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Originally published November 15, 2013 at 11:19 PM | Page modified November 15, 2013 at 11:47 PM

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Monitor blasts SPD foot-dragging, firearms board, command staff

The federal monitor overseeing Seattle police reforms handed the city a blistering report card Friday, citing resistance in the top ranks of the department, error-ridden data collection and failures to “fully and fairly” analyze shootings by officers.


Seattle Times staff reporters

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The federal monitor overseeing Seattle police reforms handed the city a blistering report card Friday, citing resistance in the top ranks of the department, error-ridden data collection and failures to “fully and fairly” analyze shootings by officers.

The conclusions are contained in a 61-page draft report that says the city, over the past six months, has made some progress but mostly has failed to meet key terms of a July 2012 settlement agreement with the Department of Justice to curtail excessive use of force and curb biased policing.

“Because of intransigence and aversion to innovation in some quarters, the Seattle Police Department (“SPD”) has not made nearly as much progress during this period as the Monitoring Team knows to have been possible,” says the report, a copy of which was obtained by The Seattle Times.

City officials have 30 days to comment on the draft before the monitor, Merrick Bobb, presents an official version to U.S. District Judge James Robart, the final arbiter of the city’s compliance with the settlement agreement.

Interim Police Chief Jim Pugel declined to comment Friday night, saying he planned to read the entire report Saturday. He said he met with Bobb for several hours Thursday.

“We are in discussions with Merrick,” Pugel said.

The settlement stemmed from a 2011 report by the Justice Department, which found that Seattle police officers had engaged in a pattern or practice of unnecessary force and displayed troubling evidence of discriminatory policing.

In the draft, Bobb wrote that the majority of SPD officers and commanders are dedicated and hard working, but that strong pockets of resistance to reforms remain in place. He wrote that he finds rumors of a deliberate lack of policing, commonly known as de-policing, in the downtown core to be “troubling.”

He also noted that fundamental data from the department’s outdated computer system “has been error-ridden and inadequate” — an ongoing problem that will prevent compliance with the settlement agreement if it’s not addressed immediately.

Bobb cited instances in which an entire month’s worth of use-of-force data was lost for weeks and warned that the monitoring team is running out of patience with officers who continue to fail to turn on their in-car video and audio.

Bobb leveled his harshest criticism at the department’s Firearms Review Board (FRB), which has moved to keep the monitor “at bay” and has barred the director of the Office of Professional Accountability, which investigates allegations of officer misconduct, from its proceedings.

The FRB procedures “do not guarantee anything close to a thorough, fair and impartial investigation,” the draft report says. “Instead, they continue to permit the possibility of collusive, biased, or inaccurate testimony.”

Calling the quality of FRB reviews “very low,” the report says FRB members continue to operate under the “mistaken impression” that their only job is to decide whether an officer was within policy at the moment of pulling the trigger.

Board members refuse to broadly consider evaluating the tactics, strategy and performance before and after a shooting by an officer, according to Bobb.

“Far from being a nexus of internal debate, discussion, and learning, the FRB is the area within the Department in most urgent need of sweeping reform,” the report says.

Bobb and his team found that overall resistance to the settlement agreement has “started to diminish, at least in some quarters,” although he pointed out it is “not abating with adequate speed.”

A year has passed since Bobb’s appointment, and nearly 18 months have gone by since the settlement agreement was signed. Bobb said it is “unfortunate that there is still resistance to the notion that police officers ... must be accountable for misuse of force and discrimination and must challenge themselves to embrace new approaches.”

His draft report credits Pugel for “open-mindedness and responsiveness,” and points out that some SPD executives and supervisors have come around to accepting, if not embracing, the reforms called for in the settlement agreement.

In particular, the draft praises the Police Department for making “positive progress,” highlighting its use of a panel to review use of force and a team to address crisis intervention.

Still, the monitoring team found that the Use of Force Review Board is hampered by data that the team described this way: “incomplete, lacks necessary detail, and is frequently incorrect.”

Although force has infrequently been found “outside policy,” the board’s progress has been “notable and worthy of praise,” according to the report. It cited a sharp increase in the number of use-of-force cases being reviewed — about 700 from January through October.

Bobb noted, however, that in the meetings routinely attended by monitoring team members, “not a single instance where force was used has been found to be out of the SPD’s current use of force policy.”

Pugel faces resistance from within his own command staff — the assistant chiefs who run the department — and it must be dealt with, Bobb wrote.

“An earnest attempt to limit internecine conflict by flattening the command structure ironically seems to have provided even more saber-rattling,” the report says.

In language that appears to challenge Pugel to demand change or clean house, the report says: “If the current senior command staff remains in place and their attitudes toward the Settlement Agreement do not change, the SPD is unlikely to be able to achieve full and effective compliance” with the agreement.

Bobb’s draft is for his second report to Robart, the latest of periodic reports he will submit to the judge on the city’s progress in complying with the settlement agreement. His first report also criticized the FRB and described infighting in the command staff.

His new report shows the difficult challenges facing Mayor-elect Ed Murray, who takes office in January and has pledged to make the selection of a permanent police chief a top priority.

Mayor Mike McGinn, who negotiated the settlement agreement, declined through a spokesman to comment Friday night.

The Justice Department declined to comment on the draft report Friday.

Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or smiletich@seattletimes.com On Twitter @stevemiletich.



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