Despite KOMO News reporting the contrary, a "Citizen Oversight Committee" is not part of Mayor Mike McGinn's official plan for changing the unconstitutional tendencies of the Seattle Police Department. Still, some amount of "citizen oversight" will be involved in the changes. But exactly how much remains to be seen.
In McGinn's letter yesterday to the ACLU and other civil-rights groups that had criticized his response to the Department of Justice's investigation into SPD, the mayor promised that a "public review panel" would be used in implementing police reforms.
KOMO reported the news as "McGinn announced a Citizens Oversight Committee, which the ACLU believes should be the first priority."
ACLU spokesman Doug Honig tells Seattle Weekly that that's not quite accurate.
In fact "Citizen Oversight Committee" is a bit of a loaded term. In cities like Columbia, Missouri and Albuquerque, New Mexico, city officials have created such committees, which are most often charged with reviewing police uses of force and ruling whether they are acceptable or not.
Some of the panels merely provide recommendations to the police department and city, others have teeth and can actually force changes and discipline officers that cross the line.
In almost all cases where Citizen Oversight Committees have been proposed, police unions have fought vigorously against them.
Such a committee is not being proposed in Seattle--at least not yet.
Honig says that he simply wants "some mechanism" in which input from Seattleites is used to help SPD implement reforms. He also says that he's pleased with the city's new-found willingness to include such input.
"We're pleased with the recognition that citizen input will need to be included in ongoing oversight into how changes are being adopted," Honig says. "We expect to be learning more from the city as to what specific solutions are included in the consent decrees with the DOJ."
As to those "specifics," McGinn's office is still being rather cryptic with what they will include.
Responding to Seattle Weekly, McGinn spokesman Aaron Pickus provided a one-sentence description of what the "public review panel" would do.
They will oversee and advise on the implementation of reforms recommended by the Department of Justice.
What kind of power such a panel would have and whether it would have a continued role in overseeing SPD actions after the reforms are made is still unknown.