SEATTLE (AP) - A federal judge overseeing police reforms in Seattle has warned that efforts to defund the police department could put the city at risk of violating a federal consent decree agreed to eight years ago.
U.S. District Judge James Robart said Thursday that the Seattle City Council must follow the binding agreement between the city and Department of Justice, which lays out specific training and policy goals aimed at reducing what the department in 2012 found was a pattern of excessive force and evidence of biased policing, The Seattle Times reported.
The City Council recently imposed police budget and salary cuts in response to racial injustice protests last year. But the cuts could affect the department’s efforts to achieve the goals laid out in the agreement, including training, crisis intervention and officer supervision, Robart said.
Robart said he didn’t want to be put in position of telling the council what to do and warned future decisions should be thought through “carefully.”
His comments came during a status hearing where Antonio Oftelie, the new court-appointed monitor overseeing reforms in the Seattle Police Department, submitted his plan for the year. The plan made clear that the police department would remain under court supervision for at least another year.
Interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz acknowledged the need for reform, saying last summer “presented unimagined challenges” for the department.
“This is not a great time to be doing this,” Robart said, noting Mayor Jenny Durkan is not seeking reelection, Chief Carmen Best resigned and the coronavirus pandemic threatens revenue.
Oftelie said the plan, intended to build trust between police and the community, sets deadlines and goals for the department in multiple areas, including the city’s state of compliance with the consent decree and re-imagining officer discipline and accountability.
The city asked the court in May to begin efforts to dismantle the consent decree. The city withdrew the request in June following multiple clashes between police and protesters over the summer.
“I look on this summer as a pressure test” of the reforms to date, Oftelie said. “We did not pass. Now, we have to identify what went wrong and work out how to fix it. There’s a lot of work left to be done.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Christina Fogg, representing the Department of Justice, said the city’s progress between 2012, when the consent decree was signed, and 2020 has been “hard-earned, real and meaningful,” but that the agreement remains in effect and will continue until full compliance is met.
Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes said the city supports and has worked cooperatively with Oftelie on the plan and that the city’s “accountability structures are living up to the challenge.”
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