Federal judge warns politics are undermining Seattle’s consent decree

Aug 11, 2021, 5:43 PM
police, consent decree...
Police at the scene of a shooting in Seattle in 2021. (Photo courtesy of SPD Blotter)
(Photo courtesy of SPD Blotter)

Staffing issues at the Seattle Police Department, and differing views on the Seattle City Council on the future of police — that may widen after the November election and divisive politics — are just some of the obstacles the federal judge overseeing Seattle’s consent decree with the Justice Department sees to the city being found in full compliance.

Judge James Robart noted multiple times in a status conference hearing Tuesday that original estimates were that it would take SPD about five years to reach full compliance with the consent decree and MOU the city signed with the DOJ in 2012 to address bias policing and issues of excessive force. But nine years later, there is no end in sight.

Robart blamed much of that on divisive politics, according to the Seattle Times, which he and the new federal monitor said were undermining the reform efforts, while also warning that not addressing that problem could throw SPD into an even worse crisis.

Robart pointed to talk of slashing SPD’s budget or outright abolishing the police in recent months as examples. He also made it clear such actions would not cut it when it comes to compliance with the consent decree. In addition to laying out multiple reforms SPD must adopt and meet, the consent decree also requires certain levels of response that SPD’s current staffing crisis already puts at risk and any budget cuts would further jeopardize, as Robart previously warned the city council.

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On Tuesday, he once again pointed to the Seattle City Council’s actions and reactions in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing protests for racial justice that rocked Seattle last summer as an issue.

“As I told you earlier, my job is not to tell you what to do. It is to ensure you did what you said you were going to do,” he said. “So here are some suggestions on how we do so: The city, the mayor and other elected officials from the city council need to be constructive, not destructive, to progress.”

“I have seen too much of knee-jerk reaction and not enough forethought,” the judge said. “We have to be religious in continuing to reduce bias and disparity, at the same time we need to recognize … there is an essential requirement for public safety.”

Robart also worried that the outcome of the November election and contract negotiations with two police unions would further slow the process, with any big decisions on the city’s policing awaiting the outcome of key races for the open seat for mayor and city attorney, on top of an interim police chief holding the top spot at the department.

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Federal judge warns politics are undermining Seattle’s consent decree