Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced late yesterday that his Justice Department plans to review consent decrees between police departments and the feds, imperiling law enforcement reform in major cities where high-profile police shootings have led to massive protests.
Police reform advocates in Chicago, Baltimore and Cleveland are all worried that the Trump administration will put an end to federal intervention in their cities. But the scaling back of Obama-era police investigations probably won’t affect Seattle Police Department’s consent decree, which grew out of a 2011 federal investigation that raised concerns about excessive use-of-force and bias policing among city officers.
While Sessions doesn’t outline which police departments will fall under his review, city officials say the SPD, now in its fifth year under federal oversight, is too far along in its reform process to have the Trump administration shut things down. Enforcement of the consent decree is ultimately up to the courts and Merrick Bobb, Seattle’s appointed federal monitor.
Mayor Ed Murray most recently addressed the consent decree on a Politico podcast:
The issue of race and policing has not gone away. For this Justice Department to back out of those and no longer offer cities tools to get police and those communities of color in a better place, I think is very dangerous. For us, the judge fully controls the consent decree. So it’s not going to matter if the Justice Department pulls out of Seattle, because we’re doing it.
Advocates who spoke with The Stranger also don’t seem worried about Sessions’ announcement. “We are confident the judge will continue his oversight of the consent decree that the City and the Department of Justice agreed to,” says Doug Honig, communications director for the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington. “Indeed, the City Council is currently moving forward to finalize details of the reform package, and the ACLU is supporting a strong, independent voice for the Community Police Commission.”
While Trump rolls back progress on police reform, it’s going to be more important than ever for Seattle’s communities to improve police-community relations and hold officers accountable, according to Fé Lopez, the Murray-appointed Executive Director of the Community Police Commission, one of the bodies created in response to the consent decree. “What happens locally will matter much more,” Lopez tells The Stranger. “That’s where we’ll have power.”
The City Council is expected next month to vote on key legislation that aims to bring Seattle much closer into compliance with the police department’s federal agreement. But those proposed reforms, in their current state, face opposition from the Community Policing Commission members who say they don’t go far enough to ensure independent oversight.
We’ll be covering the legislation’s next step this Thursday, when it faces the council's Gender Equity, Safe Committees & New Americans committee. Stay tuned.