On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge James Robart issued a ruling clarifying that the city still needs to correct issues in its police accountability system. These problems led Robart to rule earlier this year that the Seattle Police Department had fallen partly out of compliance with a 2012 federal consent decree mandating that the city address allegations of bias in policing and the use of excessive force.
Robart also ruled Tuesday that, in finding ways to mend flaws in the SPD’s internal investigations of officer misconduct, Seattle may consult outside advisers.
And on Wednesday, an internal SPD inquiry found that an officer acted reasonably when he shot and killed a man armed with a handgun after a traffic stop last year, a shooting that has drawn deep scrutiny.
So Wednesday’s night’s police accountability forum at Centilia Cultural Center in Beacon Hill with candidates from many of the Seattle City Council races, was timely to say the least. And this time, both Kshama Sawant and Egan Orion were there.
The Seattle Police Officers Guild hosted an event last week that Sawant declined to attend. “Far too often, the conversation on police accountability has had to start at the grassroots level in the wake of tragic events, with the political establishment rushing to catch up, and the SPOG standing in opposition,” Sawant said in a statement on her boycott. “I stand with the Movement for Black Lives, which has called for independently elected community oversight boards with full powers over police departments.”
UPDATE: Thursday, the Seattle Police Officers Guild released its endorsements. The group chose not to make an endorsement in the District 3 race.
Wednesday night, Sawant and Orion found some shared ground — removing the statute of limitations for allegations of extreme police misconduct and on requiring consistent accountability systems for officers of all ranks.
“There’s no statute of limitations on the harm that this causes the victims, and so there shouldn’t be a statute of limitations on the perpetrator either,” Orion said.
Sawant took her calls one step further, adding there should be an explicit “whistleblower protection” for witnesses that could be intimidated in misconduct cases and that equal accountability is “a very initial, first step, but we need to go beyond that.”
The incumbent also called for full subpoena power for the SPD’s Office of Police Accountability to obtain information on officers, an issue that Robart cited in his ruling that the city was out of compliance with the consent decree. She also argued that there should be an independently elected body that also has subpoena power.
Sawant cast the only vote against the city’s proposed contract with the SPOG , which has over 1,300 members, almost a year ago, arguing that it would roll back necessary provisions in the city’s new police accountability law. She said Wednesday that she doesn’t think she’ll be able to serve on the Labor Relations Policy Committee, which deals with issues related to union negotiations, because of political pressures.
“I don’t think the political establishment will allow me to be on the LRPC because it’s very clear which side I am on,” Sawant said. She reiterated her support for unions, but “we have to make sure we understand that we’re talking about the police. Yes, they have the right to bargain for their wages and benefits but they are officers with guns and so there is a question of racial racism and excessive use of police force.”
Orion said he would like to serve on the LRPC and called the council’s 2017 police accountability ordinance, which implemented a three-layer oversight system, the “gold standard.”
“Negotiations are an iterative process,” he said. “You win some and you lose some and I realize that this is very dear to many people in this room because these negotiations have direct consequences on your lives, but when you’re negotiating between the city and the union, you try to get as much as possible.”
Both candidates agreed that officers working off duty in uniform but hired by outside employers need to be held to the same standards they would on duty. Orion noted that with understaffing at the SPD, he would rather they do conventional police work.
The Broadway Business Improvement Area head argued that most police officers currently want oversight to the chagrin of some attendees.
“There’s no doubt that the vast majority of cops out there serving their communities want to have accountability reform out there; they’re trying to win back the trust of the community where they’ve lost that trust,” Orion said. “I think that we should encourage there to be a movement from within the police officers to support these accountability measures.”
Sawant, meanwhile, said that public safety is not an issue because of a lack of cops — while her opponent told the Seattle Times that the city needs to “stabilize” its police force — but because of more systemic problems.
“Public safety problems are not because we don’t have enough police, it’s because of inequality,” said Sawant, who mentioned research on this issue and quoted writer James Baldwin in her answer. “We want to address public safety? Let’s make sure we tax big business and fund public schools, end racism and oppression and fund housing.”
Ballots for the general election have been mailed out and drop boxes are now open. They won’t close until the evening of November 5.
Much of the attention on the race for D3 this week turned to money after Amazon tossed another million into CASE, the political arm of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. With $241,257 already spent on his behalf by CASE (mostly on mail and canvassing), D3 candidate Orion is its largest beneficiary
You can find all CHS Election 2019 coverage here.
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