Council Passes Historic Police Accountability and Reform Legislation

Home » Council Passes Historic Police Accountability and Reform Legislation

Seattle, WA — By a vote of 8-0, Council unanimously approved Council Bill 118969, a measure related to Police Accountability.  The legislation, primarily sponsored by Councilmember M. Lorena González (Position 9, Citywide), is the first of its kind in the country and creates new, powerful, civilian- and community-led oversight systems that will effectively ensure constitutional policing in Seattle.

“Today’s vote crystallizes my vision for Seattle’s police accountability framework and our ongoing efforts to reform the Seattle Police Department,” said González, who chairs the Gender Equity, Safe Communities and New Americans committee. “Based on my experience in courtrooms, community and City Hall chambers I know that this legislation goes beyond systems-reform to get at the heart of police accountability: restoring trust between the police and communities most impacted by policing.” González also worked as a civil rights lawyer for a decade before seeking elected office.  Her prior law practice included representing people in excessive force and bias policing civil rights cases in federal court.

In December 2010, 35 organizations requested a formal investigation of the Seattle Police Department by the Department of Justice.  A settlement agreement with the City was reached in July 2012, and in August of that same year the court approved the settlement agreement, also known as the “Consent Decree” and appointed a Monitor to oversee the reform process.  In January of this year, Federal Judge James Robart’s initial approval of draft reform legislation provided the legal guidance the City needed to advance critical legislation to continue reforming the SPD.  Recognizing that the City’s Consent Decree was now five years old, González embarked on a public process to maximize input from Seattleites.

“This ordinance represents an important step in our ongoing work to strengthen Seattle’s system of police accountability. The City Council and the Community Police Commission, with support from the Mayor’s Office and City Attorney’s Office, have worked over many months to craft legislation so that the public and officers will have a system that is built on best practices, is consistent with community values, and will result in comprehensive and sustained independent oversight of the Seattle Police Department,” said Councilmember Tim Burgess (Position 8, Citywide). “We still have several critical steps to accomplish this year before this work is complete. We have asked the Mayor to move forward swiftly with seeking the review and approval of the Federal Court, and with collective bargaining with the unions, which provides officers a direct voice in shaping their working conditions and benefits. We will also be working with the Mayor to ensure that this oversight system is fully funded and that strong leaders are hired for these crucial oversight roles.  We will build on the foundation laid by this ordinance to fulfill our commitment for effective, constitutional policing in which all the people of Seattle have trust and confidence.”

For the past sixteen weeks, González has led Council’s public deliberations of the issues in a series of meetings in committee and after-hours public hearings. Additionally, Councilmembers González and Burgess, CPC leadership, Mayoral and Legislative staff, traveled across the Country to visit with officials and community advocates in New York, Los Angeles and New Orleans to gain invaluable insights into best practices.

The crux of the legislation rests in the creation of three co-equal organizations that will collaborate but remain independent from undue influence from each other and external forces: the Community Police Commission (CPC), the Office of Inspector General (OIG) and the Office of Police Accountability (OPA). The goal is to establish an accountability system that inspires confidence and legitimacy amongst complainants and law enforcement.

“Today, Seattle set a national model for civilian lead community oversight of the police.  As I said when I sent this legislation to Council, we in Seattle had a higher goal than simply meeting the requirements of the Department of Justice Consent decree. Our goal was to set the highest possible standard for police conduct, public oversight, and civic collaboration. Thanks to years of work by my team in the Mayor’s office, City Attorney Pete Holmes, the Seattle Police Department, Councilmember M. Lorena González and the Community Police Commission, this historic accountability legislation does just that. After this unanimous passage by Council, I will send this historic legislation to Judge Robart for his review and we will continue to engage in negotiations with the city’s police unions as we progress toward implementation of these monumental reforms,” said Mayor Ed Murray.

Upon passage, González thanked the Mayor’s Office, City Attorney Pete Holmes and recognized Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole, the CPC, the Department of Justice, current and former civilian SPD oversight entities, and many others who contributed to the process of writing the legislation. Her biggest thank you was delivered to Seattle’s community members, for their perseverance and commitment leading up to today’s landmark legislation.

Assuming approval by Judge Robart, the City will satisfy its legal obligations with regard to any aspect of the legislation that requires collective bargaining with the unions. As with the majority of Council-generated legislation, the remainder of the bill will take effect 30 days after Mayoral signature.


Editors please NOTE:  Additional details, including an infographic, is available ONLINE.

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