Judge Faults Seattle Police on Officer Accountability

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Citing a history of defiance by Seattle’s rank-and-file police union, a federal judge found that a portion of Seattle’s contract with the union fails to address officer accountability, the Seattle Times reports. The ruling threatens to undermine public confidence in a seven-year-old reform agreement between the city and the Department of Justice. Delivering a lengthy and dramatic ruling from the bench, U.S. District Judge James Robart said the city had fallen partly out of compliance with the agreement. Before the city can be released from federal oversight, it must respond to deficiencies that include a closed-door appeal process for officers who have been fired or disciplined, he said.

While praising as a “national model” the department’s improving areas such as use of force, crisis intervention, supervision and stops and detentions, Robart was sharply critical of the city’s longstanding inability to address officer accountability. “Ladies and gentlemen, we are better but we are not perfect,” he said, characterizing the positive changes in the department, including a sharp decline in the use of force, as “profound.” The decision reflected the highly publicized case of an officer who won back his job after being fired for punching a handcuffed woman. The ruling dealt a severe blow to Mayor Jenny Durkan and Police Chief Carmen Best, who, when a contract was reached last year with the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG), hailed it as a key step in the city’s effort to comply with federally mandated reforms. It almost certainly means the city and SPOG must reopen negotiations on what Robart described as allowing an untrained labor arbitrator to overturn or modify discipline imposed by a “seasoned and professional” chief of police. He questioned whether that complies with the Constitution and the law.

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