Federal oversight extended after judge finds Seattle Police partially out of compliance

SEATTLE - The question tonight, how do you police the police?

For the last seven years, the city has been diligently working to reform Seattle police under a consent decree. In that time, Federal Judge James Robart praised SPD for changing its culture from a warrior mode to a guardian one, saying officers are now using significantly less force and instead de-escalating crisis situations.

The consent decree between the city and the feds came about after a DOJ investigation found that SPD had a pattern of using excessive force and bias policing.

“It has remade itself, and we are the national model now,” Mayor Jenny Durkan said.

That was Durkan last week reacting to Judge Robart’s analysis in court but Robart’s order that came out Tuesday makes it clear that the new collective bargaining agreement between the city and the police union is dropping the ball when it comes to holding officers accountable when they do something wrong.

“It is a big deal,” former Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn said.

McGinn was in office in 2012 to sign the consent decree.

“This mistake that was made was not involving the Community Police Commission in negotiating the agreement,” McGinn said.

The CPC is the watchdog group of civilians tasked to develop reform recommendations. They are against the new contract for a number of reasons. A big sticking point, however, is that the new contract allows for a private arbitration process during misconduct cases.

“Arbitration can be about compromise and finding a middle ground but when it comes to misconduct it should not be about compromise it should be about accountability,” Ret. Judge Anne Levinson said.

Levinson spoke to Q13 News last week on behalf of the CPC that brought their concerns up to the court.

Officer Adley Shepherd’s case is a perfect example of a lack of accountability according to the judge.

Shepherd is seen on camera punching a woman in the back of a cruiser after she kicked him. She was handcuffed when she was punched. An arbitration process reversed SPD’s decision to fire him after Shepherd appealed his case.

As of Wednesday, it’s unclear what the Seattle Police Guild will do.

“What happens if they come to the table and say we can’t agree,” McGinn said.

As a former mayor, McGinn says Durkan may have some big hurdles ahead.

“Bring everyone to a solution that’s going to be I don’t want to minimize it, that’s going to be quite a leadership challenge,” McGinn said.

There is a lot at stake. The contract was hard fought, four years in the making in fact. The six-year contract came with a pay raise in hopes of raising morale on the force.

Mayor Durkan released a statement after the order came down. It reads in part:

“It is notable that the judge did not strike down the collective bargaining agreement, or any specific provision in the CBA.  together with the department of justice, we are evaluating the court’s order regarding the accountability regime and its relationship to the consent decree.  but regardless of the next legal steps, we have made clear that we will continuously assess and improve as a department.”

Police Chief Carmen Best is echoing similar points in a blog post. The tone was positive despite the setback.

Judge Robart said SPD is in compliance for most of the consent decree and those items appear to be on deadline with federal oversight expiring in January 2020. But the concerns over accountability now means that part is still under federal oversight. The judge said after changes are made that the clock would restart for another two years.

The judge did not give any specific recommendations of how he wanted the accountability measures to be changed but he gave all parties to respond by July 15.

CPC is also concerned about a 180-day deadline that the Office of Professional accountability now has to investigate a complaint against an officer. they believe that deadline is not fair. Essentially the CPC wants the new contract to reflect accountability measures that were voted in by city council in 2017.