Federal Judge James Robart has set a status conference to discuss the City of Seattle’s compliance with the Consent Decree.
This comes after he expressed concerns about the effect recently passed police contracts could have on the city’s police accountability system. Those effects were highlighted in a brief filed by the Community Police Commission in February.
The status conference is scheduled for May 15 at 11 am.
In early December, Judge James Robart, the federal judge overseeing the City’s Consent Decree, had ordered the City and the Department of Justice to explain to the Court how the City was still in “full and effective compliance” with the Consent Decree after the City approved the police contract despite concerns from community groups and the CPC.
The Court invited the CPC to provide its perspective as well, by filing a “friend of the court” (amicus) brief.
In that order, Judge Robart expressed serious reservations about the impact the new contract would have on public trust, the progress the City has made under the Consent Decree, and specifically about the flaws in the system that led to the City being ordered by a disciplinary review panel to reinstate an officer who had been fired by the Chief for using excessive force on a handcuffed woman in the back of a patrol car.
The CPC asked a former judge, Anne Levinson, who had provided independent oversight of Seattle’s police accountability for several years, to review the contract. Her detailed review of it, and of the companion Seattle Police Management Association contract, confirmed that Judge Robart’s concerns were warranted.
The CPC’s brief, including Judge Levinson’s (ret.) expert declaration and exhibits, show how weaknesses in the contracts could hinder police accountability, damage public trust and confidence, and put other Consent Decree reforms at risk once Court oversight has ended.
The CPC’s Brief
In its brief, the CPC urges Court to have the City address these weaknesses before it’s too late. If the City doesn’t, the CPC fears the Court will have to extend the Consent Decree until the issues in the contracts are fixed.
The Seattle Police Department has made many strides since the Consent Decree took effect. Through the efforts of SPD leadership and individual officers, the Department has worked to address many of the practices identified in the Consent Decree as needing significant reform.
But a strong and fair accountability system, which was promised to the community in the 2017 Accountability Legislation, is critical to the continued success of those efforts. Without it, the hard work done under the Consent Decree over the past seven years may be undermined.
“Of the many important roles the CPC plays in the reform process, the holistic review of the accountability process required by the consent decree and MOU is pivotal. That work and the changes [to the accountability system that the CPC] will help craft with City leadership will be critical to successful reform of SPD.” – Jenny Durkan in 2014 as U.S. Attorney.
“Accountability system improvements are not tangential or separate from Consent Decree reforms. A strong accountability system will help ensure that the improvements are sustained over time, and conversely, accountability system weaknesses are likely to undermine other progress.” – The CPC’s brief.
“To help ensure constitutional policing, appropriate oversight in which the community can place its trust is necessary. The accountability system must be effective. Seattle’s system has many positive elements that others do not. But the CBAs before the Court impede Seattle from having a system the public can trust to work when the added safeguard of judicial oversight is gone, and regardless of who the Chief, Council, and Mayor may be.” – Judge Anne Levinson (Ret.) Declaration to the Federal Court