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Judge overseeing Seattle police reforms orders continued federal oversight

SEATTLE — The federal judge overseeing reforms in the Seattle Police Department has ordered the city, the Department of Justice and others to fix ongoing inadequacies surrounding officer accountability, and said he will extend court oversight of the department until they do so.

U.S. District Judge James Robart said Tuesday that a system that puts appeals of officer discipline by the chief of police in the hands of an outside arbitrator remains essentially unchanged from the days when the department engaged in routine use of excessive force.

The Seattle Times reports that Robart’s order said that needs to change, but without telling the parties how to do it. Instead, he ordered the city, the Justice Department, the city’s Community Police Commission and the court’s appointed monitor, Merrick Bobb, to come up with a working plan by July 15.

Robart’s ruling means the city will likely remain under federal oversight longer than had been anticipated.

Mayor Jenny Durkan in a statement Tuesday night said she was grateful Robart's order recognized the Police Department's many other "significant reforms" that remain on track to meet a January 2020 goal.

It was Durkan who, as U.S. Attorney in Seattle, spearheaded the 2012 consent decree with the city that required the Police Department to address allegations that officers engaged in a pattern of excessive force and displayed troubling evidence of biased policing.

The Seattle Police Officers Guild union representing officers did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Barring a union challenge, the order means the city and the union must reopen bargaining on a recently completed contract to change the aspects of an accountability system dealing with officer appeals of discipline.

Robart said he was making no ruling on the contract, saying the labor deal "is relevant here only insofar as its affects accountability."

But he rejected arguments by the city and Justice Department that the current accountability plan could work, particularly in light of their repeated past statements to the court that the same system was inadequate and needed to be changed.

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