Meet Seattle’s First Inspector General for Public Safety, Lisa Judge

by Emerald Staff

After a nearly yearlong search process, hundreds of applicants, and countless hours of deliberation the Seattle City Council is finally posed to appoint Lisa Judge as Seattle’s first ever Inspector General for Public Safety.

Judge’s office, formed after passage of a historic police accountability ordinance by the council last May following the Department of Justice’s 2012 Consent Decree agreeing that the city would eliminate unconstitutional policing, will provide civilian oversight to the management, practices and policies of the Police Department and the Office of Police Accountability, which conducts internal investigations.

Judge, who was first nominated for the position earlier this month, comes to the role after more than two decades working as the Principal Assistant City Attorney for Tucson Arizona, where she served as senior in-house counsel for the Tucson Police Department (TPD).

The criminal law attorney also has an extended background facilitating anti-bias trainings for police departments across the country is no stranger to police reform. She led the effort to implement both a Critical Incident and a Force Review Board while at the TPD.

On Wednesday morning, as part of the first step in her appointment process, Judge appeared in front of Councilmember Lorena González’s Gender Equity, Safe Communities, New Americans and Education committee.  

González’s committee voted unanimously to recommend Judge’s appointment as Inspector General to the entire city council, which will hold a confirmation vote on April 30.

Prior to Wednesday’s public meeting, The Emerald spoke with Judge about the potential impact of her new role.

You’ll have general oversight of the policies, and be working closely with the Police Department, the Community Police Commission (CPC), and the Office of Police Accountability (OPA). How do you see your role playing out?

At first, I see my role as a facilitator of the community’s needs, and when I say “community” I mean  everyone involved in the service delivery of policing – from residents, to officers, to administrators, and other stakeholders. I want to do a listening tour initially, to understand the system and what’s currently working for folks and not working. My main role, aside from being a watchdog, is as a facilitator of change. Not change for the sake of change—Any change we look to implement has to be value added to the current system. 

What do you say to those who look at this new office, in relation to the already existing Office of Police Accountability, and the Community Police Commission, and ask what difference it’ll truly make in effectively providing police accountability and equitable policing across the city’s communities? Those pre-existing offices once promised the same thing.

There does appear to be a lot of cooks in the kitchen with regard to police accountability, but each office in the accountability structure has a distinct function. An important part of the design of the accountability system is that none of these offices can do the job alone. They each have a unique role to play, and all have to learn to work together. OPA has to conduct full and fair investigations. The CPC must speak for community. The IG must work with everyone and conduct systemic oversight over the entire system.

One of your responsibilities is going to be obtaining buy-in for from communities, especially communities of color that may have experienced tense relations with law enforcement in the past. How does your status as an “outsider” impact that?

Being an outsider allows me to come in with a level of independence that someone selected from around the Pacific Northwest region might not have. I’m not part of your current system, so I have a fresh set of eyes to evaluate the system and elicit input from communities who may not have previously felt heard.

Recently, the Seattle Police Monitor conducted its tenth systemic assessment to evaluate SPD’s progress in the areas of stops, searches and seizures. Though the monitor found SPD in initial compliance with the creation of a bias-free policing policy, it also found that “an individual’s race alone helps to predict the likelihood of being stopped and frisked by an SPD Officer”.

Additionally, a recent Seattle Times report also found that people of color are issued jaywalking tickets at a higher rate than their white counterparts. How do you intend to elicit trust from Seattle’s’ communities of color?

The question I ask myself is how can I hear from community members about what is or is not working in some nontraditional ways, especially from disenfranchised communities. It is common to hold forums and meetings, but those methods are not the answer for folks who may feel truly disenfranchised.

I will look for suggestions about ways to get non-traditional perspectives. The issues and solutions will likely come directly from the community, and I have to be willing to get out and engage with people. I don’t want community members to feel they have to go to City Hall or the Municipal Tower to be heard or participate in the process. We’ll need to have varying and numerous opportunities for input, which may mean meeting in more casual settings, so we can build inroads. I’m hoping to come in with a clean slate, and hoping people will give me a chance.

You visited the Seattle Police Department in your previous job to gauge what policies might be imitated by Tucson police officers. Where do you think our police department stands today relative to others across the country?

I’ve had much experience with police departments from across the country. While it’s by no means perfect – a perfect police department doesn’t exist- currently, Seattle is ahead of the curve in many ways compared to other departments. Seattle has implemented some very progressive practices, and is genuinely viewed as on the forefront of progressive policing. The caveat and challenge of course, is whether the communities SPD serves view it that way. Even in the consent decree filings, however, there is an acknowledgment by the Monitor, the city, and the CPC that there remains a lot of work to be done.

It is important to acknowledge that the” ideal police department” is always going to be a moving target, as social science and best practice research inform policing. We can strive to advance and use the best science and understanding to keep moving forward, but there will likely never be an “ideal” police department.

During a five-year period, while you were at the Tucson Police Department, a report found that officers there were infrequently disciplined for excessive use of force. Out of 186 complaints only 7 were deemed valid. You had no disciplinary oversight of police conduct in your previous role, but you were steeped in police culture.  How do you uproot certain things out of that culture that might be problematic?

Police departments, in general, don’t do a great job reviewing force except when it’s a use of deadly force. After the Consent Decree, Seattle has been one of the leaders in reviewing lesser levels of force and excessive use of force. That’s something more department’s need to do.  As an attorney at a police department, I was never winning any popularity contest, so I’m no stranger to taking the approach of speaking out on issues and pressing for reform—which will be made easier with the independence of the Inspector General position.

To address things that are problematic in a police department, it’s incredibly important to understand policing as a culture and in terms of the systems. My first mission is to learn everything I can about SPD. I already come with a solid foundation of understanding policing. I’ve done a fair amount of training regarding implicit bias, and I have a good understanding of the human brain and human instincts. Training is vital to raise awareness of implicit biases. We as humans who all have some unconscious bias, must first become aware of our own biases, and then seek to raise our conscious awareness and challenge our biases outright.

Before your office can wield its full capacities, the city still has to wrap up negotiations with the Seattle Officer’s Guild with the, is there any concern that your office might be watered down after that negotiation process has concluded?

I don’t know enough about the specifics of the confidential labor negotiations to offer a firm comment, but I have a good understanding of the obligations of my position. I’m primarily concerned with establishing the IG office and not concerned terribly concerned about having any authority watered down.

How do you respond to critics who say yet another oversight department will further diminish officer morale and make it more difficult to do their jobs?

I would challenge that assumption and argue that implementing the concepts of procedural justice and constitutional policing can actually have the effect of making the job of policing more effective, and in some ways easier. In my experience, a lot of resistance to change is based on fear of the unknown. When provided training about effective communication and de-escalation, and give officers the tools to interact more effectively with people, to respect their humanity and dignity, it makes it easier for police to do the job. I think once officers get comfortable with the notion that they should strive to treat the people they encounter like family members and friends, they themselves get treated better. At the core, it is the concept of procedural justice.

So police accountability to the community and police feeling supported by that same community can go hand in hand?

Those concepts are not mutually exclusive. They co-exist when we have people who are in authority that have legitimacy in the eyes of the community. We have it when people are treated with respect and dignity, with procedural justice concepts underpinning police work.

In the two highest-profile local officer-involved shootings in recent memory, Charleena Lyles and Che Taylor, do you think things would have potentially played out differently had your position been put in place?

That’s a level of prognostication that is not productive to engage in. I won’t speculate about a different result, but I hope my office provides SPD with the very best tools available to engage with the community, and equips officers with the best training possible to do good police work.

That said, I think it is essential to have an Inspector General in place to make sure all events like these are fully and fairly investigated, and so that we learn and improve.

It’s currently popular to decry the value of someone bringing their unique racial and social experience to a position as “identity politics”. In addition to your being a seasoned criminal law attorney, you also identify as Latina and a member of the LGBTQIA+ community. How do you think those experiences will help inform your approach to this position?

I think it helps me because I’m willing to acknowledge the legitimacy of other perspectives. I find incredible value in having as many other perspectives as possible at the table, and acknowledging the value in diversity. When another perspective is added, it creates for a richer dialogue.

How will you ultimately measure whether are not you were successful in this role?

I don’t know what I don’t know, and I won’t have a full understanding of what success means to the Seattle community until I get into the weeds. What I’m ultimately hoping is that my office is able to set up a system and processes that results in SPD consistently engaging in constitutional policing. I want officers invested in communities they’re serving, and to make the community feel that they have a real voice and stake in the policing of our community.

3 thoughts on “Meet Seattle’s First Inspector General for Public Safety, Lisa Judge”

  1. So, someone who used to be an attorney for cops is going to make the racist and murderous Seattle cops more “accountable.” Someone who used to work with the Tuscon Prosecutor’s Office (which maintains a very close relationship with the police) is going to now hold cops accountable. And she was APPOINTED (SELECTED) for this role rather than ELECTED by the community.

    Am I the only one who thinks this stinks?

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