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Seattle sends police accountability report card to judge, punts on compliance plan

(KIRO Radio, Matt Pitman)

Seattle’s police oversight system is working but there is room for improvement, according to a report from a consultant firm filed with the federal court overseeing police reforms Friday.

The city hired the firm to do the assessment after Judge James Robart found the city had fallen partly out of compliance with the 2012 consent decree in May, specifically on police accountability.

Robart cited several areas of concern that largely had to do with provisions of the new SPD contract, approved last year, that departed from Seattle’s landmark police accountability law passed in 2017.

Robart listed four areas of concern in his May order related to provisions in the SPOG contract, including the 180-day timeline on internal investigations, proof requirements in disciplinary appeals, lack of subpoena authority for watchdogs like the Office of Police Accountability, and selection method and use of arbitrators in disciplinary appeals.

The city was ordered to provide a detailed assessment of the current accountability system and a plan on how to get back into compliance, which was due in late November.

On Friday, after two back-to-back one-week extensions, the city filed the assessment of the accountability system with the court but asked for more time on the accountability compliance plan so they can take a deep dive into the report from 21CP Solutions.

As for the report, it found that while there was no need for a complete overhaul of the system it could use some fine tuning in several areas, many of them the same issues the Community Police Commission and others had with the SPOG contract.

Among the areas that could use refining, the consultants pointed to requirements in the contract regarding the 180 day timeline for investigations “lack precise definitions that could create a risk that serious misconduct could be held unaccountable,” the report said.

They also noted uncertainty surrounding the subpoena authority of the OPA and Office of Inspector General of Public Safety in investigations, but said it was clearly more restrictive than other cities they looked at with similar civilian-led oversight agencies that investigate misconduct.

They said it was too early to tell whether concerns over the potential for impartial arbitrators was justified. However, it said while the new process for selecting from a pool of 16 arbitrators, approved last month by the city and SPOG, seems fair, it leaves a pool to draw from that “lacks racial and ethnic diversity and depth of experience that could be provided by additional requirements,” according to the report.

The report says while the proof requirements in disciplinary appeals required in the current SPOG contract is unique, it’s too soon to determine the impact since there have been no use-of-force appeals cases under the current accountability system.

The report also found that it was difficult for the public to track the status and outcomes of police disciplinary cases.

In general, the report found SPD uses force infrequently and that when it does, it is rarely out of policy use of force, which is in line with a separate report the city recently filed with the court as required under the consent decree.

You can read the full 21CP report here.

The Community Police Commission has not yet responded to request for comment. It will file its response to the court by next month.

The city said in its filing on Friday that it would present Robart with its accountability plan early next year at the same time it presents its completed two-year sustainment plan and asks to be released from the consent decree.

It remains to be seen whether that will be enough for Judge Robart.

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