Seattle police face big changes under ‘landmark’ bill

Feb 1, 2017, 2:46 PM | Updated: 3:14 pm

Seattle police...

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray introduces new legislation Feb. 1, 2017, that will change the leadership structure of the Seattle Police Department. (City of Seattle)

(City of Seattle)

Calling it a “landmark moment,” Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announced Wednesday new legislation that, if approved, will change how the Seattle Police Department is managed.

“I’m sending perhaps the most important piece of legislation in my time in this office,” Murray said. “It is long past time to give civilians direct oversight of policing policies and practices. It is time to give civilians a formal independent role in police accountability.”

“I cannot think of a more appropriate time to introduce legislation on police reform as President Trump issues his reprehensible executive orders that seek to turn law enforcement against the public,” he said.

Related: Seattle aims to hire more police officers

The legislation will now be vetted by the city council’s committees. It is the product of various groups — the council, mayor’s office, police department — as well as many civil rights groups that first wrote a letter to the federal government in 2010. That letter prompted the Department of Justice to look into Seattle’s policing issues, ultimately putting the city under a consent decree.

Seattle police legislation

The “complicated but groundbreaking legislation,” as Murray explained it, aims to place a 15-member board in charge of the Seattle Police Department. That board will be appointed by the mayor, council and the board itself. An independent position of inspector general will be created to review and investigate police procedures and policies.

The change will “ensure that police accountability will be enshrined in civilian oversight,” Murray said.

There will be seven public hearings on the legislation before it is up for a vote. Two will be focused on community input.

Councilmember Tim Burgess said that the proposal will advance the authority of the police chief, and provide civilian oversight to the Seattle Police Department.

“Since the early 1990s, city government has attempted multiple police reform efforts, but we have never had comprehensive sweeping legislation like we have today,” Burgess said. “This package has the potential to truly change the culture of our police department and significantly increase community trust in our offices.”

Mayor Murray did not go into specifics about how the proposed civilian-led police program will be funded, especially in light of potential cuts to city funding from the federal government. Murray recently said he would sacrifice “every penny” of that funding to oppose President Trump’s orders.

Murray connected Seattle’s move toward transparency and reform to other police woes across the nation. He began his press conference noting the names of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and others. He quoted, “Hands up, don’t shoot,” and “I can’t breath.” He pointed out the cities of Ferguson and Baltimore.

“Sadly, Seattle has found itself on that list as well,” Murray said, noting the name of John T. Williams, a Native American woodcarver shot and killed by a Seattle police officer in 2010.

It was following that incident that local civil rights groups wrote the federal government. That led to an investigation by the Department of Justice. In turn, it put Seattle in the place it is today, under a consent decree, ultimately forcing changes to Seattle police culture.

Mayor Murray thanked those groups for writing the letter and putting the city on the path it is today.

“It was a shameful moment for Seattle,” Murray said. “Make no mistake, this was about being black, or Latino, and Native American, Asian and African.”

Enrique Gonzalez, a member of Seattle’s Community Police Commission, also spoke Wednesday. He added the name of Che Taylor to Murray’s list. Taylor was shot and killed by Seattle police in 2016. The shooting remains under investigation.

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