The court-appointed monitor overseeing sweeping reforms in the Seattle Police Department has filed his first report on the department’s first steps toward meeting those goals, lauding interim Chief Jim Pugel for his cooperation and efforts to spearhead changes in police accountability. But the report noted that the Police Department and its officers — many of whom remain defiant of change — have a long and difficult road ahead.
On the plus side, monitor Merrick Bobb said SPD has begun to draft and implement new policies on the review of officer use-of-force, and when and how officers can stop or detain people. The department has provided considerable access to SPD data and precincts to the monitor’s team and the mayor’s office has named the members of the Community Police Commission, said the report, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle today.
However, Bobb’s 22-page report said many challenges remain and it is expected that it will take years to bring the department into compliance with the settlement agreement, which was reached last July after months of difficult negotiations with the Department of Justice over its findings that Seattle officers routinely use excessive force. The DOJ, in its December 2012 report, also found disturbing, if inconclusive, evidence of biased policing.
Bobb, the founder of the Los Angeles-based Police Assessment and Resource Center, said the fractious command staff and the intransigence of the unions are now and will continue to be a hinderance if not addressed.
“In-fighting up and down the command staff level has been a concern,” Bobb wrote. “The SPD does not appear settled on a unified vision of what is to come.” Bobb said he hopes Pugel “will articulate that vision by embracing the Settlement Agreement.”
Meantime, he said, “A part of the SPD, mostly but not exclusively within the union-organized ranks, remains ‘dug in’ and continues to resist the force and implications’ of the settlement agreement.
Echoing sentiments expressed by U.S. District Judge James Robart last month, Bobb wrote that “the time has come for all persons in the SPD, and particularly those with influence and authority, to move past their disagreements with the DOJ and get on with reform.”
He said he will be watching for improvement over the next six months, when his next report to the court is due, “including efforts by command staff to make clear that the Settlement Agreement is here to stay and is not going to be fed to the shredder.”
While Bobb was impressed with the department’s nascent efforts to better monitor the use of force by officers — including the formation of a Use of Force Review Board run by Pugel — he pointed out that the board did not find a single instance out of 120 instances reviewed in which the officer’s use of force was out of department policy. He encouraged the board to expand its discussions.
Bobb saved some of his harshest criticism for the department’s Firearms Review Board, which reviews all shootings and firearms discharges. Deputy Chief Clark Kimerer oversees the FRB.
“They fail to reach the higher stands of the Use of Force Review Board,” he said, noting that “there has been some activity that, at minimum, raises the potential or appearance of skewing testimony by those seeking to protect an officer.”
Moreover, Bobb said that on two occasions, an unidentified “presiding SPD executive chilled open and free discussion of the merits by prematurely announcing their own views on them.” Bobb said there have been “serious issues” surround the monitor’s access to the FRB, while the monitor has actively been allowed to participate in the Use of Force Review Board.