If you are finding yourself with no idea what the Seattle police accountability system looks like or how it operates - we can relate. This information is so hidden from the public which enables the City of Seattle and the Seattle Police Department (SPD) to avoid accountability. We know that with knowledge comes power and it's time this power is placed in the hands of the Seattle People. For that reason, SGPA has set out to provide all the information needed for you to fully understand Seattle’s Police Accountability System.
In this blog, we will break down the Community Police Commission (CPC) - the first accountability partner in the three-pronged system.
A little bit of background information...
In 2010, after a long series of crimes against marginalized communities committed by the SPD, the ACLU of Washington called on the US Department of Justice (DOJ) for an investigation into SPD’s practices and policies. In 2011, the DOJ determined the SPD had been engaging in unconstitutional policing and recommended reforms in three areas: use of force, biased policing, and supervision and accountability. The following year, the City of Seattle signed a settlement agreement with the DOJ. One requirement of the agreement was the creation of the Seattle CPC, which originally included 15 community members. The Commission began working in 2013.
In 2017, new legislation made the CPC, OPA, and OIG permanent fixtures in a three pronged accountability system. Their scope of responsibilities and authority was marginally expanded and the number of commissioners increased from 15 to 21.
Who is on the CPC?
The CPC consists of up to 21 community representatives, who are responsible for gathering community input and providing oversight and policy/practice recommendations to the Seattle Police Department (SPD). The Mayor, the City Council, and the CPC itself each appoint 7 commissioners.
Commissioners must live or work in Seattle and represent the following communities:
- Communities of Color
- Ethnic and Faith Communities
- Immigrant Communities
- Urban Indian Communities
- LGBTQ(IA+) Community
- Business Community
- Youth Representatives
- Individuals Experiencing Homelessness
- Individuals with Mental Illnesses
- Civil Rights Advocates
There are currently 2 public defense and civil rights lawyers, one Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) member, and one Seattle Police Management Association (SPMA) member on the CPC. Aside from these members, the CPC is composed of civilian community leaders. There are currently 5 vacancies at this time.
What does the CPC actually do?
The CPC’s three main responsibilities are as follows:
- To identify and advocate for reforms to state and city laws that will enhance public trust in policing and the criminal justice system.
- To create in-depth reports that evaluate the SPD and any organizations that hold the SPD accountable (OIG, OPA, PCSC, City Council, Mayor, IG). You can find these reports by googling the Seattle CPC Annual Report. (2019 report, for example).
- To meet with the community, and with local organizations to hear and discuss policing concerns.
So, is the CPC effective?
The CPC is an accountability body which seems like a solution on paper - a group made up of community leaders, established after an investigation into crimes against marginalized communities, and able to provide advice and insight to the SPD. However, for the following reasons, the CPC is largely ineffective as it stands today.
The CPC is purely advisory. When the CPC releases a recommendation, the Chief of Police is responsible for deciding whether or not to adopt it. There is no accountability in accepting or rejecting recommendations, as we have repeatedly seen the City of Seattle ignore the CPC’s recommendations. Most recently, in 2019, the Seattle City Council was federally mandated to meet with the CPC to create a plan to make Seattle fully compliant with the Consent Decree. Mayor Durkan decided to use consultants from Chicago to audit SPD accountability and excluded the CPC and every other local organization. In 2020, the CPC was not informed that the Mayor authorized the use of tear gas and other crowd control equipment by SPD during the BLM protests. It is, after all, a collaboration between local community leaders and the SPD. As good as it sounds, the CPC is limited in power and information, if the SPD does not want to communicate with the CPC, they are not legally obligated to.
Additionally, the CPC is not fully civilianized or immune to political interference. Seattle’s CPC has been hand selected by the Mayor, the City Council, and the CPC itself, meaning that 66% of the CPC are direct political appointees. Ideally, all members would be civilians and nominated by the Seattle people themselves, thus eliminating police influence.
There is a lack of public community input. The CPC’s meetings are closed to any public comment and they have stopped working with other grassroot organizations. While you can submit questions and comments to the CPC - and they are very responsive - there should be several opportunities for public input.
The CPC has very little jurisdiction. They are consistently denied access to police data and do not have investigatory or subpoena powers. They only have the power to call attention to concerns - not actually investigate them. The CPC cannot be an effective accountability partner if they are not allowed to fully monitor the SPD.
This information is also readily available in a visual format on our Instagram. There are three separate posts available: What is the CPC? History of the CPC. Is the CPC effective? Please like and share. Let us know any questions or comments you may have.
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