Monitor: Training lag hurting SPD reform effort
The federal monitor overseeing Seattle police reforms cites a lapse in “Street Skills” training and capturing in-car video as additional problems the department needs to address.
Seattle Times staff reporter
The Seattle Police Department has failed to conduct annual “Street Skills” training to about one-third of its patrol officers this year, raising questions about the department’s ability to comply with court-ordered reforms to curtail excessive force and biased policing, the federal monitor overseeing the changes said Friday.
In his second progress report, monitor Merrick Bobb largely echoed the conclusions of a Nov. 15 draft report that sharply criticized the department for resistance to reforms among some in the top ranks, error-ridden data collection and faulty reviews of shootings by officers.
But in a five-page preface to the earlier findings, Bobb revealed new developments that have occurred since the draft report, including the training lapse and deficiencies in activating patrol-car video.
The semiannual report, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Seattle, provided further evidence of significant challenges facing the department as it carries out sweeping reforms mandated in a settlement agreement reached last year with the Department of Justice.
It also came as Mayor-elect Ed Murray is considering whether to allow Interim Police Chief Jim Pugel to continue his pursuit of the permanent job while holding the temporary post.
Murray could decide he doesn’t want that to occur when he launches a national search early next year, forcing Pugel to decide whether to step down to a lower rank if he opts to remain a candidate for the permanent position.
Pugel said Friday he had been made aware of the possibility in discussions with the Murray camp.
He said he had not decided what he’ll do if confronted with the choice, but that “deep down” he will be guided by what he concludes is best for the department. He also noted that, regardless, Murray might want someone else as interim chief.
Murray spokesman Jeff Reading said in an email this week that the mayor-elect “has not decided whether or not an interim chief will be considered for the permanent position.”
Pugel said although the longstanding Street Skills training program and patrol-car video matter were not directly addressed in the settlement agreement, he recognized their importance in incorporating the accord.
Pugel’s efforts to push reforms have won praise from Bobb, whose report commended the department’s Use of Force Review Board for better preparation and more participation by assistant chiefs.
Last month, Pugel jolted the department when he demoted two assistant chiefs in the wake of the draft report.
Bobb wrote in Friday’s report that he was aware of the personnel changes, but limited his reaction to saying his monitoring team “will be looking to see whether these changes promote the type of change, internal innovation, and active embrace of the goals” necessary to comply with the settlement agreement.
Bobb noted that when new policies are adopted, the department’s “immediate concern” will become training officers in the changes.
Yet even now, Bobb wrote, patrol officers will not receive their annual 32 hours of street training for 2013. Street Skills incorporates new and refresher training, such as in defensive tactics and handcuffing, while focusing on best practices.
Bobb’s report doesn’t disclose why the training didn’t occur, but Pugel said Friday that it was shut down late this year over budget and overtime issues. It also started late, in March, while the department awaited word on what would be needed under the settlement agreement, he said.
In a report earlier this year, the Police Department highlighted the importance of the training, saying it had conducted significant research to develop de-escalation techniques, protocols for low-level offenses and dealing with people in crisis.
“These concepts and protocols have been incorporated into the 2013 Street Skills training curriculum and are mandatory for all sworn personnel,” the report said.
In addition to the missed training, Bobb wrote, the department “candidly admits that given inadequacies in its existing technology,” it can’t accurately track whether sergeants, detectives and patrol officers “who closely interact with the community on a daily basis” have attended required training.
Fixing the tracking problem is now the department’s top priority according to senior command staff, Bobb wrote.
Bobb also cited fresh concerns about the department’s in-car video system, disclosing that batteries on new body microphones don’t last the length of an eight-hour shift.
This “begs the question” of why the contract with the vendor was accepted “so hastily” that the department must pay despite ongoing problems, Bobb wrote.
The financial fallout of the reform effort also came into shaper focus Friday: a Price Waterhouse report commissioned by the Police Department showed that building a custom computer system needed to effectively collect and analyze key data on officer conduct will cost the city nearly $11.9 million.
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org