"Critical milestones remain elusive" for the Seattle Police Department as it attempts to reform a pattern of misconduct, according to a report submitted to US District Court today by Merrick Bobb, a federally appointed monitor overseeing city's progress to meet a 2012 settlement agreement.
More than any other area, Bobb notes problems with the slow pace to track data and adequately oversee officers: "The Monitor has been concerned with, and quite frustrated by, the Department’s struggles to self-initiate, self-manage, and solve problems in some areas—particularly those related to technology and supervision." Without attacking individuals, the report telegraphs who is to blame while notably withholding any praise for the interim police chief or many assistant chiefs.
The report goes on to detail issues with "an irrational and convoluted system" for officer discipline, lagging internal investigations when officers have shot a suspect, and an entrenched culture that resists reform from the the brass all the way down the rank-and-file.
There are several positive comments, too, including praise for the "herculean effort" to train some 1,300 officers this spring on new force policies, the mayor's proactive involvement in reform, and a Community Police Commission's "constructive, thoughtful, and timely" advice on improving police policies.
However, much of the report is a symphony of dog-whistles and mixed-signals.
Bobb avoids directly blasting SPD officials responsible for the shortcomings, while being generous to the political players to the point of being somewhat contradictory.
For example, the report gushes with vague praise for Mayor Ed Murray—using language that implies contempt for former mayor Mike McGinn—but goes on to thoroughly blast the foot-dragging, obstinacy, and backward behavior caused by the very SPD leadership that Murray appointed. The report declares, "Perhaps the most hopeful turn of events in the last six months has been the active involvement of the Mayor’s Office in its oversight of the SPD," which is a shout-out to the mayor for his cooperation and a diss his predecessor's aloofness. But at the same time, the monitor notes that "the most significant substantive achievement and area of progress over the last six months" are new rules for using force, making stops, and avoiding biased policing—all policies developed and submitted to the court under the previous mayor and chief, before Murray took office.
The monitor tracked incidents in which Seattle police officers used force on suspects. Type I are more mild uses or force; type III use of force is most serious, including great bodily harm or death.
Murray also appointed interim police chief Harry Bailey, who cleared the SPD's upper decks in January and notably appointed Mike Washburn as his chief of staff and Nick Metz to oversee much of the department's information technology work. It is these two assistant chiefs who now face the most criticism. The monitor notes problems with providing enough supervisors to officers on the street—a problem that falls under Washburn's purview.
Meanwhile, Metz was the head of the IT Section "for the vast majority of the time period described in this report," the document says. Later in the report, the monitor writes, "SPD’s lack of reliable and accessible data leads to debate about data quality and analytical methods rather than on solving problems and squarely addressing important issues." Bailey also appointed Joe Kessler to run the operations division—and many of the other issue described in the report grew under Kessler's watch.
The report notes that it took several months under the Murray administration to review any officer-involved shootings (a delay caused partly by a new review process and partly by institutional lollygagging). Also delayed was a plan to staff the department with the correct the ratio of supervisors to officers; a workplan submitted in April "does not adequately detail" how that will be achieved. The monitor says the SPD will miss a June 30 deadline for the staffing plan.
Procedures for handling misconduct cases in department's accountability bureau, called the Office of Professional accountability, are also criticized. "Events during the last six months have made clear that SPD’s disciplinary system is byzantine and arcane," says Bobb, referring to a hubbub in which Chief Bailey, backed up by Mayor Murray, exonerated several officers even though they had been previously found guilty of misconduct. "Although the whole of the discipline system will likely need to be overhauled, the specific practice of the Chief being able to unilaterally reduce discipline or settle cases must change."
Meanwhile, the head of the discipline division was kept out of a scene where an officer had shot a man. Bobb wrote, "The Monitor is confident that trained [internal police] investigators can enjoy an expanded role at the scene without compromising the integrity of the [use-of-force] investigation."