A federal monitor is a big step for oversight of SPD reforms
Rebuilding public confidence in the Seattle Police Department begins with the proposed agreement between the Department of Justice and the city of Seattle. Independent monitoring and strong use-of-force language are key.
Seattle Times Editorial
THE proposed agreement between the Department of Justice and the city of Seattle to introduce systematic reforms within the Seattle Police Department has two key features to promote accountability.
The settlement, which must be approved by a federal judge, would use a court-ordered monitor to oversee remedial changes within the department. Resisted by the city, this fundamental oversight is elemental to success. Mayor Mike McGinn needs to involve the Seattle City Council and City Attorney Pete Holmes in making a selection.
Second, the agreement has strong use-of-force language to not only shape the training for SPD officers, but also guide investigations and enforcement of violations.
Words matter. The department wanted to use response to resistance in place of use of force. The strongest language prevailed, and comes with protocols for invoking various levels of review and scrutiny, while protecting officers against self-incrimination in mandatory reports.
Troubling incidents involving the use of force and concerns about biased policing attracted the heated attention of the DOJ last December. Progress toward a settlement was nonexistent for months. The direct, though belated, involvement of the mayor, the use of a mediator, Teresa Wakeen, and candid discussions about the consequences of likely losing a federal lawsuit moved events ahead.
Creation of a new Community Police Commission is a positive step to involve a broad spectrum of the city's residents in law-enforcement issues. The agreement specifically states the commission would have nothing to say about specific cases. The current body for such work is the Office of Professional Accountability (OPA), which might be reshaped by the commission.
The OPA is sloughed off to a memorandum of understanding beyond the scrutiny of the court and court-appointed monitor. The agreement states the DOJ is satisfied with the OPA, but that does not jibe with local, long-standing frustrations.
Questions about OPA leadership, and the independence and authority of the OPA civilian auditor to actually oversee police complaints, including use of force, are unresolved. OPA's capacity to be made aware of and review citizen complaints is vital.
The proposed agreement points the city toward monitored reforms within SPD, and sets clear standards on a basic issue: use of force. But it is just a starting point.