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The latest chapter in Seattle’s police accountability saga

(Seattle Police Department)

In the latest chapter in the years-long effort to get the Seattle Police Department in compliance with orders from the Department of Justice, a judge has ordered the city to work with a federal monitor and the Citizens Police Commission on police accountability issues.

The newest plan to accomplish this was turned in Thursday night. Mayor Jenny Durkan proposes to have outside consultants compare Seattle’s policies with 20 other cities. Consultants would focus on police accountability as it is addressed in various police contracts.

Judge James Robart has been overseeing DOJ consent decree reforms for SPD since 2012. Seattle was making progress on that decree, but the judge found that the city was partly out of compliance last May, specifically on police accountability. That was largely because of the new SPD contract.

Seattle police went years without a contract before the council approved one in 2018. The new contract includes a disciplinary appeals process that was approved by the council. There are also a handful of issues related to the police accountability system, which were created by legislation the city council passed in 2017.

The mayor also wants an analysis of the situation surrounding Officer Adley Shepherd. Shepherd was fired after he struck a handcuffed woman in the face while in the back of his patrol car. He argues, and video shows, that she kicked him prior to the punch. Shepherd fought the firing and was reinstated in 2018.

Police accountability

Community groups are opposed to the mayor’s proposal. They worked with the city to craft its police accountability legislation and other consent decree reforms. These groups argue that the mayor’s plan undoes much of the work they did. They do not favor using outside consultants. Nor does the city’s Community Police Commission. Both say the mayor’s plan does not address the judge’s concerns, and will only lead to lengthy delays in getting SPD back in full compliance with the consent decree.

Earlier this year Miguel Miestos with El Centro de Laraza — one of the community groups opposed to the proposal — stressed the need for the city to move quickly on accountability.

“We are tired and frustrated that promises to fix the broken accountability system have not been met,” Miestos said. “And we know that our community’s trust is at stake.”

Councilmember Lorena Gonzales expressed that same concern last month, commenting that the council also had concerns about the mayor’s plan to use outside consultants.

“Listen, I’m sure that these folks are very qualified and that they understand the work that they are doing,” Gonzales said. “But they are not from Seattle, and they are not rooted in community. And it is important for us to make sure that the work that has been completed by both this City Council and the Community Police Commission is respected. We know what is wrong with this accountability system. That is exactly why we advanced the accountability ordinance that was unanimously passed and signed by the mayor in 2017.”

Gonzales made those remarks outside the federal courthouse. She and other council members are urging the mayor and police union to re-negotiate the contract. They want the two parties to better address the judge’s concerns.

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