Last week, days from a deadline, Mayor Mike McGinn capitulated to the federal government's insistence on a court-ordered monitor to oversee changes to the Seattle Police Department when he signed off on a settlement to reform the SPD. The agreement contained several specific reforms, such as requiring police officers to report every use of force. (Any time a cop shoves someone in the chest, for example, the incident must now be reported to a sergeant and is subject to investigation. That didn't happen before.) The US Department of Justice found last December that our police officers have been unconstitutionally using excessive force. This is concrete progress.
But the most important component of the deal—the most important person involved—has yet to be named.
The settlement hinges on recruiting a monitor to report directly to a federal judge on whether the SPD is complying with the broad goals of the settlement. These include everything from how weapons are used to the way misconduct complaints are handled. For now, much of the settlement is vague and will require the monitor's interpretation: Rather than specifying a "mandatory duty," the settlement outlines what the SPD "should" do. Police "should" report force promptly, police "should" warn suspects before using a Taser.
Who will say if police are abiding by the spirit of the settlement—doing what they "should" do and doing it on time? The monitor.
That's why we need a qualified, impartial candidate who is ingrained with knowledge about police departments but immune to the city's internal politics.
In a July letter, City Attorney Pete Holmes suggested Merrick Bobb (who wrote the book on police oversight after the Rodney King beating in Los Angeles) and Detroit attorney Saul Green. Joe Brann, former director of the DOJ's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, has also been mentioned.
Mayor McGinn and the SPD have already reportedly rejected Bobb (the mayor's office won't confirm or deny this), but their protests should be ignored. After all, according to a DOJ letter from earlier this year, McGinn had opposed having any court-appointed monitor and even tried to avoid a settlement filed in the court. If anything, an objection from McGinn and the SPD should indicate who we should choose.
Finally, any attempt by the mayor to undergo a public recruitment process should be seen as adding a protracted, bureaucratic delay and a quest for mediocrity. The universe of qualified monitors is small, so the city and DOJ should pick someone quickly who can stand up to the SPD.