With a police chief search and federally mandated police department reforms high on his priority list, Mayor-elect Ed Murray named a transition team advisor on Thursday who has decades of law enforcement experience and ties to Seattle’s police reform monitor, Merrick Bobb.
The mayor-elect's law enforcement and public safety advisor, Bernard K. Melekian, currently runs a consulting firm called The Paratus Group. But from 2009 until earlier this year, he was the director of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS). He also spent 13 years as the chief of police in Pasadena, California.
Murray's decision to find an experienced advisor on police issues fits with his campaign promise to focus on reform of the Seattle department. Current Mayor Mike McGinn at times resisted some of the U.S. Department of Justice's efforts to force reforms, which are being conducted under Bobb's oversight.
“Barney Melekian has rich and extensive experience in law enforcement at all levels of government, in academic research and as a consultant in the private sector,” Murray said in an emailed statement.
From 2004 until at least 2008, Melekian worked as a senior advisor at the Police Assessment Resource Center, a nonprofit that provides governments and police departments with law enforcement-related reviews, oversight assistance and research. Merrick Bobb is the executive director of the organization.
Seattle hired Bobb last year to monitor the implementation of a "consent decree" between the city and the U.S. Department of Justice. The consent decree, which McGinn eventually embraced, outlines steps that the city's police department must take to curb the use of excessive force by officers. While running for mayor, Murray said he'd like to see this reform process move more quickly.
Along with advising Murray on law enforcement and public safety issues, Melekian will also be responsible for setting up a police chief search process. The mayor-elect has said that he wants to move swiftly to select a replacement for interim chief Jim Pugel, who took over when former chief John Diaz retired earlier this year.
“I view the selection of police chief as the most important decision I make over the next four years as mayor,” Murray said in his statement. “We need a clearly defined search process that attracts excellent candidates, ensures candidate confidentiality and engages our communities.”
COPS, the federal program that Melekian headed up, provides grant funding and information to support community policing. “I’ve always believed that community policing at the end of the day was really nothing more than building relationships and solving problems,” Melekian said in 2010 interview with D.C. Public Safety Radio.
During Melekian’s time as the chief of the Pasadena Police Department, the city saw a decline in the number of gang-related homicides. The nonprofit run by Bobb and the Vera Institute of Justice conducted a 2006 study that looked at community policing practices that Melekian spearheaded in the city. “The PPD, under the leadership of Chief Bernard Melekian,” the report said, “has embraced community policing and committed itself to reducing crime as well as improving police-community relations.”
Melekian and Bobb worked together on at least one Police Assessment Resource Center report in 2008, which examined the use of deadly force by officers in the Denver Police Department.
Also known as a leader on mental health issues, Melekian, according to the press release announcing his position at COPS, served on the National Criminal Justice and Mental Health Consortium in 2002 and has received an Anne B. Kennedy Award from the Pasadena Mental Health Association.