City Attorney Pete Holmes takes a picture of SPD Chief Kathleen OToole (right) at one of the mayors safety walks in early July.
  • City of Seattle
  • City Attorney Pete Holmes takes a picture of SPD Chief Kathleen O'Toole (right) at one of the mayor's "safety walks" in early July.
Yesterday afternoon, court-appointed police monitor Merrick Bobb, who's overseeing the Seattle Police Department's compliance with the Department of Justice consent decree, made a pretty notable shift in tone regarding SPD's future. In a presentation of his most recent semiannual report on the department's progress, which came out just a month ago, he told the council that if he'd written the report today, it would probably read differently.

Why? Because he has so much faith in new SPD Chief Kathleen O'Toole.

He said in his report and repeated to council plenty of good things, cautiously optimistic things—that "almost all of the polices under the consent decree have been drafted and submitted" to the court, and the department is now shifting into a post-policy-writing "training phase," which in his judgment is "going well." But there's been an ongoing problem around data at SPD, a problem Bobb has brought up repeatedly. In his last report, he stated unequivocally that he would not find SPD in compliance with the consent decree until they built a good enough database and were using it correctly. See, SPD needs a computer system that will track basic, important information and produce actually useful reports, which can then be used to track their compliance—information like which officers use force during arrests more than others. But the department has dragged its feet on this front.

Bobb said yesterday that they were still "lagging" in this area, and that the implementation of an interim, off-the-shelf database system "has not gone as well as we would've liked." But then he shifted gears. "If I were writing the same report today," he said, "I think I would have less concern. And the reason for that is, although she has only been there a couple of weeks, Chief O'Toole is a very quick study, very sensitive to these issues, understands what's going on, and has a plan and a program to deal with all this."

He went on: "So to the extent that I expressed pessimism before with respect to those areas"—he's talking about the department's refusal to get to work on data collection—"my pessimism has eased, and the glass is now looking half-full to me."

That's a big deal. The road to compliance runs through the monitor and his approval, and if Bobb is as enamored of O'Toole as the rest of the city appears to be, it could mean that police reform is finally, really on the right track.