Last week city attorney Pete Holmes and police chief Kathleen O'Toole both sent letters addressing concerns about the police accountability legislation that council member Lorena González's committee has, at that point, held nine meetings and another public hearing on.
After the second public hearing on the city's police accountability legislation Tuesday night, it was clear that tension still exists between the Community Police Commission members and city officials who have pushed back, but also compromised, on some major changes to the legislation that makes the CPC a permanent body. The Seattle City Council is expected to vote on the legislation Monday, but city officials and CPC members still disagree on answering, essentially, one question: Will the legislation stand the test of time?
Are there are enough protections in place for those investigating police, if future mayors were to be resistant to reform? Are the "redundancies" in the bill providing backups for accountability (if the inspector general were to, say, screw up) or hurting its chances of moving forward? And what's the best way for the CPC to truly reflect communities that are most affected by abusive policing, but constantly changing?
CPC members don't think the legislation goes far enough, but some city officials say going further could jeopardize the reform efforts altogether. After the council approves the bill, it would have to be approved by U.S. District Judge James Robart to make sure it doesn't conflict with the 2012 U.S. Department of Justice consent decree, then move through the police collective bargaining discussions on contracts that have expired four and six years ago.
Holmes, in the letter addressed to council Friday, said overlapping duties complicate the legislation and confuse the lines of accountability, criticizing the bill for proposing "a larger, less-focused, and much more expensive CPC."
"A clear path forward is unfortunately clouded by Seattle's tendency to overly complicate and bureaucratize important issues," Holmes wrote. "The executive has proposed a legislative package that reflects a compromise among competing interests, and council is being lobbied extensively by these same interests."
CPC co-chair Isaac Ruiz addressed those concerns Tuesday night: He said the overlap in the legislation allows "system redundancies" for the commission not to rely on any one particular individual; that civilian oversight isn't enough, and in fact, research shows citizens tend to be more biased in favor of officers than police themselves; that members are trying to craft legislation to deliberately avoid "turf wars" in the future between potentially competing oversight bodies.
"One of the ways that we have had our job made more difficult is by people saying that we're exceeding our legal authority. ... And I disagreed with those arguments against us, but it has made our job a lot harder," Ruiz said. Leaving any part of the bill "up for interpretation, or intentions, or good faith, it inevitably leads to trouble down the road."
"The legislation is much stronger than it was when it was presented to you by the mayor's office," Ruiz said to council members Tuesday.
Here are some of the notable changes:
For one, the legislation provides the CPC with 21 members instead of 15—a request from members to reflect the commission's increasing responsibilities that go beyond the "four corners of the consent decree," council member Lorena González said in an earlier committee meeting. (Council member Tim Burgess raised concerns in the meeting about the large number of members, and the expanded budget that growth would demand.)
The legislation requires that 80 percent of CPC members live within the city and could be lowered with another amendment at Thursday's committee meeting—addressing concerns that a residency requirement would exclude those who interact with police but can't afford to live within city limits. It would directly exclude CPC co-chair Enrique González, who grew up in South Seattle but now lives in Mountlake Terrace.(Some city officials like Holmes wanted residency requirements, with council member Debora Juarez pushing district representation. Burgess said he'll push for members to either live or work within the city.)
It includes two representatives from the police unions—the Seattle Police Officers Guild and Seattle Police Management Association—within the CPC membership. (Holmes has said membership should be just civilians, and the unions already are part of the collective bargaining agreements.)
But there's a major point city lawmakers haven't budged on: allowing the CPC to conduct performance evaluations of the inspector general and director of the Office of Police Accountability. Burgess and commissioner Lisa Daugaard had a tense exchange Tuesday night when Daugaard pressed council members to include allowing the CPC performance reviews. The full conversation is below:
Burgess: So let me ask you, councilor, in your organization, does one person hire and a separate person do evaluations of that party?
Daugaard: In my current organization, we're very small so the answer's probably no. But I take your point—
Burgess: I don't know of any organization where one person hires and somebody else unrelated to that hiring authority does the evaluation, the performance evaluation. And what's troubling, and we've had this conversation a lot...
Daugaard: Thank you.
Burgess: ... So we've been over this, yeah you're welcome. One of the safeguards that we've built in to address your issue about the mayor and maybe retaliation is, we've set up a situation where there are offsetting terms so that the OPA director, for example, or the inspector general have terms of office that are separate from the mayor. What you seem to be arguing is, and maybe you would appreciate, is if the CPC hired these individuals then I would get your argument that you should therefore do the evaluation. But why would we have a situation where the CPC chooses the executive director of the CPC, and then the city council would do the evaluation of that person? ... Would you be supportive of that?
Daugaard: ... I think commentary from others who professionally are engaged with the holders of any of these positions is valuable, and whoever's doing the evaluation—
Burgess: And required by the ordinance. That's already present in the ordinance.
Daugaard: But what's very important, so back to the New Orleans story. When a function—
Burgess: No I want to hear you answer my question. The CPC has the authority to hire your own executive director, something that the council has granted, and wisely so I believe. But would you support the city council evaluating the executive director of the CPC?
Daugaard: Well the same dynamic doesn't exist with the CPC director as is the problem that we're trying to solve for with the OPA director and the inspector general.
Burgess: Yeah I think you've answered my question. The answer is no.
Daugaard: Well I'm not exactly saying that. If there is a theory of who should meaningfully evaluate the CPC executive director, we would be happy to talk about that. But it is a different dynamic. The role of the CPC director is not to criticize the CPC, but the role of the inspector general and the role of the OPA director is to make findings, statements, and recommendations that are at odds with the political positions of those who appoint them from time to time. And that is the—
Burgess: Maybe or maybe not.
Daugaard: Well not always but sometimes. And they need to know that if they do that, that that will not imperil their reappointment in and of itself. ... This is based on actual interviews with people who have actually held these positions that they feel enormous pressure to pull their punches sometimes when they know they should say something, because they fear that if they do that, they will lose their job. ... We're building in a weakness to the system if we don't compensate for that, and that's what we're trying to do.
Burgess: I think the ordinance goes a long way in compensating for that historical experience that we've had.