Civilian police-review panel moves step closer to becoming permanent

After months of wrangling and last-minute talks, Mayor Ed Murray, Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole and the Community Police Commission (CPC) agreed in principle Monday on long-delayed police-accountability legislation.

The legislation, subject to fine-tuning, would be jointly submitted to the City Council in mid-July, setting in motion a proposal to make the CPC a permanent, independent civilian board serving as a liaison between the community and the police department. The CPC was originally created as a temporary body under a 2012 consent decree between the city and U.S. Department of Justice to curb excessive force in the police department, as well as biased policing.
While they previously agreed on many points, a major sticking point was the CPC’s proposal that would require the council’s agreement and CPC input before the mayor could fire the civilian director of the police department’s Office of Professional Accountability (OPA), which conducts internal investigations, and the OPA’s civilian auditor.

Murray had strongly resisted including that proposal in the legislation, deeming it an infringement on executive authority.

At one point earlier this month, the CPC voted to move forward on its own with legislation. But it agreed last week to further talks.

OPA Director Pierce Murphy and the OPA auditor, Anne Levinson, were among those joining Monday’s agreement. The City Attorney’s Office provided advice.

Under the agreement, the CPC’s executive director will have the same safeguards before being removed, said Lisa Daugaard, the commission’s co-chair.

Many other provisions of the agreement also protect the independence and role of CPC, including control of its budget, Daugaard said.

More transparency also would be built into the police-accountability system.

The proposed legislation grew out of the outcry that erupted over a decision last year by then-Interim Police Chief Harry Bailey to overturn misconduct findings against several police officers. O’Toole became chief a year ago.
One change already implemented was to make it more difficult for the police chief to overturn misconduct findings. Other recommendations, such as streamlining how officers can appeal disciplinary decisions, remain subject to confidential collective bargaining between the city and police unions.

Still unresolved is last week’s request from Merrick Bobb, the federal monitor overseeing the consent decree, to Councilmember Bruce Harrell, who chairs the council’s public-safety committee. Bobb asked to hold off on the legislation to make sure the legislation complied with the terms and objectives of the consent decree.

In a joint statement Monday evening, Murray said he would consult with Bobb, the Justice Department and police unions to ensure the legislation is “fully aligned” with the consent decree.

While Bobb has yet to give his approval, the mayor’s support suggested Bobb might do so. The subject could arise at a court hearing Tuesday before U.S. District Judge James Robart, who is presiding over the consent decree.

CPC Co-Chair Rev. Harriett Walden, in a statement, said of the agreement: “Credit is due to the years of community activism to demand Constitutional policing for the people of Seattle.”

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this story. Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or smiletich@seattletimes.com On Twitter @stevemiletich

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