The new interim police chief is already off to a rocky start. When Mayor Ed Murray announced earlier this month that Harry Bailey would lead the Seattle Police Department, the mayor said Bailey could take decisive action toward reforming the troubled department. When it comes to complying with the federal consent decree under which SPD currently operates—after a US Department of Justice investigation found it had a history of excessive use of force and biased policing—Mayor Murray told the reporters, "I am not willing to wait for the hiring of a permanent chief to move forward."
But given Murray's fast-track timeline for hiring that new chief by April (Bailey says he has "no interest" in the permanent position), just what, exactly, can Bailey get done in four months?
Well, for starters, there are personnel shake-ups. After a December report from a federal court monitor overseeing SPD reform blasted senior command staff for stymieing reform by warring over policy, then-chief Jim Pugel demoted two senior staffers. After Bailey's arrival, another member of the command staff, Assistant Chief Mike Sanford, gave notice of his retirement.
While change at the top is needed, Sanford heading for the door isn't necessarily a good thing. He's named in that same report as showing an "admirable willingness to act with a sense of urgency and an ability to adroitly manage bureaucratic issues that could otherwise routinely thwart progress." Lisa Daugaard, policy director for the Public Defender Association, says Sanford "was a consistent leader in support of changing problematic policing practices."
Losing one of the only reformers in the top ranks isn't a great sign.
Chief Bailey, meanwhile, has newly promoted three captains to assistant chief and has promised to establish a Compliance and Reform Bureau to streamline the work toward full compliance.
How are we supposed to tell what's progress and what's just hot air? Here are three things Bailey must do in the next four to six months to prove he's reforming the SPD:
Launch a Computer System That Tracks Use of Force
The federal court monitor, Merrick Bobb, has been blisteringly clear about a major piece of reform that is not going well: data technology. In order to comply with the settlement agreement, SPD must track and analyze, in complex ways, how it uses force—do certain officers use excessive force more often, are minority populations treated more harshly? Bobb wrote in his December report that SPD's current data software is "nowhere near adequate"—it loses and mislabels data and makes it nearly impossible to do real analysis—and said he expects the planning and vendor selection for a top-notch database system to be completed, and implementation under way, within six months.
But Chief Bailey says he isn't sure that's possible, given the city's bidding and contract rules. "I think as long as the monitor sees that we are putting forth a good-faith effort to do that," he says, we should be okay. That's a far cry from Bobb's exhortation that "the implementation of this new system cannot happen quickly enough."
Stop Protecting Cops Accused of Misconduct
As we reported last week, the SPD oversight process that responds to citizen complaints is weighted heavily in favor of the cops involved. Officers can respond to charges and appeal a disciplinary decision after it's made, opportunities denied to the complainant. In response to queries about balance, Pierce Murphy, the director of SPD's Office of Professional Accountability, said "the civil justice system" is the place citizens should go to get a fair hearing on police misconduct. In other words: Sue the city if you want fairness. That's bonkers, and it needs to change.
Bobb also slammed the Firearms Review Board for "deficient" reviews of officers' use of their firearms. Bailey says work to improve the FRB will happen in the new Compliance and Reform Bureau, and he thinks there are "some things [the OPA director] would like to change"—but he's real short on specifics. Victims of police misconduct must get a fair shake from the SPD, and officers' use of their weapons must be fairly investigated.
Get Urban Officers Urban Police Training
When Murray ran for mayor, he insisted that SPD officers get specific training on urban policing. Given that the city plans to hire around five dozen new recruits in 2014 (and Murray has vowed to hire 100 more officers than previous goals over the next four years), groundwork for that training must be laid immediately.
Further, Bobb's December report says SPD "candidly admits" that they don't adequately track whether officers attend whatever ongoing trainings the department does currently offer. While Bailey says it should be "easy" to communicate new policies on bias, stops, and use of force, those policies are useless if officers don't learn them in training.
Bobb writes a detailed report every six months on SPD's progress. If the next report shows these three reforms are not happening, or that internal politics remain enflamed, it will seem this latest SPD shake-up was just more hot air.
This article has been updated since its original publication.