Merrick Bobb talks major SPD reform, disagreement with McGinn

SEATTLE -- He’s the man how has been charged with overseeing major reform at the Seattle Police Department.

Merrick Bobb is an attorney with a two-decade career in police reform. He has worked with the LAPD and a number of other departments to push change.

But now, Bobb has come under fire from Mayor McGinn and Police Chief Diaz for his SPD monitoring plan. Ultimately, they have agreed to his blueprint, but the process of reform has clearly gotten off to a rocky start.

Before backing down late last week, McGinn argued that Bobb’s oversight plan went beyond the scope of the DOJ consent decree, that Bobb was looking into not just unconstitutional use of force, but also things such as officer rudeness.

“What the department needs to do is fully and effectively comply with all the requirements in the consent decree,” Bobb said.  “That includes not only changing use of force policy.  It also means dealing with discriminatory policing.”

Bobb said he and McGinn had a good meeting, which led to the mayor agreeing to the plan before a federal judge.

“I maintain firmly that anything that I put in that monitoring plan neither expanded on the settlement agreement nor contracted from it,” Bobb said.

Working alongside Bobb as part of the Monitoring team is Joe Brann, a police reform expert and former Chief of the Hayward, California Police Department.

“Ultimately rudeness is an indication that you may have bigger problems,” Brann said.  “If you ignore the rudeness issue, you’re not really going to get to the overarching issue of why situations get out of control.”

Bobb and Brann both agree that the single biggest reform that will help the SPD is more the better sergeants who can help mentor officers and be a supervisor in the field.

“The Seattle Police Department has relied far too long on temporary sergeants, who are lifted up above their peers and made sergeants for a days, weeks or months,” Bobb said.

Bobb said reform works best when a Mayor and City Council fully step up to the challenge.

“If you have the resources and the will, that speeds things up,” Bobb said. “When those have come together, then some of these consent decrees have wrapped up in five years or less.”