Monitor issues mixed report card on SPD reforms

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by LINDA BYRON / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @LByronK5

KING5.com

Posted on June 16, 2014 at 2:00 PM

Updated Monday, Jun 16 at 5:30 PM

The independent monitor overseeing landmark reforms at the Seattle Police Department says the department has “accomplished a great deal,” but insists it’s time to put words into action in key areas.

As part of the 2012 court ordered Consent Decree between the Department of Justice and the city, Seattle Police Monitor Merrick Bobb is required to submit semi-annual reports detailing progress and spotlighting lapses that must still be fixed in order for the police department to correct a pattern of using excessive force.

In his third semiannual report released Monday, Bobb is effusive in his praise of Mayor Murray’s office: 

“Perhaps the most hopeful turn of events in the last six months has been the active involvement of the Mayor’s Office in its oversight of the SPD. Mayor Murray has so far taken on hard issues.  The Mayor appears to recognize that the SPD needs a deep and thorough culture change to earn the respect, trust, and cooperation of all of Seattle’s diverse communities, including those represented by the Community Police Commission.”

Bobb was highly critical of SPD’s performance in these areas:

* Resistance to reforms by some members of the department.

* Byzantine and arcane disciplinary system

* Deeply flawed technology systems for tracking officer performance

* Inadequate plan for increased supervision

In the same report, he praises SPD for progress in the following areas:

* Revamped policies:  Use of force, stops and detentions, bias-free policing, crisis intervention

* Training:  Increasing the quality and rigor of officer education in 2014, including training 1300 officers on new use of force policies

* Critical Self-Analysis: Force Investigation Team & Firearms Review Board

Bobb praised the appointment of Assistant Chief Tag Gleason to head a new Bureau of Compliance and Professional Standards, charged with making sure the department is moving forward with reforms.  But Bobb was blunt in addressing what he characterizes as resistance to change and lack of transparency by some members of the police department.

In a footnote, Bobb references the federal lawsuit filed in May by more than 120 police officers challenging new use of force policies, as evidence that more work is needed to get everyone on board. The suit argues that the rules on using force endanger the lives of police officers and citizens. But Bobb's report shows little tolerance for resistance, noting that the new policies lay down clear “rules of the road” for how and when officers can stop and detain suspects and use force. 

“Much work remains to insure that the objectives and goals of the Consent Decree have been understood and internalized by all officers—whether command staff or the rank and file,” he states in the report, adding: “Likewise, much additional collaboration will be necessary to ensure that the era of hiding the ball on developing problems, institutional isolation, and routine tolerance of underdeveloped or inadequate solutions is over.”

Bobb noted that his monitoring team attended roll calls, went on ride-alongs and attended force review boards and “based on both formal an informal interactions with patrol officers, the Monitor has come to recognize that the internalization of the objectives and goals of the Consent Decree by the SPD will require a redoubling of additional, focused efforts.” 

The report comes just one week before the city council is expected to confirm former Boston Police Commissioner Kathleen O’Toole as SPD’s new chief.  But Bobb said that the federal judge overseeing the consent decree has made it clear the arrival of a new chief is not an excuse for slowed progress: “At an April 3, 2014 status conference, the Honorable James Robart made two points especially clear. The first was that he intended ‘to hold the parties’ ‘feet to the fire’ to keep going, even as a new Chief comes on board.”

City Attorney Pete Holmes issued a statement Monday afternoon saluting the progress made by SPD: “While it’s clear that more work lies ahead, SPD has made significant progress in instituting new policies and training in the crucial areas of use of force, bias-free policing, constitutional stops, and working with individuals in crisis. SPD has  also implemented new processes to ensure systemic and lasting change, including processes for the thorough investigation and review of all uses of force.  Those new processes include OPA involvement during various phases of the investigation and review to ensure transparency and accountability.”

Nate Van Duzer, a spokesman for Seattle City Council Chair Tim Burgess, said Burgess would wait to review and digest the full report before making any comment.

Efforts to reach Seattle Police Officers’ Guild President Ron Smith were unsuccessful. 

KING 5 also requested an interview with the Interim Seattle Police Chief Harry Bailey and is awaiting a response.

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