Today, Mayor Ed Murray transmitted legislation to City Council which will create the strongest civilian oversight of the Seattle Police Department (SPD) in the city’s history. The accountability reform legislation is the product of months-long discussions with the Community Police Commission (CPC), Federal Monitor Merrick Bobb, City Council and the Mayor’s Office. It reflects Mayor Murray’s commitment to working with the federal court to bring the city into compliance under the U.S. Department of Justice 2012 Consent Decree.
The proposal creates an independent Office of Inspector General to increase systemic review of all SPD policies and practices, transforms the Community Police Commission into a permanent body, and increases the scope and independence of SPD’s Office of Police Accountability (OPA). Eight City Council members have co-sponsored the legislation.
“For the first time in our city’s history, there will be strong civilian oversight of the Seattle Police Department, including an independent Inspector General, a stronger Office of Police Accountability and a Community Police Commission,” said Mayor Murray. “Change does not occur overnight, which is why we’ve been engaged for months – years since the beginning of the Consent Decree – to ensure we get police reform right. This is a historic and critical juncture as this legislation reflects the strongest and most transparent police accountability structure we have ever had, and helps on our path to make lasting institutional change that builds trust between the police and the communities they serve.”
“The shared goal of the last seven years of work by community, the City, DOJ, and the Federal Monitor is to ensure constitutional policing in Seattle,” said Councilmember M. Lorena González, Chair of the Council’s Gender Equity, Safe Communities & New Americans Committee. “The legislative process we embark on today will build the necessary independent institutions to meet this end. I look forward to bringing this effort back into the public sphere by hosting seven opportunities for public input, including two evening community-focused meetings. I will continue to investigate best practices for police reform generally and an Inspector General Office in Seattle by traveling to Los Angeles and New Orleans for conversations with people in the accountability system and community members who have advocated for reform.”
“Since the early 1990s, city government has attempted multiple police reform efforts, but we have never had such a comprehensive and sweeping legislative package as we are releasing today,” said Councilmember Tim Burgess. “This package has the potential to truly change the culture of our police department and significantly increase community trust and confidence in our officers. I am deeply grateful for the good work our police officers do every day for the people of Seattle, including the support our officers have shown for the transformation of policing we are pursuing. A couple of weeks ago, I was in New York City and met with their inspector general. The day of our meeting he had released a report on how the NYPD responds to incidents involving people experiencing a mental health crisis and cited SPD’s crisis intervention training as a national model. What we do in Seattle really does have the potential of transforming policing across the country.”
“This legislation would never have happened if it wasn’t for the work of the 34 community groups who called on the US Department of Justice in 2010 to ‘investigate whether the Seattle Police Department has engaged in a pattern or practice of violations of civil rights by using unnecessary and excessive force against the residents of Seattle in violation of federal law,” said Councilmember Lisa Herbold. “I’d like to thank them, and especially Reverend Harriet Walden, for her tireless advocacy for police accountability.”
“Today is a historic day. Passage of this ordinance will usher in an unprecedented era of independent, civilian oversight of SPD and genuine police accountability,” said Councilmember Debora Juarez. “As a former judge and public defender I am particularly pleased that this first major overhaul of our police accountability laws since 1973 will include: a permanent Community Police Commission, a fully independent Office of the Inspector General, and enhanced transparency of the investigative process at OPA. This is what real accountability looks like. I am proud to present this long-overdue ordinance to the public.”
The package sent to City Council includes the following key accountability measures:
- Creation of the Office of Inspector General, a fully independent office, external of SPD. This office will have jurisdiction over all SPD policies, procedures, and operations with subpoena power to compel cooperation with investigations. The office will have auditing power of OPA investigations and will be charged with evaluating outcomes, investigating patterns of misconduct, reviewing major incidents, and reviewing all aspects of the disciplinary system.
- Fully independent Office of Police Accountability, whose leadership will be appointed by the Mayor. A mix of sworn and civilian investigators will be supervised by civilian staff. This office will have subpoena power to compel cooperation with investigations and will improve the internal investigation process.
- Transform the Community Police Commission into a permanent community-led body and formalize its role in the review and revision of SPD policies that affect public trust. The Commission will review and provide input on SPD hiring as well as recommend improvements to City policies and ordinances. The Commission will serve the lead role in engagement with the community.
- The OPA Director, the Inspector General, and the CPC Executive Director have complete budget and program control of their operations and workplans, including authority to hire, supervise, and discharge all their staff.
- Interference with, or retaliation against, the staff of OPA, the OIG, the CPC, or its Commissioners is expressly prohibited.
- The CPC becomes the permanent community-based oversight body whose Commissioners represent a range of key perspectives and bring specific expertise to the job of community oversight. The CPC is intended to ensure that not only are police services delivered in a lawful and nondiscriminatory manner, but that they align with community values and expectations.
- The CPC will be charged with engaging in extensive community outreach to obtain the perspectives of community members and SPD employees on police-community relations, and on SPD policies and practices.
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