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Seattle police reforms move forward — with more civilians

Seattle is a step closer to more civilian oversight of the city's police department.

Mayor Ed Murray announced Wednesday that long-awaited police accountability legislation is ready to go before the City Council. 

As officials stressed the importance of police accountability, they invoked the names of just some of those who have died at the hands of police in recent years, including some in Seattle: Che Taylor, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and John T. Williams.

Murray says, at its core, the new legislation aims to restore trust between the police and Seattle's minority communities.

"This legislation establishes for the first time an independent role for civilians to oversee the Seattle Police Department, investigation of police complaints, policies and practices," he said.

Murray said this oversight will not be led by the police, but by independent bodies.

Three main bodies will be responsible for oversight: the community police commission — which will be made permanent — the office of police accountability and a newly formed office of inspector general.

The inspector general office, to be held by a civilian, will have the authority to review any police policy or practice.

This legislation has been a long time coming. In 2010, a number of highly publicized incidents highlighted issues of biased policing and excessive use of force in the Seattle Police Department. Outcry from the community led to the SPD being placed under a Department of Justice consent decree.

Reforms have been ongoing ever since.  

Andre Taylor is pleased the city has reached this point and that the police accountability legislation is finally moving forward. Taylor’s brother Che Taylor was shot and killed by police in 2016.

Despite how far the city has come, Taylor said we need to see the reforms in this legislation in practice before we crown them a success.

"What it looks like on paper could be quite different from what it looks like in real life. You know, what type of accountability? You know, is there training for racial bias? What's going to happen? We won't know."

Members of the community police commission agree with many of the reforms set out in the legislation. However, they have expressed some concerns about how oversight bodies will be protected from political pressures.

Fe Lopez said how the office is funded is just one area that needs attention.

"You can have all of the civilian and community oversight you want but if you starve it, if you don't nourish it, then it's only in name."

The city council will hold seven public hearings over the next few months as they review and revise the legislation. Two of those meetings will be set aside entirely for public comment.

They expect to bring the legislation in front of the full council for a vote in early May.

Kate Walters can be reached at Have a story idea? Use our story pitch form.

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