Police accountability legislation gets two thumbs up, needs one more

Today was the deadline for the DOJ and the current CPC to file comments with the District Court on the new police accountability legislation. They both did, and both recommended that the judge approve it.

Both briefs were remarkably short. The DOJ’s seven-page filing re-hashes the recent history of the legislation: the Mayor submitted a draft to the Court, and both the DOJ and Judge James Robart identified a small number of issues in which the legislation was inconsistent with the Consent Decree. A revised was subsequently submitted to the City Council to run through its legislative process, and the resulting ordinance is what is now under consideration by Robart.

The DOJ concluded that the Council’s changes correct the inconsistencies that had been identified earlier, and does not create any new issues.

Based upon our review, the Ordinance includes the necessary revisions to conform to the Court’s ruling. Specifically, it no longer includes an increased burden of proof regarding an officer’s possible termination for dishonesty; it requires the inclusion of SPD officers among CPC’s membership; and it requires the CPC to prioritize its obligations under the Consent Decree over additional obligations imposed by the Ordinance… Furthermore, the Ordinance does not appear to add any other language or requirement that inherently conflicts with the terms or purposes of the Consent Decree…

For the foregoing reasons, DOJ does not object to the enactment of the City’s Ordinance.

In the CPC’s two-page filing, it

agreed with the DOJ’s assessment, in fairly glowing terms:

The CPC respectfully requests that the Court issue an order holding that nothing in the ordinance is inconsistent with the consent decree. The ordinance is a major improvement in Seattle’s accountability system and passes the “three levels of scrutiny” identified by the Court2 in that it moves the City toward policing (1) that complies with the Constitution; (2) that allows police to be effective; and (3) that the people of the community can have confidence in.

The CPC brief goes on urge Robart to approve the legislation quickly, noting that the system currently in place is “under significant stress”:

The CPC asks that the Court enter an order opening the door to full implementation as soon as possible. The current accountability system—preordinance—is under significant stress. The OPA auditor position has been filled by an interim officeholder with a limited mandate since last October. The OPA director has recently announced his resignation. And the OPA Review Board has all but ceased to exist. The City is taking preparatory steps to fill the OPA Director, Inspector General, and new CPC positions. For these reasons, there is an urgency associated with implementation of the ordinance.

The success of reform is never guaranteed, but this ordinance is an opportunity to create lasting, positive change. The Community Police Commission, therefore, respectfully asks the Court to adopt the recommendations of the Commission as stated herein.

It’s a bit surprising that the CPC raised no issues, since it was clearly unhappy with a few of the choices that the Council made in crafting the new police accountability system. The DOJ noted in its brief that the scope of its review at this point is limited to simply whether the ordinance is consistent with the Consent Decree and so it declined to comment on policy choices the Council made that were within the allowable bounds. It’s likely the CPC came to the same conclusion.

Robart has scheduled a status conference for next Tuesday morning at 10am. Given that neither the DOJ nor the CPC are raising any issues with the new ordinance, Robart may move quickly to approve it — perhaps even issuing a bench ruling during next week’s hearing.  Robart has shown himself to be a thoughtful and careful jurist, though, so he may have his own questions for the parties before ruling.


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