Seattle City Council Votes To Strengthen Oversight Of Police

May 23, 2017

The Seattle City Council approved an ordinance Monday to increase civilian oversight of the police department in a unanimous vote.

"There really is unity around this," Councilmember Sally Bagshaw said. "When we do get together and we do listen to each other, we can come up with this kind of solution."

The legislation calls for additional civilian staff for the Office of Professional Accountability, the agency responsible for investigating individual cases of officer misconduct.  

It also creates the Office of the Inspector General for Public Safety. That office would be in charge of overseeing and enforcing department practices more broadly.

The Community Police Commission would become a permanent entity and its membership would be increased from 15 to 21. Its job would be to review police department practices and those of the other two agencies from a community perspective.

The commission was initially created as a temporary body to comply with a 2012 consent decree between Seattle and the U.S. Department of Justice.

"[The ordinance] is a model of what other communities across the country can expect to see as a result of Department of Justice consent decree processes that are fueled by community support," said Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez, the legislation's sponsor.

During the public comment period at Monday's City Council meeting, people were largely supportive of the new legislation.

But some expressed concern that recommendations from the commission might not have teeth and worried that its expanded role might not be adequately funded.

City Attorney Pete Holmes lauded the ordinance as an accomplishment, but said, "I don’t agree with everything in this ordinance. Many of my suggestions represent deep-seated beliefs that I have developed over years of working on police accountability issues and in guiding the city through its federally mandated and supervised consent decree. "

The ordinance still needs to be reviewed by U.S. District Judge James Robart to make sure it does not conflict with the federal consent decree.