Wanted: Citizens To Oversee Seattle Police Reforms

Oct 11, 2012

Applications are now available to serve on Seattle’s new, court-ordered Community Police Commission. This citizen oversight board is part of the city’s agreement with the Department of Justice about police reforms.

This is not exactly a new idea. Seattle’s created civilian panels in the past to monitor police and propose changes. But City Council Member Nick Licata says this new one has a key difference.

“This one is very specific,” Licata says. “This one is basically saying, is the police department conforming to the reforms that are necessary to make our police department more accountable to our citizens?”

Another difference with this commission is that it’s a mandate from the Department of Justice.  Their investigation last year found Seattle police routinely used excessive force, often against minorities and mentally ill people.

The city’s now entered into a settlement to make some fixes, with the oversight of an independent monitor. The council’s public safety committee has drafted legislation about the role of this new commission. They’ve gotten input from community leaders. One of the main questions that’s come up is whether this task force will have any direct say in the reforms. Licata says it depends on the definition of "direct say."

“They will certainly be monitoring the police department, and for that matter they will review the reports and recommendations of the monitor,” he says. “They have the ability to issue their own reports. So, they will be a very public figure and they will have access to all the information. So in that sense, yes, they will definitely have a say.”

Licata also wants the commission to be able to address the federal court directly about Seattle’s compliance with the settlement. But that’s up to the judge.

Seattle officials are still figuring out staff support for this citizen commission and whether the volunteer members will earn a stipend. The deadline to apply is November 1. The council’s public safety committee plans to vote Thursday on an ordinance to create the new commission.