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District court releases findings on Seattle police contract

(Matt Pitman, KIRO Radio)

United States District Judge James Robart released his findings concerning whether the newly-passed Seattle Police contract adheres to a consent decree issued by the DOJ in 2012.

RELATED: Showdown at City Hall as council approves SPD contract

Judge Robart ordered the city to explain why it should be found in compliance with a DOJ consent decree. In his order, he cited an incident that occurred almost directly after the new contract was signed.

“(Robart) points to an arbitration board overturning the decision of the former SPD chief to fire an officer who punched a woman in handcuffs just one week after the new SPD contract was signed last month, as well as the fact that the tougher review board included in accountability legislation passed by the city last year was scrapped under the new SPD contract,” explained KIRO Radio’s Hanna Scott.

Responding to that criticism in a recent statement was Mayor Jenny Durkan herself.

“[Seattle Police] Chief [Carmen] Best and I believe the arbiter was wrong to reinstate Officer Shepherd, and directed the City Attorney to appeal that decision to the Superior Court the day it was rendered,” said Durkan.

The consent decree was originally passed after a DOJ investigation “found a pattern or practice of excessive force that violates the U.S. Constitution and federal law,” and now operates as a means to eliminate unconstitutional policing.

The run-up to the passage of the Seattle Police contract was wrought with controversy — on one side, many argued that it effectively rolled back important police reforms regarding the use of force and how officers are prosecuted and punished.

On the other, advocates noted that the SPD had been without a contract for years, all while suffering massive staffing losses as officers leave for other cities and departments.

Following Judge Robart’s order, Mayor Durkan released the following statement:

We look forward to addressing the Court’s order, demonstrating that SPD remains in full and effective compliance with the federal Consent Decree that I signed as the United States Attorney, and showing that the recently enacted Agreement with the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild furthers both public safety and reform under the Consent Decree. Thanks to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Inspector General will now have ‘free and unfettered’ access to SPD to ensure greater long-term accountability. In addition, it would provide increased civilianization at the Office of Police Accountability

The contract was passed in November by an 8-1 margin, with Councilmember Kshama Sawant operating as the lone vote in opposition. Mayor Durkan expressed her support for the contract shortly after it was passed.

Now, the city has 14 days to respond to Judge Robart’s order, where it’ll have to thoroughly detail how the Seattle Police Officers Guild contract doesn’t conflict with the consent decree.

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