Council passes police accountability legislation

After months of work, the police accountability legislation shepherded by Council member Lorena Gonzalez was passed unanimously by the City Council this afternoon.

There were a handful of last-minute amendments to what was passed out of committee last week. Most of the amendments were not of great substance:

  • Council member Burgess offered an amendment that tweaks the disciplinary and appeals processes.
  • Gonzalez offered one the that states the Council’s commitment to fully fund the oversight bodies in 2018 as part of this fall’s budget planning process.
  • Council member Herbold offered an amendment that gave the CPC authority to view unredacted SPD files, and clarified the confidentiality rules under which the OPA, OIG and CPC work.
  • Council member Johnson offered one that requires the City Attorney’s Office to specify its reasons if it declines to provide legal representation to the CPC, OIG or OPA.
  • Gonzalez offered an amendment that requires OIG to include in its workplan a list of recommended work items it received from OPA and CPC, and if it chooses to reject any of them to state the reasons why.

All amendments offered today were adopted, and the final, amended legislation was unanimously passed.

The Council also passed an ordinance that establishes the 2017 budgets for the OIG and CPC, and a companion resolution with a number of directives to the OIG and CPC that didn’t need to be codified in an ordinance, including:

  • a request for OIG to conduct a review of SPD’s disciplinary processes;
  • a directive to OIG and CPC to review and recommend changes to Seattle Municipal Code Chapter 14.12, which deals with collection of information for law enforcement purposes;
  • OIG is directed to study the effectiveness of OPA’s mixed sworn-officer and civilian staffing model;
  • CPC shall look at using external investigation and review processes for cases involving serious and deadly uses of force;
  • a directive to CPC to assess the need for a complainant appeal process that is consistent with SPD employees’ due process rights.

From here, the legislation goes back to U.S. District Court James Robart, who oversees the DOJ’s consent decree with the City of Seattle. Robart insisted on reviewing the Mayor’s original legislation before he would allow it to be submitted to the Council, and he approved it as consistent with the terms of the consent decree.  In a media briefing earlier today, Gonzalez said that this time Robart’s determination will be whether anything in the legislation requires an amendment to the consent decree. That’s a nuance with large implications, especially since the DOJ under Attorney General Jeff Sessions is not a fan of police reform efforts, and it’s unclear how they would approach an attempt to renegotiate the consent decree. That said, Gonzalez said that she was gone to great pains to keep the legislation within the boundaries of the existing consent decree.

Despite having expressed concerns over the legislation last week, City Attorney Pete Holmes sounded a conciliatory tone this afternoon. “It’s a huge milestone,” he said, and went on to note that “there’s a lot more to like than to dislike” in the final version of the bill.

An open question is what happens to the current CPC members as the city transitions to the new CPC structure. This afternoon, Gonzalez said that she wanted to reach out to existing members to gauge their interest in continuing on in the new organization. However, CPC member Lisa Daugaard told me this afternoon that there are currently five open positions on the current CPC that the Mayor has not offered appointments to fill, so the number of people who could roll forward is diminished — raising a concern about preserving institutional history. She noted that she personally would like to continue on for at least a short time, though at some point she needs to get back to her “real work” as Director of the Public Defender Association. UPDATE 5/23: A spokesperson for Mayor Murray told me, “We’re meeting with the CPC about how we would like the positions filled, but fully intend to do so.”

There are a few issues that remain unaddressed and may still form the basis for a future bill further amending the police accountability structure. One contentious issue relates to the city’s contract negotiations with the two unions that represent police officers and managers. As is typical for contract negotiations, they are kept private until they conclude, but some are concerned that the lack of transparency in those negotiations hurts CPC’s and OIG’s ability to drive systemic reforms in the police department. It has been suggested that CPC and OIG representatives be included in the set of advisors to the city’s negotiating team, which would give them a window into confidential materials and conversations.

Expect the legislation to be submitted to Judge Robart shortly, and then the waiting game begins. Last time, Robart allotted himself ninety days for review, and he took nearly the entire time. This time he is more familiar with the legislation which gives him a head start, but we shall see how long it takes to work its way through.

Assuming Robart gives it a clean review, then the city needs to renegotiate its contracts with the unions to address the several provisions that are subject to collective bargaining.

Needless to say, we are still several months away from seeing the legislation take full effect. Today was an important milestone, but it was far from the last one before the new accountability system is implemented.