Citizen panel seeks stronger voice on Seattle police reforms
The Community Police Commission has asked a judge to give it more say and time to discuss reforms for the Seattle Police Department, but federal attorneys argue that would cause undue delay.
Seattle Times staff reporter
A citizen commission seeking a stronger role in the development of court-ordered Seattle police reforms has asked a judge to sweep aside objections from federal attorneys.
In a brief filed Monday evening, the Community Police Commission (CPC) asked U.S. District Judge James Robart in Seattle to reject claims that the commission’s intervention could unduly delay reform.
But the 15-member commission opened the door to alternatives, saying it was seeking “any formal means” to allow it to communicate with the court on its work, including an opportunity to argue that certain deadlines be extended so it can review proposed policies.
Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Bates said in a statement that federal attorneys “appreciate the CPC’s desire for an independent voice and remain open to creative solutions and finding a workable path forward.”
The CPC cited its “unique status” as a voice of the community, noting the commission was created through a July 2012 settlement agreement between the city of Seattle and the federal Department of Justice (DOJ).
Under the landmark agreement, the city agreed to enact reforms to address the DOJ’s finding that Seattle police had regularly used excessive force and displayed troubling practices of biased policing.
As part of the agreement, the CPC was formed to make recommendations on police practices.
The judge’s ruling could further define the reach of the commission, which has broadly interpreted its mandate to ensure community engagement and police accountability.
In its brief, filed on its behalf by the City Attorney’s Office, the CPC said federal attorneys had incorrectly referred to the commission as just “part of the City” in a Nov. 5 court filing seeking to limit the commission’s role.
Previously, top federal attorneys acknowledged in an Oct. 21 letter to the CPC that it would have a “significant role in the reform process,” the brief said.
Before filing the brief, six members of the commission met with reporters Monday to stress their broad efforts to solicit community views as part of a “once in a generation opportunity” — including working with 13 organizations, holding more than 140 meetings and gathering 2,900 individual surveys.
“We think different things will happen if our voice is heard,” said commission Co-chair Lisa Daugaard.
Federal attorneys, in their Nov. 5 filing, argued the settlement agreement envisioned that the CPC would work “within the City,” with its interests represented by the city.
While the DOJ wants input from the CPC, the filing said, the DOJ “has its own independent enforcement obligation and an obligation to move the reform process here in Seattle forward expeditiously and deliberately.”
Already, the DOJ, the city, the federal monitor overseeing the reforms and the Police Department have relied on existing deadlines for implementing the settlement agreement, planning budgets and retaining consultants, the filing said.
“Delaying the completion of policies will in turn delay training on and implementation of the policies and, ultimately, reform to a significant degree,” it said.
While the CPC maintains it is seeking modest delays to fully discuss critical policies such as use of force and bias-free policing, the DOJ contends the new deadlines would unnecessarily push parts of the reform effort back by periods of 45, 60 and 90 days.
Federal attorneys, who oppose some of the delays, asked Judge Robart to deny the CPC’s request to formally intervene. Yet they didn’t object to the judge considering the deadline extensions requested by the CPC.
In reply, the CPC argued in Monday’s brief that it has a “designated role” to review reform issues separate from the city, and that its independent view on extending deadlines to “allow for full consideration of community input” by the parties and the monitor may be of use to the court.
If Robart denies the request to intervene, the brief said, he could give the CPC an “equivalent platform” to express its views, such as granting the commission a designated role at court hearings or special status as a “litigating amicus,” a form of a friend of the court.
Robart, at the urging of federal attorneys, earlier granted the CPC extra time to provide comments on the use of force, biased policing and brief detentions by police, which it did Friday with a series of recommendations.
Robart also ordered the CPC to identify other deadlines it believed should be modified to carry out its obligations, and, through the monitor, suggested the CPC do so in a motion to intervene.
In arguing for the CPC, the City Attorney’s Office said the city supports the commission’s effort to intervene. But if the CPC prevails, the commission will have to hire its own legal counsel because its future positions might diverge from the city’s.
In his statement, Bates, the assistant U.S. attorney, said, “We are heartened by the continued commitment and dedication of the CPC and its members. While we do not believe that reform efforts will be served by adding more lawyers and additional parties to the court case, we do believe the CPC and broader community are critical for success. Their continued energy remains a good sign for the future.”
Bates said the DOJ will continue to work “collaboratively and creatively” with the CPC to make “real community engagement a central part of reform.”
He said the DOJ also will continue to rely on and advocate for involvement by the community and the police.
Seattle Times reporter Mike Carter contributed to this story.
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter @stevemiletich