The last chapter in the United States of America v. City of Seattle police-reform case could be written within a year, if all goes well. If, that is, the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild wants to help write it — or would rather fight it.
Last week, in a hearing before U.S. District Court Judge James Robart, Seattle residents heard progress made in the 56 months since the U.S. Department of Justice issued its scathing investigation into the city’s unconstitutional policing.
Consider just one data point, cited by Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes. A decade ago, 70 percent of police encounters with people in psychiatric crisis ended with force.
Now, after the consent decree required widespread crisis-intervention training to de-escalate such incidents, force is used just 1.6 percent of the time.
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Remarkable progress — the kind of good police work that builds community trust.
But the last chapter in the reforms requires a stronger system to hold officers accountable. Among the necessary changes are civilian investigators for police-misconduct complaints, an end to a weak, officer-friendly disciplinary review board, and the creation of a truly independent inspector general to monitor the department.
When the police officers union voted down a new four-year contract last month, progress toward those accountability reforms stopped. Reporting by The Seattle Times suggested officers wanted more monetary concessions for those reforms, as they got in a 2008 contract.
Cue Robart and a voice-from-above reminder about the power of the federal court.
On Monday, he chastised the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild. If the union held the federally mandated discipline changes “hostage” for more money, Robart said he could intervene in the collective-bargaining process to force through changes.
“I’m sure the entire City of Seattle would march behind me,” Robart said.
He’s right. Even in a city with a labor-friendly history as strong as Seattle’s, residents demand an accountable police force.
The membership of the guild should listen to Robart’s admonition. New Seattle Police Officers’ Guild President Kevin Stuckey assured reporters it would.
Let’s hope so. A showdown over collective-bargaining rights — with the remaining reforms in the balance — could critically damage the city’s relationship with its officers.