Attorney declining to provide legal services, where the CPC would prefer to make its own determination as to whether a conflict of interest exists and the City Attorney is unable to provide unbiased legal support.

All three amendments passed unanimously, and then the Council members present (Gonzalez, Bagshaw, Johnson and Burgess) unanimously voted the bill out of committee. It will come before the full Council on Monday afternoon for final approval. There will likely be some more lobbying behind the scenes, but at this point it’s unlikely that any substantive changes will be made.

After Monday, assuming the Mayor signs it, the ordinance goes to U.S. District Court James Robart, who oversees the consent decree, for his review and approval. He reviewed the bill before it was submitted to the Council, and it still retains the general shape, so if he raises any concerns they should be fairly minor details.

After Robart’s approval, the aspects of the bill that require changes to the city’s collective bargaining agreements will enter negotiations with the union representatives. The remainder of the bill will go into effect 30 days later.

This bill is certainly the signature achievement of Council member Gonzalez’s term to date, and it will serve her well going into this fall’s election.


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