Federal judge: ‘The citizens of Seattle are not going to pay blackmail for constitutional policing’

U.S. District Judge James Robart said he wouldn’t approve police-accountability measures while the city is still negotiating some of the terms with police unions.

In a surprise move, U.S. District Judge James Robart declined Tuesday to approve Seattle’s landmark police-accountability legislation until he is told what key items will require bargaining with the city’s police unions.

“The citizens of Seattle are not going to pay blackmail for constitutional policing,” Robart told a packed courtroom filled with city officials who largely expected the judge to approve the long-awaited legislation.

Robart, who is presiding over a 2012 federal consent decree requiring the Seattle Police Department (SPD) to address excessive force and biased policing, said that he wasn’t prepared to approve a work in progress, and that the constitution trumps any single element of the legislation.

City Attorney Pete Holmes said city officials, Robart’s court-appointed monitor and U.S. Justice Department attorneys who obtained the consent decree will huddle Wednesday to craft a list to be submitted to the judge as soon possible.

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Holmes said the city will be looking for Robart’s guidance on how to proceed, particularly on issues the city considers crucial to constitutional policing but that will require bargaining.

Other issues might be easier to implement, he said.

He did not disclose what items may be subject to bargaining because labor talks with the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, which represents officers and sergeants, and the Seattle Police Management Association, the union for captains and lieutenants, are confidential.

But the legislation, passed by the City Council in May and signed by Mayor Ed Murray, includes provisions that would replace uniformed officers with civilians in the internal-investigations unit, make it harder for officers to successfully appeal firings and discipline, and create a civilian inspector-general position with broad authority to oversee the Police Department’s internal workings.

In demanding more details, Robart noted that Murray, in a separate matter, already had been forced on Monday to issue an executive order requiring SPD to equip patrol officers with body cameras in the face of recalcitrance on the part of the police guild.

In a news conference after Tuesday’s hearing, Councilmember M. Lorena González, chair of the council public-safety committee that crafted the legislation, said the city was prepared to address the judge’s concerns.

“We had hoped that today would be the final thumbs-up from Judge Robart to allow us to continue to move forward with the implementation of the accountability legislation,” González said. “And obviously we did not get that final approval. But we understand that Judge Robart is extremely concerned as we are about … the possible negative implications that our…

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