Do we want police accountability advocates drawn from the community to have a permanent oversight role when it comes to the Seattle Police Department?
Well, of course. Who could be against that, except bad cops and those who want to protect them? Way back in November, it looked like Mayor Ed Murray was finally getting serious about police reform when he announced his plan to introduce legislation to the city council by March that would make the Community Police Commission (CPC) a permanent body and implement a raft of reforms the commissioners had recommended.
"[The] CPC’s reputation and legitimacy within the community should be preserved and strengthened," Murray's office said in its statement last year.
To date, though, the accountability system hasn't changed. When I inquired with the mayor's office about what happened to that legislation in April, I was told that negotiations were ongoing and that a "comprehensive, robust accountability reform" package would be submitted "in the very near future."
The mayor sucks at meeting deadlines. There's still no police reform legislation on the table.
So on Wednesday, the CPC held a vote on whether to keep waiting on Murray or submit its own accountability proposals directly to the city council for approval. Voting to move ahead on their own were seven of them—mostly longtime accountability advocates, including Reverent Harriett Walden of Mothers for Police Accountability and Jay Hollingsworth of the John T. Williams Organizing Committee. The other five commissioners, including the two representatives of Seattle's police unions, didn't participate in the vote.
Instead of accepting responsibility for the long delay, here's how Murray responded to their decision: "The [police] Chief and I are surprised because we believed there was an opportunity to reach a deal together."
Which, assuming that Chief Kathleen O'Toole gave Murray permission to speak for her, makes this the second time in the past month that O'Toole and the CPC have publicly clashed. On May 21, she flatly rejected a request by the commissioners for the DOJ to moderate a series of trust-building forums over the department's handling of Black Lives Matter protests. (The police union representatives on the CPC abstained or didn't participate in the vote to make that request, either.)
On Tuesday, Murray hinted to the Seattle Times that he may no longer support making the CPC permanent. The Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG), captioned a tweet today about the CPC as follows: "The quest to exceed the authority of their existence."
Asked to elaborate, Ron Smith, the union's president, told me making the CPC permanent needs to be negotiated with SPOG. If the CPC's existence is under negotiation with SPOG, the mayor's office made no mention of it last year.
The city's contract negotiations with SPOG are ongoing and shrouded by confidentiality rules, and CPC cochair Lisa Daugaard has called those contract negotiations the Super Bowl of police accountability. But she said today making the CPC permanent does not need to be negotiated with the union. In February, a well-placed city hall source close to the negotiations told me Murray wasn't pushing for key recommendations made by the CPC.
At this point, there's another big-time event—let's call it the World Cup of Police Accountability—developing in city hall. The CPC will introduce their own legislative package to Council Member Bruce Harrell's public safety committee next week. The mayor still hasn't said when we should expect his proposal.
"I just think there are flat-out differences of opinion," said Harrell. "There are policy differences on substantive issues. That's where we are."
SPOG ought to accept the continued existence of the CPC, Harrell added, "if they [the union] are embracing reform the way they've suggested they are." He believes the CPC should be permanent.
"It's going to be up to me and the council to figure out," he said. "And I accept. This is extremely time-sensitive, and because of that, we'll act accordingly."