SPD officer Eric Faust hit a suspect in 2012. UNlike most officers accused of misconduct, he was punished with an eight-day suspension.
  • SPD officer Eric Faust hit a suspect in 2012. Unlike most officers accused of misconduct, Faust was punished with an eight-day suspension.

This week in print, I argue that SPD reform is backsliding. So: How to turn this squad car around? I asked civil-rights lawyer David Perez, SPD discipline auditor Anne Levinson, mayoral law-enforcement consultant Barney Melekian, and a few other SPD watchers, and combined the best answers below.

Pushing these changes will probably enrage the city's onservative police union, called the The Seattle Police Officers' Guild (SPOG), but here's what Mayor Ed Murray must do:

1. Hire a better chief. Sounds easy, but the painful truth is that Mayor Murray's last pick for a chief was interim appointee Harry Bailey, who has caved to union pressure, elevated union cronies to senior ranks, made statements that aren't true, and protected cops already found guilty of misconduct. Even so, when Murray was asked for his "best-case scenario kind of candidate" for a permanent police chief, Murray said in a TV interview, "Well, um, I am looking for Chief Bailey, actually. You know, if I were to describe somebody, I would describe him." Murray needs to stop this denial—that his handling of the SPD, selection of the chief has gone swimmingly—and pick the opposite of someone like Bailey. That chief must be willing wipe the decks of union cronies.

2. Crush the cop union this year in contract negotiations. The current employment contract expires at the end of 2014. Murray's HR department will negotiate it, and Perez says this is the chance to implement several key reforms. On the other hand, he says, "If we get a contract similar to the current contract, reform will remain elusive." So, what's the first thing to change in the new contract? Shrink the entire misconduct system so officers have only one avenue to appeal misconduct verdicts. Right now, cops have three ways to challenge cases, and they enjoy more process rights than the criminals they arrest.

3. Move final decisions on appeals out of the chief's hands. Ideally a civilian should mete out punishments, perhaps someone outside of the SPD entirely.

4. Eliminate "training" as a punishment.. "Despite statements to the contrary," Auditor Levinson wrote in a report this month, "training has been and remains an option that the chief can require in addition to discipline."

5. Let complainants appeal decisions in misconduct cases if they're unhappy with the outcome. Right now, before the chief ever issues discipline, officers (joined by a SPOG representative) can make their case to the chief in a Loudermill hearing to rebut the complaint. But the person who complains never gets to rebut the officer. This makes the accountability system slanted in the officer's favor.

6. Open discipline hearings to the public. Then publish the final dispositions of the cases for public review.

7. Consult the city attorney's office on all misconduct settlements. The city's lawyers must then issue a memo about their rationale for settling the case.

8. State explicitly that SPOG is not required to defend officers who engage in indefensible conduct. Because, amazingly, this isn't perfectly to everyone already. It needs to be made clear in contract negotiations.

9. Don't retroactively make up for raises following delays during contract negotiations. One of the problems with the contracts is that they often expire while negotiations with the city are at loggerheads. But when the parties do sign a contract, cops get back-pay. "Build in a provision that prohibits retroactive pay raises so that there is a real cost to SPOG if a contract isn't negotiated on time," Perez says. "Every day they're operating under an old contract represents an irreversible hit to their wallets rather than a deferred benefit." That gives the city leverage to push SPOG into a new contract sooner.

10. Act on recommendations from the Community Police Commission. The commissioners will issue a comprehensive proposal this spring for changes within the SPD. Much of it is expected to implicate the SPOG contract.

SPOG will likely fight these changes.

But city hall must be willing to go to war with SPOG in contract negotiations and be willing to appoint a chief who refuses to capitulate to SPOG's agenda. Right now, that's not happening. Right now, Mayor Murray insists he's not in SPOG's pocket, that reform stalled only under his predecessor, that he is an agent for change, and that recent misunderstandings were a result of "semantics." Right now, Mayor Murray insists the best-case scenario for a new chief is someone exactly like Bailey.

That's insane.

Read the whole story here.