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Seattle's Police Chief search: Smooth sailing ahead

Past reform efforts have been marred by hesitancy and political infighting. How we've moved on.

Last week, the integrity of the police accountability process came under question when Chief Harry Bailey was criticized for reversing misconduct findings in several police discipline cases. Mayor Ed Murray, who first supported the Chief, later announced he would ask his special advisor on public safety, Barney Melekian, to lead a group of representatives from law, labor relations, the SPD and the federal monitor to provide a "thorough critical review of all six cases."

I serve as the co-chair, along with former King County Executive Ron Sims, of both Police Chief search committees. If the incident has taught us anything about the Seattle Police Department, it is both that trust is extremely fragile and that there are real longstanding issues with process and procedure that still need to be fixed. 

At the same time, as we enter a national Police Chief search, we should remember that, for the first time, there is actually broad agreement from a very diverse set of parties about the direction we need to go and how to get there.

This was not the case four years ago, when I served on the last Police Chief Search panel. At that time, although there was concern and discussion, there was no broad mandate to reform the police department. Just a few years before that search, in 2007, I also served on a police accountability blue-ribbon commission appointed by then-Mayor Greg Nickels.

Sitting alongside people like Jenny Durkan (now U.S. Attorney whose office has put SPD under a consent decree), our panel came up with a list of 29 recommendations, a majority of which were implemented. Unfortunately, some of the thorniest issues — OPA process, use of force policy and biased policing — were never resolved.

Today, we are in a very different place.

1. The Department of Justice consent decree, instituted in 2012, has validated decades of community complaint about these issues. No longer is there debate about whether we need to reform policies and practices—just how to do so.

2. Our new mayor has made police reform a priority. Thanks to the clear and focused cooperation of the U.S. Attorney’s office, the City Attorney’s office, the Mayor and the Council, the parties needed to create reform are finally on the same page instead of fighting amongst themselves about substance or politics. This past week’s events reveal cracks and fissures, but should also increase their resolve to stay focused and aligned in creating change.

3. Community input has been meaningfully integrated into the reform process. The Community Police Commission allows community members to provide formal input and recommendations for reform. And the consent decree mandates that the DOJ stay involved for two full years after reforms are made to make sure that they are both a) working and b) fair to both the community and the police department. 

4. The Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) has a new president and a new opportunity to show that they too want to be engaged in meaningful reform. The vast majority of police officers are smart, dedicated people who signed up for the force because they want to do a service to their communities, but today the morale of SPD, from all accounts, is at an all-time low.

Officers want to be treated with dignity and respect just as community members do. Many that I have spoken to are aching for permanent leadership that can fix the rifts, rectify bad processes and rebuild morale and trust across the department and the city. Ron Smith, the incoming President of SPOG, says he wants to push forward on reform; that that is what will serve the Guild’s members most. We should hold him accountable to those words and give him a chance to prove himself.

5. There is widespread agreement and deeper understanding among both community and police that if we want meaningful reform, we must change policies and procedures as well as culture. These things are integrally tied together — discipline and accountability become a way of changing culture — and consistent leadership up and down the chain of command will be essential. We need to be ready to re-examine what we have in place and throw it out if it is not working. That takes leadership and commitment from everyone.

This is the environment in which our police chief search is taking place. The larger Community Advisory Committee has already finished its work, facilitating seven community forums across the city to gather input, and providing criteria for the next police chief based on that input. That effort will feed into the work of the smaller search committee process, which has just begun and will result in the recommendation of three top candidates.

This time around, we have all the building blocks in place for real reform. There are new policies in place around use of force, “terry” stops and biased policing that will change what happens on the streets. A majority of beleaguered officers are ready to follow a real leader who wants to bring back respect and support to the work that they do every day. Seattle residents are engaged and want the best for their communities. Our Mayor has made police reform a centerpiece of his Administration — and will have to deliver if he is to be elected to another term. And, perhaps most importantly, the Department of Justice will not leave Seattle until it is satisfied that we have indeed reformed ourselves.

Now, all we need is the right Police Chief — a man or woman of tremendous integrity and courageous, visionary leadership who is willing to institute real culture change from top to bottom. We need someone who is as comfortable in front of the community or the media as they are with their officers; someone with a laser-like focus on what is good for Seattle. There are candidates across the country who will see this opportunity as the leadership and legacy opportunity of a life-time. We welcome their applications.

Pramila Jayapal is a Distinguished Fellow at University of Washington Law School and Distinguished Taconic Fellow at Center for Community Change. You can follow her on Twitter at @pramilaj or email her care of editor@crosscut.com.


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Mar 3, 7:17 a.m. Inappropriate

So Pramila -- you understand why you keep getting appointed to these panels, right? You are a female minority incapable of speaking truth to power.

Here's your chance to prove me wrong. You are a lawyer, appointed to a teaching position at the UW Law School. Let's see if you can mount an argument the way a competent lawyer would. I'll lay out a legal proposition, and you argue against it. Show everyone you are more than a twin-token tool of the power structure around here.

I say Sound Transit has an unconstitutional structure, and that it is an oligarchy that exists in violation of a federal constitutional provision and longstanding precedents of the US Supreme Court.

There's a 14th Amendment limit on the right of state legislatures when it comes to how municipalities they create must be structured. The relevant legal standard for ascertaining whether or not an appointive-board public entity’s structure complies with what the 14th Amendment requires is supplied by a 1967 US Supreme Court opinion known as _Sailors v. Kent Bd. of Education_:

http://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/387/105/case.html

That opinion addresses how appointive-board entities only may be delegated narrow powers, powers that merely allow them to effectuate legal policies established by representative legislative bodies superior to them.

Thing is, excessive policy-setting powers were delegated to Sound Transit's appointee-controlled board. If you don't know what policy-setting powers were delegated to that appointive board you'll be able to research that issue easily.

So show us your stuff. Argue Sound Transit has a legal structure. That way we might gain some confidence that you have a clue about public institutions and policy around here, and aren't on these blue ribbon panels merely as quota filler.

crossrip

Posted Tue, Mar 4, 1:39 p.m. Inappropriate

. . . I see you're a lecturer at the UW Law School. If you need some help formulating a response feel free to consult with the law professors there.

crossrip

Posted Thu, Mar 6, 9:29 a.m. Inappropriate

Pramila:

We want to believe you are an effective advocate for the public on that police oversight panel. Could you show us you possess some talent as a lawyer?

Presumably you understand Sound Transit's structure is unconstitutional. Despite that, do what a competent lawyer would do and give us a cogent legal argument that the state legislators did not violate that 14th Amendment limit on their powers addressed in the 1967 _Sailors_ opinion.

A good lawyer can anticipate other parties' legal arguments. What would Sound Transit's lawyers argue if that kind of claim were brought?

crossrip

Posted Thu, Mar 6, 8:13 p.m. Inappropriate

Help that clown below out, Pramila. He thinks Sound Transit's enabling legislation is legal because somebody told him a handful of lawyers in Olympia who work for the state didn't raise objections to the bill in 1992. Seriously, that's his argument.

The bar is low for you. Show everybody you can come up with a cogent legal argument. Cite US Supreme Court opinions.

crossrip

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 7:25 p.m. Inappropriate

. . . I'll pay you $500 to post three paragraphs here arguing Sound Transit's structure complies with what the 14th Amendment requires.

crossrip

Posted Mon, Mar 3, 7:47 a.m. Inappropriate

Crossrip is, as usual, right, even though off topic.

As to the cop job.

Who would want it? Not because of the DOJ mandate, but because no matter how good you are, the mayor (bless him) is likely to overrule or run your show.

You can't just do a straight ahead job, hold the troops accountable, because the union and lefties have you in a firm grasp of your short hairs.

Thank heavens that this position is part of the merry-go-round, like school superintendents, and you will come here for a couple of years, fall out of favor, and someone else will pick you up.

This is NOT a career enhancing position, furshure.

Geezer

Posted Mon, Mar 3, 11:22 a.m. Inappropriate

Yep, I would want such a panelist.
Dude, I was and am agreeing with you. ST is a boondoggle, along with CT and any transit agency who has a "shadow" kind of board, composed of pols with "other jobs" hence limited time/understanding of the transit agencies.

Geezer

Posted Mon, Mar 3, 12:01 p.m. Inappropriate

Sound Transit does not have a "shadow" board. It is out there for all to see.

In addition, the legal flaw with it isn't that the boardmembers have other jobs. The state legislators also have other jobs, and there's nothing wrong with that. The problem with Sound Transit's boardmembers is they got on that board because the three county executives appointed them on to it. That means Sound Transit is an oligarchy with an unconstitutional structure (due to the type and extent of policy-setting powers the state legislature delegated to that appointive board).

crossrip

Posted Mon, Mar 3, 11:35 a.m. Inappropriate

A lobbyist for illegals picking the police chief.

BlueLight

Posted Tue, Mar 4, 7:25 a.m. Inappropriate

Don't worry, when the minimum wage goes to $15 an hour most will be made unemployed.

Simon

Posted Mon, Mar 3, 5:36 p.m. Inappropriate

I will point out the obvious but always elusive problem for the Chief of SPD to deal with. If you can't fire Officers for telling lies, for escalating "citizen contacts" into beat downs because the citizen fails the "attitude test," then you won't be able to clean up the department.

Throw the Office of Professional Accountability in the garbage can, and come up with a meaningful way to investigate complaints, make findings and provide discipline where it is necessary.

Linus

Posted Tue, Mar 4, 6:07 p.m. Inappropriate

Crossrip wins the prize for this week's most extreme example of thread hijacking. Time to face reality: you lost your case. The Court disagreed with you. Get over it. Move on with your life.

Posted Wed, Mar 5, 6:50 a.m. Inappropriate

Hey -- I picked up a stalker! Paris Hilton and I now have something in common.

As you know, "R on Beacon Hill", there has been no litigation challenging Sound Transit's structure on 14th Amendment grounds.

Make yourself useful. Help out this quota-filler Pramila Jayapal and try arguing the state legislature did not violate the federal constitution by delegating all those governmental powers to Sound Transit's appointive board.

And don't hide behind the old "I'm an ignorant doofus when it comes to all legal issues" excuse. That wears thin.

crossrip

Posted Wed, Mar 5, 11 p.m. Inappropriate

The system doesn't, and shouldn't work that way -- and you know that. Statute law is considered constitutional unless and until someone brings suit and a court rules against the statute. Since you are the only one hot and bothered here, you need to file that suit. You're a lawyer, so do it. But I think you'd you rather just sit on your tired thumbs and rant, hitting that repeat key over and over.

Posted Thu, Mar 6, 7:30 a.m. Inappropriate

Is that what you think happened -- the state legislators knew Sound Transit's structure violated that 14th Amendment limit on their powers but they didn't care because no lawsuit would be filed for years?

crossrip

Posted Thu, Mar 6, 12:53 p.m. Inappropriate

No, that's not what I think, it's what *you* think. Caucus attorneys and the AG's office would've weighed in if they thought the state enabling legislation, authorizing local governments to form regional transit authorities, was constitutionally flawed. But they didn't. Only you have a problem, so sue away, and see how far you get this time.

Posted Thu, Mar 6, 1:58 p.m. Inappropriate

Let me get this straight: the only reason you think Sound Transit has a constitutional structure is that as far as you know caucus lawyers and staff at the AG's office didn't raise objections in 1992 to the enabling legislation bill? That's weak sauce. Plus, the legislators simply could have ignored those concerns and adopted the statutes anyway.

Staffers in Olympia didn't prevent the adoption of the old-Metro enabling statutes, and it was an unconstitutional municipality that operated around here for thirty-some years.

Oops. Your blind faith in “the Olympia process” obviously is misplaced.

Address the legal issue Pramila is avoiding. Provide some legal authority that might justify Sound Transit's utterly unique municipal structure. It's an oligarchy, in every sense. What legal authority might Sound Transit's lawyers rely on in the event a 14th Amendment challenge is raised on the grounds that the state legislators delegated excessive governmental powers to that appointive-board municipality?

You do understand that constitutional limit on state legislators' powers, right? The US Supreme Court addresses it in the 1967 _Sailors_ opinion.

crossrip

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