Seattle Police Reform: ‘The challenges we inherited and the steps we have taken to move forward’

United States Attorney Jenny Durkan and Special Litigation Section Chief Jonathan Smith of the Department of Justice (DOJ) wrote a letter to Mayor Murray late last week praising his efforts on police reform thus far while also acknowledging the significant challenges Mayor Murray inherited as a result of tension and lack of commitment to reform displayed “over the last two years.”

The letter praises the All Party Summit convened by Mayor Murray on February 4 as “a significant event,” but found “the spirit of that commitment” to police reform to be lacking in a so-called “Span of Control” document produced by the Seattle Police Department (SPD) in the final days of the previous administration.

Essentially a work plan aimed at addressing reform guidance given by the Settlement Agreement between SPD and the DOJ, the Span of Control materials “were not serious attempts to move reform forward,” according to Durkan and Smith. “They dug us in a deep hole, from which we have had to climb out over the past two months.”

Durkan and Smith write that they are “deeply disappointed with the work” conducted prior to January, and express concern over the lack of proper training on revised policies, the failure to provide a manageable workload for sergeants to properly oversee their line officers, and lastly, with expenses attributed to both projects.

They write that the Settlement Agreement implementation ledger from 2013 “includes matters entirely unrelated to the Consent Decree process,” citing the former Mayor’s 20-20 Project and the Race and Social Justice Initiative. “It is unclear whether this was the result of sloppy accounting, or a purposeful attempt to stack costs and attribute them to the reform process.”

These are damning conclusions. Despite these serious concerns, Durkan and Smith note a positive change in the reform process since Mayor Murray’s taking office.

“We are encouraged by the steps the City has taken since that date to work with us and our consultants closely to improve the training modules and lesson plans, as well as the analyses on the span of control,” they write. “We also are encouraged that there is now apparently in place a more accurate and rigorous accounting method to track City expenses related to the reform efforts.”

The letter specifically acknowledges Mayor Murray’s move to make changes to SPD’s command staff, to improve training modules and lesson plans, to take a critical look at the Span of Control product produced by SPD last year, and to put a more “accurate and rigorous” accounting method to track the money being spent on the reform efforts.

The Mayor wrote in response to the letter yesterday: “I cannot stress how appreciative I am of DOJ’s recognition of the efforts we have made in the three months since taking office.”

Murray acknowledges that much work is left to be done and reiterated his commitment to changing the culture of policing in Seattle to make it a model for urban policing throughout the country.

The Span of Control document was recently reworked under the newly formed compliance bureau and a proposed action plan was submitted to the monitor on March 21st.

“We have received preliminary feedback that this was well received,” the Mayor writes. “For all of our accomplishments, of which there are many, it is important to remember that significant work remains.”

The Mayor has also asked his law enforcement consultant Bernard Melekian, in partnership with the Community Police Commission and the Office of Professional Accountability (OPA) Auditor, to prepare a full review of the policy accountability system for him by the end of April.