Federal judge rebukes Seattle council for running afoul of SPD consent decree in 2020

Feb 5, 2021, 5:36 AM

Seattle protest, indirect lobbying, Seattle police...

Protesters gathered outside City Hall. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

The City of Seattle, the Department of Justice, and federal monitors filed their plan Thursday for adhering to the city’s ongoing police consent decree in 2021. In the midst of that filing, U.S. District Judge James Robart urged city leaders to move in a “common direction” regarding the future of policing at the local level.

Rantz: Seattle Police on pace to lose nearly 200 officers in 2020

Operating under a federal consent decree since 2012, the city has a legal obligation to ensure that any large scale changes to police policy garner the approval of a federal monitor, as well as Judge Robart, who oversees the decree at the judicial level.

On Thursday, Robart admonished Seattle City Councilmembers regarding a series of moves made over the last year in the interest of reimagining the Seattle Police Department, detailing how those decisions ran afoul of the consent decree’s oversight requirements.

“I have some rather harsh words for city council over the last six months or so,” he said. “I think they have lost sight of the fact that the 100 paragraphs in the consent decree are not commitments — they are obligations, orders from this court of things that will be done.”

“When they decide to take matters into their own hands in contravention of the consent decree, then they drag me into a situation that I don’t want to be in, which is telling them, ‘no, you can’t do that,'” he continued.

That came to a head in July 2020, when Judge Robart blocked legislation passed by city councilmembers that would have enacted stringent limits on the SPD’s use of crowd control weapons. The following month, he warned the city to be “mindful” of the consent decree as it debated significant cuts to the SPD’s budget.

That was all part of a larger process that Robart described Thursday as absent of communication among city leaders, law enforcement, and federal monitors, that eventually culminated in the resignation of SPD Chief Carmen Best.

“That has to end,” he said. “When the city council decides to trim the budget and announce a reduction in a number of officers on the force and salary cuts without ever talking to the police, and is in fact ignorant of the circumstances, there are consequences to that, including Chief Best’s retirement.”

“You can’t simply charge off in a direction without knowing what the consequences are,” he added.

As the city continues to mull over changes to policing, Robart advised stakeholders to treat it “as a collaborative effort.”

2 Seattle police officers in Washington DC during riot placed on leave

“Let’s simply make sure that we’re all moving in one common direction, and not fracturing into a whole series of everyone running off in their own way, catering to whatever the issue of the hour is,” he cautioned.

As that effort plays out, Robart outlined how the city will likely see greater challenges in 2021 than it ever has in the realm of policing, brought on by a perfect storm of instability in key leadership positions.

That includes the fact that the city will be electing a new mayor in November, its pending labor negotiations with the police union, an ongoing pandemic, and an interim police chief “at a time where we desperately don’t need an interim chief.”

“That creates a situation which is rife with difficulty,” Robart said. “We’re going into a stormy period — we need some steady hands, and I believe I speak for the citizens when I say they want to see actions not words. You all have your work cut out for you.”

Local News

King County Regional Homelessness Authority KCRHA 5-year plan...

L.B. Gilbert

KCRHA approves 5-year plan to address homelessness

The King County Regional Homeless Authority (KCRHA) unanimously voted Thursday to approve its new 5-year plan, which includes $250M for 2024.

13 hours ago

Don Bonker...

Bill Kaczaraba

Former Congressman Don Bonker remembered as a ‘peacemaker’

Known as a "peacemaker," former U.S. Representative Don Bonker, who represented Washington’s 3rd District from 1975-89, has died.

13 hours ago

queen anne road...

L.B. Gilbert

Utility company damages Queen Anne Ave, partially closing road

A private utility crew damaged a tunnel under a busy block of Queen Anne Avenue, and the road is partially shut down.

13 hours ago

muti-day fire lacey mushroom...

L.B. Gilbert

12-year-old arrested in connection to fire at Lacey mushroom farm

Lacey firefighters are looking at a multi-day fight against a fire that broke out Wednesday at an abandoned mushroom farm.

13 hours ago

(Photo from KIRO 7)...

Deedee Sun, KIRO 7 News

Two Northshore elementary principals on leave after alleged cocaine use

High on cocaine with a loaded gun – that’s what Redmond police say they saw when they confronted a local elementary school principal at a QFC.

13 hours ago

garfield high school threat...

Lisa Brooks

Garfield High School switches to remote learning Friday after threat

A threat in the area of Garfield High School in Seattle Thursday prompted the school's principal to dismiss classes early.

13 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Men's Health Month...

Men’s Health Month: Why It’s Important to Speak About Your Health

June is Men’s Health Month, with the goal to raise awareness about men’s health and to encourage men to speak about their health.

Internet Washington...

Major Internet Upgrade and Expansion Planned This Year in Washington State

Comcast is investing $280 million this year to offer multi-gigabit Internet speeds to more than four million locations.

Compassion International...

Brock Huard and Friends Rally Around The Fight for First Campaign

Professional athletes are teaming up to prevent infant mortality and empower women at risk in communities facing severe poverty.

Emergency Preparedness...

Prepare for the next disaster at the Emergency Preparedness Conference

Being prepared before the next emergency arrives is key to preserving businesses and organizations of many kinds.

SHIBA volunteer...

Volunteer to help people understand their Medicare options!

If you’re retired or getting ready to retire and looking for new ways to stay active, becoming a SHIBA volunteer could be for you!

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.

Federal judge rebukes Seattle council for running afoul of SPD consent decree in 2020