This week, the City Council will consider legislation to define the authority of the Community Police Commission (CPC) and make it permanent. In the words of reform advocates on the Commission, it’s a defining moment.
I know from my experience as Mayor the degree to which institutions can resist change and bog down reforms in bureaucratic inertia. I also know the role that politics can play, and the desire of elected officials to hide problems so that the people in charge can look better.
That is why I support the strongest possible community oversight and urge the council to pass the amendments recommended by the Community Police Commission. I also urge other candidates for Mayor to support the CPC recommendations before the Council votes May 22.
Community oversight is so important - it can hold all of us to our ideals for a police force. One that is effective, free of bias and excessive use of force, and trusted by the community.
I worked to create the Community Police Commission when I was mayor, as part of the settlement agreement and consent decree with the Department of Justice.
A particularly difficult portion of the negotiations was the role of the Office of Professional Accountability, which had the lead responsibility for investigating officer misconduct and recommending discipline.
The DOJ investigation had concluded that OPA was mostly effective. Their first draft of DOJ’s Consent Decree proposed what I considered only modest changes to the officer discipline process. In contrast, reform advocates in the community told me that they viewed changes to OPA and officer discipline as essential, and that they wanted to be part of the discussion. When the DOJ and the city entered into serious negotiations, I offered an alternative to the DOJ’s recommended changes to OPA.
I proposed the creation of a Community Police Commission -- so that the community could have a strong role in reforming OPA and the processes that applied to officer discipline. They would also be tasked with reviewing proposed SPD policies and making recommendations on the critically important issue of bias in policing.
The DOJ adopted the concept of a Community Police Commission, and the final agreement hashed out the details of how it would operate. Upon the signing of the Settlement Agreement and Consent Decree, I appointed, and the City Council confirmed, the members of the Community Police Commission, and they went to work.
When I recommended the Community Police Commission, I was warned by critics of reform that it might seek to make itself permanent, and expand its powers. To me that was a feature, not a defect.
Three years after first making their reform recommendations, the CPC’s proposed legislation has been bottled up in various reviews and negotiations with the Mayor’s office, the City Attorney’s office, and the court-appointed Monitor. Review, consideration and dialogue are good, but the length and manner of the delays suggests institutional resistance to community oversight of the police department.
I appointed individuals that were thoughtful and critical of the Seattle Police Department, as well as assuring police representation on the Commission. They found common ground and made solid recommendations. They are entitled to be made permanent, and granted greater oversight authority for the day the Consent Decree ends.