Community Police Commission Files Brief on Police Accountability Reform

The CPC has just filed its federal-court response to the City of Seattle’s draft accountability legislation. The CPC asks the court overseeing the consent decree process to clear the legislation for consideration by the Seattle City Council. The council has promised to give the legislation a full public hearing, with a meaningful opportunity for the community to provide feedback.

Read the brief here.

The brief reads:

The people of Seattle are deeply concerned about police accountability, and it is the sense of the community that the current system requires strengthening in several respects .

With valuable assistance of technical advisers, members of the CPC have studied reform models from across the country and assessed possible changes to our present accountability system. We found that there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to police accountability, nor any universally well-regarded model or reliable quick fix. Every city starts with its own unique institutions, experiences, needs, problems, and opportunities. The challenge is to identify and discard bad elements of the status quo, strengthen what is good, fill gaps with new institutions and mechanisms where needed, and establish crucial measures to ensure the independence and effectiveness of each component body of the oversight system. Reforms must put each body involved in oversight—whether it be the police department, the Office of Professional Accountability (OPA), the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), or the CPC—in a position to succeed. This is the approach the CPC has taken in making its accountability system recommendations.

Among other things, one must be mindful of the different ways that accountability systems can fail. Prejudicial statements to the press can taint misconduct investigations. Inadequate funding can starve oversight bodies or make them pay for taking positions unpopular with or inconvenient for elected officials. Barriers to access to data and lack of relevant expertise can handicap civilians attempting to perform oversight functions. The City could fail to pursue an agenda in collective bargaining that truly advances accountability. Vague definitions of authority can fuel toxic turf wars. Politics may take precedence over fairness. The accountability legislation must address these and other foreseeable points of failure. The best way to guard against such risks of failure is to establish oversight bodies that are independent, effective, and credible.

The draft legislation filed by the City represents consensus on many items, including a strengthened OPA, the creation of an OIG, and a permanent CPC. The CPC strongly supports many of the provisions for the authority and responsibilities of these bodies. As can be seen from the draft legislation, however, important differences remain in vital areas.

On some topics, the draft gives options representing different philosophical or practical points of view. The City’s brief does not ask the Court to pick from these options. The options are instead intended to give the Court a fuller understanding of some potential directions the legislation may take once it is before the City Council and subject to public debate. If the Court allows the draft legislation to proceed, the City Council will have the opportunity to consider the merits of the draft legislation from top to bottom, consider the alternative options offered, and make changes it deems appropriate—subject then to this Court’s review. The CPC also understands that the Court’s review both now and after consideration by Council is designed to determine (1) whether any aspects of the legislation contravene the purposes of the settlement agreement and (2) whether amendment of the settlement agreement would be needed on any points before the legislation takes effect.

The independence, effectiveness, and credibility of the civilian oversight bodies are the essential pillars of effective police accountability. The public must trust that the accountability system is fair and responsive to community expectations. It is essential that the oversight bodies be well-resourced and protected from interference. And it is essential that the public have a meaningful voice, representing Seattle’s many diverse communities, inside the system. It is no secret that some of the remaining disagreements directly implicate these values.

The CPC asks that the Court allow this draft legislation to proceed to City Council as soon as possible. The CPC has long advocated for an open and transparent political process to consider the merits of various approaches to achieve a strong system that both the public and police view as fair. This can only occur once the City Council has an opportunity to deliberate in the full light of day. To that end, the CPC appreciates the City Council’s commitment to hold public meetings and looks forward to engaging with the City Council—and continuing to engage with the community—about what the accountability system should look like once the Court gives permission to proceed.

Save America. Never Trump.

In 1984, when Reagan was running against Mondale, I was a little third-grade kid who read the paper every day and kept an electoral college map on his bedroom wall. I would not under any circumstances let a third-grade child do that in 2016.

Spare me the “there’s plenty of blame to go around” stuff. Politics is tough. But there is one and only one person who has personally dragged the Republican Party and the nation down into the gutter as we have never seen before. No reasonable person can look at the words and the deeds of this man and conclude that they are making this country “great again.” Our country is demonstrably worse today because of him.

If you truly think our nation is better off as a result of Trump doing what he’s doing, then I’m saddened about what “better” means to you. Your “better” is my worse and my daughter’s worse. I see in the news reports that a lot of Republican politicos see Trump’s current struggles in the race as the “worst case scenario” come to pass. But the truth is that the worst case scenario would be if Trump actually assumed the presidency.

Finally, if you’re a parent of a young boy in this country, God bless you. Having important people on TV saying that Trump’s words about women are just jokes or locker room talk makes it a lot harder for you to raise responsible and respectable young men.

Save America. Never Trump.

City files draft police accountability reform legislation

Yesterday, the City of Seattle filed draft legislation for police accountability reform with the federal court overseeing the consent decree process. The court will now decide whether any part of the legislation conflicts with the consent decree. If the court clears the draft, the City Council will take up the legislation and consider potential revisions.

This document reflects hard work and leadership over many years by the the Community Police Commission (CPC), the Office of the Mayor, and many other stakeholders. This is a step in the right direction

Read the draft legislation.

Before the consent decree, there was no community police commission to represent Seattle’s diverse communities in providing input to ensure that police services were delivered in a lawful, nondiscriminatory manner. Also, Seattle’s accountability system had no one who could effectively conduct broad, systemic reviews of Seattle Police Department (SPD) practices and make recommendations to make SPD better for everyone. A city of more than 650,000 people and a police force of 1,300 sworn officers can do better than that.

The draft legislation would create a permanent CPC to ensure that the community has a seat at the table after the Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney’s Office, and federal monitor finish their work. The draft legislation would also create an Office of the Inspector General (OIG) with broad powers not only to review individual investigations of police misconduct but to conduct reviews of the system and recommend policy changes. In my opinion, these reforms are a step in the right direction.

I hope and believe that the city will continue to have a good faith dialogue about policing, and of course City Council will have insights and contributions of its own when it is presented with the draft legislation.

Keep an eye on this.

Updates

Office of the Mayor’s Press Release says in part:

The legislation is a collaborative product of months-long discussions with the Community Police Commission, Federal Monitor Merrick Bobb, the City and many other stakeholders. The proposal creates an independent office of Inspector General, transforms the Community Police Commission (CPC) into a permanent body, and increases the scope and independence of SPD’s Office of Professional Accountability (OPA).

At Crosscut.com, David Kroman writes an article entitled, “Tracking Mayor Ed Murray’s Compromises on Police Reform.”

And Daniel Beekman at the Seattle Times quotes the CPC co-chairs:

The proposal appears at first blush to be a victory of sorts for CPC members fighting to make the group a permanent part of the police-accountability setup.

“The package would make the CPC permanent. How robust and independent it would be remains to be seen,” CPC co-chairs Lisa Daugaard and Harriett Walden said in a written statement. “The commission believes that all of the proposed oversight bodies should have real clout as an acknowledgment of the seriousness of the problems we’ve historically faced in Seattle, as a reflection of the right of the community to have a meaningful voice on policing, and as protection against interference with oversight work.”

Revisionist History, Episode 4: Carlos doesn’t remember

This is the best episode of Revisionist History so far. Malcolm Gladwell tackles “capitalization”, which is the fancy term for the chance that a kid growing up in America will meet his full potential. Long story short: we as a nation do a disgraceful job ensuring that the best and brightest kids from poor communities get the education they need and deserve. In the past week, I’ve listened to this episode a few times and was brought to tears each time, near the end when Gladwell is talking with “Carlos” and his sister.

Please listen: “Carlos Doesn’t Remember”

CPC adopts new reform recommendations

Tonight was an important night for police reform in Seattle. The Community Police Commission approved a set of strong recommendations that would radically reform Seattle’s police accountability system. Among other things, the recommendations would establish a powerful inspector general and a permanent community police commission to provide community input so that police services are delivered in a lawful and nondiscriminatory manner and are aligned with community values and expectations.

Read the CPC recommendations.

Seattle has a long way to go to make these recommendations a reality. But tonight we should honor and give thanks to the many unsung heroes whose years of advocacy in our city are bringing us to this moment, including my co-commissioners and our amazing staff. 

Updates

An article by David Kroman over at Crosscut.com, “As nation erupts, Seattle moves toward police reform.”

Amy Radil at KUOW reports, “Longtime police watchdogs cheer as Inspector General comes to Seattle.”

New insurance law website

I want to share a little law project I’ve been working on for a long time in what little free time I can find. You probably know I’m an insurance law nerd. This is a website I put together about Washington’s Insurance Fair Conduct Act, also known as IFCA.

IFCA.online is the only place to read the law’s entire legislative history. A few years ago, I hired a court reporter to listen to the audio recordings of the legislative history and produce transcripts. Well, here they are for the whole world to read.

I’ve also collected the statutes and regulations in one place and put together a running list of insurance cases up at the state supreme court.

For anyone who is interested, I hope you find this useful!

My comments in court today

I had the privilege of speaking on behalf of the Community Police Commission (CPC) in federal court earlier today. I wanted to speak about the importance of the community in ongoing reform efforts and the future of police accountability. Here are my comments:

The CPC was charged under the Settlement Agreement and the Memorandum of Understanding with making recommendations for improving accountability. Last week, the CPC issued recommendations for a civilian oversight system. These recommendations build on CPC recommendations from 2014 and the joint reform package from 2015.

The story of reform in Seattle is largely a story about the community. Let me repeat that. The story of reform in Seattle is largely a story about the community.

In reading parts of the court’s docket yesterday, I ran across letters from community groups, which were sent to the Department of Justice before the case was even filed. These are groups like Mothers for Police Accountability and the Multiracial Task Force on Police Accountability. These letters made specific recommendations on a number of subjects, including civilian oversight. One can easily draw a straight line from those specific community recommendations, to the accountability recommendations that the CPC made in 2014, to the joint recommendations in 2015, to the recommendations that are being advanced today by the CPC and others.

At every stage, the recommendations have been refined and strengthened because of extensive public engagement, the airing of diverse points of view, technical research on police accountability, and the CPC’s partners in the community and in government.

The consent decree process as a whole has been strengthened because of the CPC’s credibility in the community. Since its inception, the CPC has been populated by commissioners who come from diverse sectors and have experience and community credibility relating to police reform work.

The consent decree called on these community representatives to lend their community credibility to the process, which we have done. But it’s not just the CPC commissioners. Last November, 47 community leaders and organizations sent the Monitor a letter supporting the CPC’s approach to civilian oversight. These community leaders expect the CPC to be their voice in the formal reform process.

Will the CPC live on? One of the issues hanging over us over the last year has been whether the CPC will live on after the consent decree process ends. As the consent decree process unfolded, we have found that having a commission that

  • purposefully includes representation from Seattle’s diverse communities;
  • takes community engagement seriously;
  • conducts extensive technical research;
  • provides meaningful feedback regarding SPD policies and practices; and
  • has real credibility in the community

is an asset that Seattle ought to not only preserve but enhance as a permanent part of a civilian oversight system. This undoubtedly will be a large part of the accountability discussion.

The message from the CPC on civilian oversight is that a lot of work has been done; there is more work to be done; and we look forward to all parties coming together to move this from the realm of recommendations to the realm of real, meaningful, legislation that is fully consistent with the letter and the purpose of the consent decree.