The commission intended to keep police accountable to community members is looking to fundamentally restructure, leaving many watchdogs unhappy with the proposed changes.
The Public Safety and Human Services Committee of the Seattle City Council signed off on alterations to the Community Police Commission (CPC) that include eliminating a requirement for geographic representation, allowing the commission membership to decrease from 21 to 15 and hiring a deputy director. The legislation would also increase the amount of money that the volunteer commission can claim for reimbursement and public comment rules.
The City Council was expected to vote on the legislation on July 18.
Changes to the public comment policies drew criticism, particularly from members of the public who regularly engage with the CPC.
The CPC can’t handle critical public comment, said Valerie Schloredt, a community member who spoke with Real Change. Schloredt is one of a handful of people who regularly weigh in at CPC meetings. Members of the CPC have accused commenters of intimidation.
“This CPC should go away, and every member should quit,” Schloredt said.
Rev. Harriett Walden, a co-chair of the commission, disputed that characterization. People who are upset about the changes dominate the meetings and are abusive to commissioners who volunteer their time, Walden said.
“I draw my line. I will not tolerate screaming at me at all settings,” Walden said. Judge James Robart, who has overseen the consent decree under which the Seattle Police Department (SPD) has operated since 2012, has signed off on the CPC’s work, she added.
Cali Ellis, interim director of the CPC, also pushed back, saying that there are many avenues for the public to weigh in on the CPC’s work, including written feedback, a channel that hasn’t been used by the most vocal members of the public.
“Part of the issue with public comment is that it is a one-way street,” Ellis said. “It is an opportunity for one person, or several people, to just speak.”
The CPC’s community engagement staff has been working instead to engage with Seattleites, including new immigrants, who have been impacted by police violence.
“They are not necessarily going to participate in one-minute public comment, nor is that what they deserve,” Ellis said.
The CPC was created in 2012 and began its work in 2013 as one of three civilian oversight bodies meant to keep watch over SPD as part of the 2012 consent decree.
Other groups include the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) and the Office of the Inspector General (OIG). It wasn’t until the City Council passed an accountability ordinance in 2017 that the CPC was made permanent.
The OPA and OIG have also drawn criticism for failing to hold SPD accountable. According to the offices’ own statistics, also presented at the Public Safety and Human Services Committee, five SPD employees have received a written reprimand between Jan. 1 and June 21, 2023. One has been disciplined and 19 cases are pending. In the same time period, 31 allegations have been considered “sustained” while 362 have been considered “not sustained” for various reasons.
Howard Gale, a longtime police accountability advocate, said that Seattle hasn’t been innovative enough in the ways in which it has sought to increase civilian oversight of the SPD. They went to New York City to look at its review board, but passed over Newark, New Jersey, which has taken more aggressive steps to rein in its department.
“Newark was excluded because it was too radical,” Gale said.
Newark created a citizens’ review board that was empowered to investigate and enact discipline on members of the police force.
“It’s not just that the city hasn’t done stuff to show that they care about police abuse, it’s that they’ve actually worked assiduously and consistently to prevent that from happening,” Gale said.
Read more of the July 19-25, 2023 issue.