Category

Civil Rights

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.

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.”

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.

My letter to the trustees of the La Feria Schools on the handling of Jeydon Loredo’s yearbook photo

Note: This letter appeared on the Huffington Post on November 15, 2013.

Dear Trustees:

From a news report, I learned about the demand letter sent to you by the Southern Poverty Law Center concerning Jeydon Loredo’s yearbook photo. I want to share my perspective. Please make this letter a part of the official record.

I attended La Feria schools from kindergarten through high school and graduated in 1994. When I was growing up, we spoke virtually no English at home. There were no college graduates in my family. After school and on weekends, my brothers and I worked in the farm fields. My teachers in La Feria devoted their lives to helping kids like me. They helped us learn the language, like Mrs. Sealey, my kindergarten teacher. They taught us how to express ourselves in writing, like my high school English teacher, Ms. Gutierrez. They taught us math, like Mrs. Bates in 10th grade. They taught us computer programming, like Coach Sanchez in 12th grade.

La Feria teachers went beyond the call of duty. I once expressed an interest in marine biology to Mr. Sealey, my high school science teacher. Before I knew it, Mr. Sealey and I were in the middle of the Laguna Madre collecting specimens for a new salt-water tank. My government teacher, Mrs. Nicholson, knew about my fascination with law and politics. When she found out I didn’t have cable TV, Mrs. Nicholson started videotaping CNN and Headline News so I could watch them the next day at home. I qualified for the state debate tournament my sophomore year. The night before the competition, my coach, Mr. Zamora, took me on a trip to see the state capitol up close and lit up for inspiration.

I have the utmost gratitude and affection for La Feria schools, and I owe much of my success to its teachers and administrators. After high school, I went on to graduate from the University of Texas at Austin (1996) and from law school at the University of Notre Dame (2000). Today I am a partner with the law firm of Keller Rohrback L.L.P. in Seattle. I’m just one of countless La Feria success stories. Some of my friends are now teaching the next generation of La Feria kids. It is a tribute to La Feria schools that so many of my friends — and my brother — have chosen to have their children educated in the same schools we attended.

It pained me to read about the case of Jeydon Loredo. I hope you can tell from what I’ve written that I do not want to believe that La Feria is intolerant. But the manner in which Jeydon’s yearbook photo has been handled is a stain on La Feria’s reputation — a reputation that was hard-earned over many decades by generations of educators and students. I don’t know Jeydon. By all accounts, however, he is a fine young individual. He has never had any disciplinary issues. I applaud Jeydon because he has the courage to be who he is. Jeydon isn’t doing this for attention. Jeydon is a transgender male and is acknowledged as such by a mental health professional. As far as you and I are concerned, it is a scientific fact. It is not, and will never be, the place of a school administrator to overrule the judgment of a health professional.

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Remember Loving

In 1958 Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving traveled from their home state of Virginia to the District Columbia to get married. Upon return, they were indicted by a grand jury for violating Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage. Mildred was black. Richard was white. The Commonwealth of Virginia had a big problem with that.

The trial judge sentenced Mildred and Richard to a year in jail, but he suspended the sentence on the condition that they not return to Virginia for 25 years. The trial judge’s opinion reasoned (I use that term loosely):

Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And, but for the interference with his arrangement, there would be no cause for such marriage. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend the races to mix.

The U.S. Supreme Court took the case, heard oral argument on April 10, 1967, and delivered a unanimous opinion holding the Virginia statutes unconstitutional on June 12 of that year. The Court’s opinion observed that 16 states currently had laws on the books prohibiting and punishing mixed-race marriages.

In Virginia, the law forbade any white person from marrying someone who wasn’t white. Purity of the white race was paramount. As far as Virginia was concerned, a non-white could marry any other non-white even though—in this sick analysis—it would de-purify those races. It was, quite simply, a White Supremacist regime.

The state issued citizens “certificates of racial composition,” which were kept by government registrars. Let that sink in. The state required citizens to have “certificates of racial composition.” At oral argument, Philip Hirschkop, the attorney for the Lovings, rightly observed that the anti-miscegenation* statutes “will reflect back to Nazi Germany and to the present South African situation.” But this was in America, 100 years after the Civil War. This was 13 years after Brown v. Board of Education held the segregation of schools to be unconstitutional.

The parallels between the anti-miscegenation statutes of old and the “defense of marriage” laws of today are unmistakable. Then, as now, the proponents of the discriminatory laws invoked their own religious beliefs and state autonomy over the regulation of marriage (i.e., “States’ Rights”). I am quite certain that the trial judge in Loving thought his view of what “God created” was self evidently true. Many Virginians must have believed it, too. That idea was, we can see, ludicrous. Loving stands as a warning against the arrogance it takes to deprive another person of the legal protections of marriage just because it’s obvious to one person what “God created.”

The Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia held that the laws in question violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court wrote: “There can be no doubt that restricting the freedom to marry solely because of racial classifications violates the central meaning of the Equal Protection Clause.” But the Court rested its decision on more than just racial discrimination. The Court also held that the Virginia laws deprived the Lovings of liberty without due process of law, which itself is a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. According to the Court, “The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.”

With the Supreme Court set to rule on the constitutionality of laws banning gay marriage, now is a good time to honor the courageous Lovings, their lawyers, and the Justices of the Supreme Court who in 1967 advanced our society with the aptly named Loving decision.