Editorial: Make Seattle Police discipline coherent, transparent, timely
The review and discipline process for Seattle police officers is an administrative sham with endless delays. Make it credible for all involved.
Seattle Times Editorial
THE current turmoil at City Hall over the handling of Seattle Police Department disciplinary proceedings is a grand political farce.
Pull on some rubber boots and wade into this mess, and one thing becomes readily apparent. SPD discipline must be made coherent, accountable and transparent. And timely.
Right now the aerobic arm waving, finger pointing and agonizing reappraisals over whom or what might be reviewed, rescinded or hugged is all about not offending political allies.
Ostensibly to clear a backlog for the next chief, Interim Chief Harry Bailey reversed officer misconduct findings in six cases a little over a week ago. Within days, city officials, who first supported the decision, said those cases would be scrutinized to see if any of the findings should be reinstated.
Invoke enough outside assessments by outside consultants and maybe it will all go away. Not a chance, Mayor Ed Murray.
The time is ripe with pending labor negotiations with the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild to insist on a fresh start. The current system does not benefit police officers or the public.
Establish timelines, procedures and deadlines for making and upholding disciplinary decisions when misconduct is found after investigating citizen complaints.
What is in place is a joke that invites artful word play that can be used to string out and stall disciplinary proceedings seemingly forever. For example, officers can ask for an arbitrator, but the city might be reluctant to spend the money to hire one.
Mayor Murray is in an ideal spot at the beginning of his term to reshape the process.
For starters, give the Seattle City Council and Seattle residents a full accounting of how many cases have been reopened, and how many cases are at issue in the current kerfuffle.
Can anyone at City Hall actually explain the path ahead to settle outstanding appeals and describe it for city residents?
How does Seattle resolve the backlog with integrity, in a way that is fair to citizens and law enforcement officers alike before moving on to new protocols and procedures? The city should spend the money to hire an arbitrator or more than one. After endless evasions inside a broken system, the expense is almost irrelevant.
Then use the next round of contract negotiations to establish transparent proceedings, with one appeal opportunity, and a definite deadline for it all to happen.
Make the proceedings subject to state open-records laws. Everything is happening on the taxpayer’s dime, and access to the information helps inform the public about the quality of service they receive along the chain of command from the police precinct to the mayor’s office.
Seattle has a Community Police Commission and an Office of Professional Accountability, and both are undercut by disciplinary procedures that diminish their roles. Civilian oversight and expertise is trumped by cozy dealings.
Seattle also has a federal Department of Justice monitor to ensure a negotiated settlement agreement on police practices and use of force is carried out. Seattle attracted DOJ attention because of fundamental problems with police behavior and management failures. Significantly the monitor, Merrick Bobb, is watching how the discipline cases are resolved.
The link between the consequences of marginalizing local checks and balances and the resulting need for federal intervention seems even more clear with this latest debacle.
The time for a fresh, coherent, disciplined start begins with the upcoming round of police guild negotiations. Beyond all the political fumbling is a deeper management issue that can be corrected.
Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).