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Originally published Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 9:17 PM

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Citizen panel suggests ideas for police-accountability system

A citizen-advisory panel has approved 30 recommendations to bolster Seattle’s police-accountability system, including some that would address deep concerns over the recent reversal of discipline imposed on officers.


Seattle Times staff reporter

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A citizen-advisory panel has approved 30 recommendations to bolster Seattle’s police-accountability system, including some that would address deep concerns over the recent reversal of discipline imposed on officers.

Among the proposals by the Community Police Commission is one that would allow training to be imposed in lieu of traditional discipline when a misconduct allegation against an officer has been sustained.

But the so-called “training referral” would no longer be considered a finding separate from misconduct, as it is under current policy. Instead, the training would be an “education-based disciplinary option.”

The issue sparked an outcry last month when it was revealed that Interim Police Chief Harry Bailey had modified seven disciplinary cases against officers who had appealed suspensions and reprimands.

Bailey said he didn’t realize a misconduct finding would be removed from an officer’s record when he ordered additional training, viewing it as a more effective alternative. He later reinstated one of the disciplinary findings.

The police commission, which grew out of the 2012 settlement agreement between the city and Department of Justice to address excessive use of force in the Police Department, approved the recommendations on Wednesday. The commission currently has 11 members, with four openings.

The proposals were sent Thursday to the city and Justice Department, as well as Merrick Bobb, the federal monitor overseeing police reforms. Next month, Bobb is to submit revisions to the Police Department’s accountability policy for approval by U.S. District Judge James Robart, who is overseeing the settlement agreement.

Many reflect recommendations from Anne Levinson, the civilian watchdog who serves as auditor of the Police Department’s Office of Professional Accountability (OPA), which oversees internal investigations.

Ron Smith, president of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, said in an email that the “vast majority of these items are definitely mandatory subjects of bargaining.”

Bailey’s action also cast a spotlight on a confusing and tangled appeals process for officers, when he said he was seeking to clear a backlog of old appeals brought by officers who had been disciplined by previous chiefs. In particular, no time limits exist for appeals to be resolved through arbitration or a civil-service board.

The commission, in its recommendations, urged time limits for officers to file an appeal and for a hearing, without specifying what the periods should be.

It also suggested time limits for other steps in the disciplinary process up to the point the chief makes a disciplinary decision.

In addition, the commission urged that the OPA auditor be notified when an appeal or grievance is filed by an officer and when a hearing is scheduled.

As part of that notification, the commission said, the auditor should be given the opportunity to provide input to the OPA’s director and the City Attorney’s Office, which defends the cases.

Communications with people who brought complaints against officers should inform them when a disciplinary case has been challenged, along with information on the appeals process, the panel said.

The commission further proposed that there be only one avenue for disciplinary appeals instead of arbitration or the civil-service board.

It also recommended other sweeping changes, including one that would significantly widen the net for investigating allegations against officers.

Rather than just being a complaint-based system, either by outsiders or Police Department employees, the OPA could consider referrals from, for example, the City Attorney’s Office or units in the department that investigate use of force, traffic collisions and firearms discharges.

OPA’s “jurisdiction should encompass any incident or performance-related action involving an SPD employee where a thorough and unbiased internal investigation is needed to identify potential training issues, policy problems, risk exposure or possible misconduct, regardless of whether the subject files a complaint with OPA,” the commission said.

The commission also proposed a new finding in OPA cases: “Department Management, Policy or Training Failure: Correction Required,” covering instances when an employee was partly or not at fault.

Another recommendation would allow, in some cases, parallel criminal and internal investigations, rather than always waiting for the criminal matter to be concluded at the possible expense of the internal review.

On a broad basis, the commission said the Police Department’s professionalism policy should be modified to more clearly articulate the need for community trust, including an emphasis on listening, explaining and treating people with dignity, with “community care-taking” at times the focus and not “command and control.”

The department also should develop preferred hiring points for officer candidates who are multilingual or have skills in social work, mental-health treatment or domestic-violence counseling, or who have community-service experience with groups such as the Peace Corps, the commission said.

At upcoming meetings, the commission plans to vote on further recommendations to improve the police-accountability system, including transparency and structure. But those proposals would fall outside the federal reform process and be up to city officials to consider.

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



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