by Sharayah Lane
Despite a 60 percent decrease in the Seattle Police Department’s (SPD) use of force practices, Seattle is showing few signs of letting up in its police accountability and reform efforts.
The Gender Equity, Safe Communities and New Americans committee, chaired by Seattle City Councilwoman Lorena González, met Monday to hear the Civilian Police Commission (CPC) recommendations in ongoing police accountability and reform efforts.
Thursday morning the committee intends to vote on the creation of a new three-part police accountability structure, consisting of the Office of Police Accountability, an Office of the Inspector General, and the Community Police Commission (CPC).
Each body will be assigned a particular set of oversight and review responsibilities consistent with the intent of the consent decree and necessary to ensure systemic accountability at SPD.
The CPC came about as one of the requirements of a consent decree handed down by the Department of Justice after their investigation found that SPD engaged in “a pattern or practice of excessive force that violates the U.S. Constitution and federal law” in 2011.
This meeting came after the Seattle Police Monitor released its assessment of SPD’s use of force (UOF) in April, concluding that overall UOF had gone down by 60 percent.
The assessment also found, however, that biases still occur, most notably that “SPD officers are more likely to point firearms at historically underrepresented [groups] than White subjects but are more likely to go “hands-on” with White subjects,” along with the issue that just a handful of officers are responsible for the majority of the use of force but there is no way to publicly track which specific officer is responsible in UOF incidents.
Of the first, and most prominent of the recommendations by the CPC was for the city to invest in ongoing accountability efforts focusing on longevity and moving away from the nationwide trend to wait for a major incident before making the needed changes.
“What does community oversight mean?” asked CPC co-chair Issac Ruíz “It starts by ongoing engagement, not just when there is crisis. We need to have accountability of the accountability systems themselves.”
Committee member Ruíz described modeling reform and accountability practices like an airplane, so that if one system breaks down there is always another to rely on in its place.
The CPC also made a request to the city council to ensure membership on the CPC is more accessible by changing committee requirements to allow members to sit on committee should they work but not live in Seattle citing the city’s increasing unaffordability as a barrier to participation on the committee.
A point of debate arose around whether the proposed additions were necessary. Councilwoman González cited a letter from SPD Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole saying the proposed reform legislation contained “abject complexity”. González said she disagreed.
Community members also voiced praise for SPD’s recent performance in regards to accountability.
“Our police department has come a long way from the May Day riots where I was threatened in my wheelchair by a cop with a can of mase,” said Robert Kenemar during public comment. “I think we have the best police department in the nation but to keep it that way we need to have civilian oversight,” he added.
One of the final key requests by the committee was around funding. The CPC asked to continue to receive full funding while working toward compliance with the consent decree.
According to the Seattle Police Monitor, after the SPD has achieved “full and effective compliance,” the police department must remain in compliance for at least two more years until the Consent Decree is dismissed by the court.
Sharayah Lane is an active seeker of good stories and social justice in Seattle. She is a new mama who loves spending time with her son Ian and watching him discover the world. She enjoys long naps, good books, and enjoying the beauty of the PNW.