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.