mayor jenny durkan press conference

Durkan Releases Executive Order Outlining Methods To Begin Transitioning Areas of SPD to Civilian, Community Response

by Carolyn Bick

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan has released an Executive Order meant to “create an accountable and transparent timeline to evaluate Seattle Police Department (SPD) functions and identify areas of SPD response that can be transitioned to civilian and community-based responses,” according to a press release from her office on Oct. 1. According to the order, the first public deliverable — a work plan and community engagement timeline — will be available in October, while the last one — a final analysis report that examines several factors, including current SPD practices and functions, as well as community input on community policing — will be available in March 2021.

Officially called, “Reimagining Policing and Community Safety in Seattle,” the order mandates City departments to “support the citywide, community-led process to reimagine policing and community safety by centering the voices of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities.” It lays out a number of measures by which to begin to do this, including creating a Community Safety Work Group (SW), an SPD Functional Analysis Interdepartmental Team (IDT), and an SPD Functional Transfer Interdepartmental Team. All of these groups will take initial data-gathering actions.

However, the order neither explains how the mayor’s office arrived at these measures, nor does it go into detail regarding exactly who will be staffing the work group or either team. There is also a heavy SPD presence within a majority of the methods proposed, including those addressing internal oversight and public data sharing.

Instead, the order lays out the general makeup of the groups, explains how each is meant to function, and their purposes. Generally, the order says, each group’s existence and work is meant to gain public trust and invite participation in “the citywide effort to reimagine community safety,” including in budgetary processes.

The Department of Neighborhoods, Human Services Department, Seattle Police Department, and Office for Civil Rights will head the SW. According to the order, in conjunction with the IDT, the SW will “explore and solicit community input on models of community policing informed by evidence-based best practices,” including 9-1-1 “transformation,” which the order said started with “transferring the police 9-1-1 call and dispatch center out of SPD authority in the adopted 2021 City budget.” 

The SW and the IDT will also look into reforming police overtime policies, but it should be noted that this appears to be heavily reliant on SPD recommendations and actions, as the order says that “SPD shall recommend strategies in consultation with the SPD Functional Analysis IDT and identify specific actions to minimize overtime spending. Recommendations will consider the Auditor’s 2016 recommendation to establish a realistic overtime budget, examining staffing and reimbursement policies for special events, and establishing a plan and timeline to implement controls to improve monitoring of overtime department-wide and at the section level. Additionally, SPD shall implement interim policies and steps that can be taken to ensure all overtime is appropriately approved, supervised, and tracked by Command Staff supervisors.”

Neither the order nor the press release explicitly mentions the recently reported worsening overtime pay abuse within the SPD, nor the fact that a Seattle Times report failed to find the reasons behind why said abuse has worsened over time. It should also be noted that the IDT will likely include SPD labor representatives, as outlined later in this article.

The order says that the SW and the IDT will also recommend patrol and community policing measures, as well as address racial disparities in stops and detentions in alignment with the Consent Decree. It should be noted that the SPD and the City appear to already be out of compliance with the Consent Decree, as the Emerald reported here two weeks ago.

Finally, the SW and the IDT will both assist in the creation of “an innovation blueprint and implementation plan that utilizes technology, data, and digital tools to further increase transparency, build public trust, uphold civil liberties and expectations of privacy, and improve policing practices.” It is unclear at this time how this will differ from what the Consent Decree already mandates, regarding publicly available data around policing.

With community input, the SW on its own will “explore and recommend potential changes to state law that support the effort to reimagine community safety in Seattle and improve accountability, oversight and transparency of police policies and practices.” These recommendations include a uniform licensing and review system; an independent statewide police investigative entity; statewide reform of police labor laws; granting cities subpoena powers for police misconduct and civilian police oversight entities; and uniform training and inquest procedures.

Notably, the makeup of the IDT is more amorphous, as, according to the order, the group may be composed of any number of individuals from different departments, including — but not limited to — the Mayor’s Office; SPD; the City Budget Office (CBO), including Innovation & Performance; the City Attorney’s Office; the Seattle Fire Department (SFD); and the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT). This group is meant to “advise the Community Safety Work Group and Mayor on operational and functional aspects of SPD as it pertains to reimagining community safety,” and will “collaborate with and may submit requests for information to representatives that include” the City’s main police accountability departments — the Community Police Commission (CPC), the Office of Police Accountability (OPA), the Office of Inspector General (OIG), and the Center for Policing Equity — as well as SPD labor representatives and what the order calls “relevant commissions.”

The order says the IDT will conduct reviews of SPD policies and practices, and will make available several pieces of data. This includes 9-1-1 call analysis, as well as a fairly undefined fiscal analysis of the department, explained only as “[d]etailed reporting and analysis of departmental expenditures consistent with [SW]  priorities.” It will also release “minimum staffing needs for the department overall, as well as for patrol and specialty units.”

“Consideration should also be given to attrition trends, recruitment needs, officer overtime budget, work shift scheduling, early retirement incentive options, span of control, and Micro-Community Policing Plans that will be impacted by functional and staffing-level changes to SPD,” the section also reads.

It is unclear when these particular pieces of data will be available.

The SPD Functional Transfer Interdepartmental Team is once again amorphous. This team will be composed of — but, again, not limited to — SPD, the CBO, Department of Finance and Administrative Services (DFAS); the City’s Human Services Department (HSD); the City Attorney’s Office; SFD; Seattle Information Technology Department (SITD); and SDOT. The functional transfer team is meant to “support the successful transfer of certain functions out of SPD, as informed by community input and approved by the Mayor and Council.”

Carolyn Bick is a journalist and photographer based in South Seattle. You can reach them here and here.

Featured image from the Emerald archives. (Photo: Carolyn Bick)