Story Summary

Seattle Police Dept. agrees to reforms after DOJ forces issue

In the wake of high-profile incidents of alleged police brutality, the Department of Justice announced March 31, 2011, it was launching a formal civil rights investigation into SPD practices.  It later found the department had engaged in excessive use of force and ordered changes.  Under a court-approved consent agreement with the DOJ, the police department agreed to implement reforms.

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SEATTLE — When the Department of Justice came down hard on the Seattle Police Department, it cited as one problem the internal investigations process.

The DOJ said the way that the SPD polices its own police officers needs to change.

opaThe biggest thing that’s changed is there is a new man in charge.

Pierce Murphy is now heading up investigations of officer misconduct in the SPD, a position he’s held for a few months.  It’s his job to take complaints from the community – everything from general rudeness to excessive force – and determine whether they are justified and what the punishment should be.

“The only way I can fail is if I’m concerned about what other people are going to think of me,” said Murphy.

Murphy vows to bring much more independence and transparency to the process, and is actually encouraging citizens to come forward if they have any bad interactions with officers.

“Nobody likes to hear negative things, but it’s the only way you improve,” he said.  “If all you hear is people patting you on the back and saying you’re doing a good job, you’re missing a lot.”

One clear way that Murphy is working to restore trust in the complaint process is to very publicly move his office out of SPD headquarters.

“I’m not a police officer and I’m not here representing the police department,” Murphy said.  “I’m here representing the community that has a legitimate need to hold the police accountable and provide them with the support they need when they are.”

Whenever a misconduct complaint against an officer is filed, Murphy reviews the allegation and decides whether a full investigation is warranted.  If so, his Office of Professional Accountability (OPA) interviews all witnesses, including the officer or officers involved, and comes to a conclusion, with a punishment if warranted.

But Murphy admits that even with a more transparent system there will always be incidents on the street that people aren’t happy with.

“Let’s face it, policing sometimes is a messy business,” Murphy said, “even if officers are doing everything right and using all the skills and tools at their command in the right way.  Sometimes, bad things happen, and sometimes it’s messy and people sometimes unfortunately get hurt.”

In the past, some community groups have argued that the OPA was too soft when it came to officer discipline.  Murphy says he will work hard to change that impression, including writing a full, public report to accompany each case his office handles.

“Every day I have to remind myself, I’m not here to please somebody, I’m not here to be popular,” Murphy said.  “I have to ask myself, am I really basing this on the facts or am I basing it on a bias of some sort, either  towards the complainant or towards the officer.”

Murphy agrees, people will have to trust him.

“Absolutely, that’s true,” he said.  “It boils down to trust.”

SEATTLE — Seattle Assistant Police Chief Nick Metz said Wednesday he had been “informed” that he will no longer be an assistant chief, and that he has agreed to remain on at the Seattle Police Department as a captain.

metzIt was the second demotion of an assistant police chief this week and comes two weeks after a federal monitor’s report that criticized the SPD’s implementation of reforms demanded by the Justice Department. Earlier this week, Assistant Chief Dick Reed had taken a voluntary demotion to captain.

The moves also come as Mayor-elect Ed Murray, who wants to pick a police chief, prepares to take office in January.

The Seattle Times, citing sources, reported that interim Police Chief Jim Pugel gave Metz an ultimatum: Take an assignment to captain or accept a severance package.

In a letter to his colleagues Wednesday, Metz wrote, in part:  “It has been decided that there will be a change in the face and structure of leadership at the Seattle Police Department.  I have been recently informed that, effective December 2nd, I will not be part of that team.

“Over the last 10+ years, as a member of the senior command staff, it has been my honor to serve this great city and its incredible people.  Through the years there have been many public safety changes and challenges.

“No matter what the change or challenge, the women and men of the Seattle Police Department (both sworn and civilian) have always stepped up, ready to serve our great city.  Remembering how our incredible women and men responded to such incidents like Cafe Racer, May Day 2013, the manhunt to find the killer of Officer Timothy Brenton, the Jewish Federation Shooting, and the thousands of incidents every year should make us all feel very proud.

“Though no longer a member of the senior leadership command, I will resume my leadership role as a Captain.

“I will continue to serve this City with the same level of care and professionalism that I promised when I took my oath over thirty years ago. “

In an internal SPD email issued Wednesday, Pugel said he had planned to announce the staff decisions next Monday, but “owing to rumors and disclosures that did not originate from my office” he decided to go ahead and announce them late Wednesday.

“I have asked Assistant Chief Nick Metz to return to his civil service rank of Captain,” the Pugel email said. “This is the permanent civil service rank that all Assistant Chiefs and – in my case – the Chief of Police hold. I thank Nick for his contributions in the role he held as Assistant Chief, and look forward to his continued efforts in the critical assignment of Captain.

“I am also announcing my decision to promote Captain Carmen Best to the rank of Assistant Chief. She will command the Investigations Bureau. For those of you who have had the pleasure of working with her, you will know Carmen for her decisive leadership, efficiency as an administrator and tireless work ethic.

“And, finally, I want to announce the assignment of Captain John Hayes to command the South Precinct. John is highly regarded as a leader in our department and has the privilege of having close ties to the precinct that he serves.

“I have given extensive consideration to these decisions over the last weeks and months, and have been guided in my commitment to the four pillars of our mission: Justice, Excellence, Humility and Harm Reduction. I believe these decisions will help us to further our progress towards these important goals and I thank all of you for your dedication and service.”

Local News

SPD assistant chief agrees to demotion


Interim Chief of Police Jim Pugel (Left), and former assistant chief Dick Reed

SEATTLE — One of Seattle’s highest ranking police officers recently agreed to a voluntary demotion in the face of continued criticism of SPD’s data collection work.

According to the Seattle Times, Assistant Chief Dick Reed has taken a voluntary demotion to captain. The voluntary demotion comes two weeks after federal monitors underseeing mandatory reforms of the embattled police department critiqued the department’s data collection work that suggested the department’s inability to collect reliable data. The report called the department’s ability to track and analyze data “at best,weak.”

Reed will be replaced by Capt. Mike Washburn, who has been with the department since 1986.

The move was suggested by Interim Police Chief Jim Pugel, the Times reported, indicating that Pugel could make further department changes before Mayor-elect Ed Murray takes office in January.

Reed was the head of the Field Support Bureu, whose duties included supervising information technology and predicting where crime could occur.

The Times reported police chiefs rarely — if ever — take a demotion to captain.

Local News

Federal court-appointed monitor critical of SPD reforms

SEATTLE — The federal monitor overseeing Seattle Police  reforms has some harsh words for SPD’s ability to change the culture inside police ranks.

A settlement agreement was reached between the Department of Justice and Seattle last year, after a federal report found Seattle police engaged in a pattern of  unnecessary force.


Monitor Merrick Bobb

Merrick Bobb, who is monitoring the reforms, reports “significant  disappointment and frustration across several areas.” One of those areas is officer-involved shootings. Bobb said, “The processes do not guarantee anything close to a thorough, fair  and impartial investigation.”

Bobb is also critical of the in-car cameras that officers are supposed to use, saying video and audio are often missing from police incidents.

“That tells me we still have a long way to go,” said Seattle City Councilman Bruce Harrell, chairman of the council’s Public Safety Committee.

Acting Police Chief Jim Pugel said it took a while for the department to get to where it is and, “I don’t expect it to get fixed overnight.”

Pugel also said he is diligent at looking at areas where SPD can improve and is working hard with the monitoring team to get there.

“I believe we’re heading in the right direction,” Pugel said.

SPD does have 30 days to respond to this recent report card before the final version is presented to a federal judge.

The city has 30 days to comment on the draft before it is presented to a federal judge.

Local News

Report critical of reform efforts by Seattle Police

imgresSEATTLE — The federal monitor overseeing Seattle Police reforms has some harsh comments for SPD’s ability to change the culture inside police ranks.

A settle agreement was reached between the Department of Justice and Seattle in 2012, after a federal report found Seattle Police engaged in a pattern of unnecessary force.

Merrick Bobb, who is monitoring the reforms, reports, “significant disappointment and frustration across several areas.” One of those areas is officer-involved shootings. Bobb said, “the processes do not guarantee anything close to a thorough, fair, and impartial investigation.”

Bobb is also critical of the in-car camera’s that officers are supposed to use, saying video and audio are often missing from police incidents.

The city has 30 days to comment on the draft before it is presented to a federal judge.

stolen cop carSEATTLE — The mayor and interim police chief announced that the city will soon see 10 more police officers on the street as a result of a $1.25 million federal grant.

Mayor Mike McGinn and Interim Police Chief Jim Pugel welcomed the Department of Justice’s Community Orienting Policing Services (COPS) grant Friday.  The announcement comes on the heels of the addition of 15 new officers allotted for hire in the 2014 budget, and 27 new officers allotted for hire in the 2013 budget.

COPS program hires will be deployed equally into each of the city’s five precincts as part of the department’s Community Police Team (CPT) program. The CPT program focuses resources to long-term and chronic problem areas of the city, McGinn said, and encourages officers to work directly with the community in combating the “root causes of crime.”

The grant mandates that four military veterans be part of the new hire.

McGinn said the grant will help the department make strides toward securing trust from the community. The SPD is currently undergoing DOJ-mandated reform.

“This federal grant will help us continue to put more officers in our neighborhoods and walking beats to protect public safety,” McGinn said.

The Downtown Seattle Association released a statement in support of the grant, saying more officers are indeed needed to stop illegal activity in the area.

“We look forward to seeing the new officers out on the streets of downtown,” the association said in a statement.

McGinn is running for re-election against former state Sen. Ed Murray in November. Murray is currently leading in most polls.

mcginnSEATTLE — In response to the growing frustration and concern over downtown safety, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn announced Thursday that more than $3.5 million will be allocated to combat the problem. As part of his plan, he wants more help for the mentally ill and drug addicted, who have been the perpetrators of much of the recent violence and disorder.

McGinn called it “a responsible, holistic approach to services and enforcement.” The mayor also called it a “paradigm shift” from how things have been done in the past when it comes to policing the downtown streets.

Some of the money will be spent on new cops to enforce the law, but the biggest change in strategy is a new plan to give drunks, drug addicts and the mentally ill a chance to get help instead of being jailed, where they often serve some time and then end up back on the streets causing the same old problems.

For “low-level, non-violent offenders with substance abuse problems, arrest and incarceration is not the solution for that person,” McGinn said. “Substance abuse treatment issues are.”

Given how controversial downtown public safety has become in this year’s mayor’s race, with downtown businesses especially critical of McGinn for not doing more, today’s announcement was surprising for the broad coalition —  law enforcement, civil rights groups, human service providers, and, yes, the downtown business community – who stood with McGinn to support the effort.

“This is a really good start and I think a good model,” Kate Joncas, president of the Downtown Seattle Association said. “The encouraging thing is now we have a partnership among everybody that needs to be at the table.  If we can stick together we might be able to make continued changes.”

Police Union Endorses Murray

But just a few hours after today’s moment of unity, a very different message about McGinn and public safety was announced. In a big blow to the mayor’s re-election campaign, the Seattle Police Union endorsed his opponent, Sen. Ed Murray.

“Seattle City Government is broken,” Rich O’Neill, president of the Seattle Police Officer’s Guild said. “Many have called it dysfunctional and we need someone with the ability to unite people and bring all the different groups, all the stakeholders together, and to work on the problems that we have.”

O’Neill argues that the city could have avoided having the Department of Justice come in and force police reforms if McGinn had been more focused on public safety.


New SPD ‘use of force’ policies

spd3SEATTLE — The federal monitor overseeing reforms at the Seattle Police Department unveiled new use of force policies. The more restrictive guidelines, he says, are necessary to restore trust and accountability in the police force.

“There is de-escalation, for example, built into these use of force policies,” Merrick Bobb said in his presentation on Wednesday in front of the Seattle City Council Public Safety Meeting.

Excessive force is what got the SPD into the mess it finds itself in and is also the reason why the Department of Justice had to come in to enforce change. It’s the crux of the problem and what everyone is focused on.

Bobb’s report runs 70-pages and is meant to guarantee that in the future force is used only when it’s necessary and only as much as necessary.  Bobb cited “specific provisions that call for de-escalation, call for standing back, call for calling out [crisis intervention team], call for there being an effort to not confront in such a way as to trigger force prematurely.”

Here are some of the new policies:

  • Officers must always issues warnings first
  • They are prohibited  from using force when someone has only verbally confronted them
  • They can never use force to punish or retaliate
  • Deadly force may only be used only when there is a clear threat of death or serious injury to an officer

The president of the Officer’s Union expressed concern about the long list of new requirements.

“Officers are going to have to, you know, conform to this new use of force policy,” Sgt. Rich O’Neill said.  “And some officers — I hope not — but some officers may hesitate and that is a concern of mine. I don’t want to see an officer get hurt because they should have used force and they didn’t, and they didn’t use the force because they didn’t want to have to do this long documentation.”

O’Neill is also worried that that the stricter reporting requirements that come with these new policies is going to chew up a lot of officer time that could be spent out on the street.

City councilmembers seemed upbeat about the new guidelines. “This will be a helpful document to make the police department better,” Bruce Harrell, chair of the Public Safety Committee said.   “Much of it is just common sense and that’s what we’re asking to be applied out there in the field.”

Bobb is expected to submit the guidelines to the federal judge overseeing the DOJ consent decree in the next several weeks.

SEATTLE — Interim Seattle Police Chief Jim Pugel officially took office Monday and didn’t waste any time making changes. His first order of business was to reorganize the command staff, giving him direct communication with the heads of each bureau.

“It is not a demotion or a promotion for anybody,” Pugel said.

The moves level out the ranks. Deputy Chief Nick Metz and Deputy Chief Clark Kimmerer become assistant chiefs along with Mike Sanford, Paul McDonagh and Dick Reed.

“That reflects much more with what large major police departments from around the nation are,” Pugel said. “There’s always a chief and then the second in command is assistant police chief.”

No one gets a pay raise or pay cut.

The organizational moves are part of his plan to create direct lines of communication as he works to implement changes directed by the Department of Justice settlement and Merrick Bob’s monitoring team. Pugel said that team is embedded and that early resistance by officers to the changes is now gone.

“We’ve been working with the monitoring team and the Department of Justice as well as our audit and professional responsibility section under Mike Sanford in crafting new Terry stop policy and procedure, stop and frisk policy procedure and biased policing,” Pugel said.

The Community Police Commission, stipulated by the DOJ settlement ,will have a strong say in what goes into the new policies on those so-called Terry stops, where police detain people briefly on reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.  The goal is to make sure everyone is treated fairly.

With the mayor’s office up for grabs in this fall’s election, no decision will be made on a permanent replacement for the retiring Police Chief John Diaz until November at the earliest but Pugel says he’s focusing on the job at hand but also has the permanent chief’s position in his sights.

“’I think I can bring a new, not necessarily a better angle, but a new angle that will lead us in a positive direction that will support good, honest, ethical police work that will continue to make the city safer and hopefully reduce the harm that we come across on a daily basis,” Pugel said.