Seattle Mayor Ed Murray says he’s committed to creating more power and independence for the civilian oversight of the police department. He hopes to advance legislation in the next several weeks, pending approval from a federal judge.
Last week Mayor Murray caused some confusion over the course of police reform in Seattle when he declined to reappoint the city’s top civilian watchdogs of the Seattle Police Department. But now he says he’s ready to seek passage of rules to bolster the role of civilian oversight in Seattle.
One change is a permanent citizens’ commission to address police issues – Murray says he’ll seek to meld the existing group that doesn’t have “enough teeth” with the Community Police Commission. That group was created in the wake of the city’s settlement with the Justice Department.
Murray: “So somehow we’re chatting or working on how we’re going to restructure those into a single citizen oversight committee that would be the strongest the city’s ever had.”
And he’s pledging to relinquish some of the mayor’s authority over the Office of Professional Accountability, which investigates police misconduct.
Murray: “I think it’s important that people have faith that there is independent oversight of the police department, regardless of who the mayor is, so again, I’m trying to put in best practices that will exist after I no longer occupy this office.”
The current OPA Director Pierce Murphy says he’s been stymied by rules requiring him to staff his office with sworn officers who rotate in and out. Seattle City Council member Lorena Gonzalez will shepherd this legislation through the council.
She says these changes could mean more civilians working within the OPA.
Gonzalez: “Certainly increased 'civilianization' is a best practice and a best standard in terms of police accountability.”
Both Gonzalez and Murray also support creating an Office of Inspector General to do wide-ranging analysis of police issues.
Gonzalez: “Having somebody in that type of role who’s really truly going to be that civilian watchdog and be able to identity and highlight and quickly communicate how the system can be corrected is going to be really important moving forward.”
There are many gears in Seattle’s police reform process – members of Seattle’s police union are voting on a tentative labor contract. And U.S. District Judge James Robart will weigh in on next steps for reforms in a hearing set for August 15.