SEATTLE — Seattle has been several steps behind Los Angeles in implementing long-discussed police reforms, and now the Pacific Northwest city is hiring away one of two key monitors overseeing the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, Merrick Bobb.
A federal judge in Seattle on Tuesday approved Bobb’s appointment as special monitor under a settlement between the city and the U.S. Justice Department, which investigated a number of controversial beatings and shootings and concluded last December that the department had engaged in a pattern of excessive force.
Bobb will head an oversight team appointed to help implement the settlement, which calls for a substantial overhaul of the police department’s policies on use of force and the establishment of stringent guidelines for citizen contacts and investigatory stops — often the source of complaints from the public.
“The challenge will be to monitor how the SPD, with the help of the city, will make a good police department even better through the adoption of best practice as set forth in the consent decree,” Bobb said in an email to the Los Angeles Times.
Bobb’s hiring in Seattle was not without controversy. Seattle police Chief John Diaz and Mayor Mike McGinn had initially opposed his selection because a board member of the Los Angeles-based nonprofit group Bobb heads, the Police Assessment Resource Center, had helped write the Justice Department’s critical report on the Seattle department.
The mayor relented when the City Council voted 8 to 1 last week to join the Justice Department in recommending Bobb to U.S. District Judge James Robart, who is presiding over the implementation of the reforms.
Though he relented, the mayor issued a statement expressing concerns about Bobb.
“We know from the experience of other cities that reform efforts are successful when the police force buys in to the effort,” McGinn said in the statement. “Our office and others expressed concerns that Mr. Bobb would not be seen as an impartial monitor of our settlement agreement with the Department of Justice. We are disappointed that the council did not listen to those concerns and that our reform efforts may prove more difficult as a result of their vote.”
City Council members praised Bobb’s long record of experience. He has overseen law enforcement agencies in various parts of the country over the last 20 years, and served as deputy general counsel for the Christopher Commission investigation of the Los Angeles Police Department in 1991.
Both the American Civil Liberties Union and the Seattle Human Rights Commission warned against allowing the police department to exercise veto power. “The mayor should not thwart needed reforms by considering only candidates for monitor who are acceptable to the very agency that must be reformed,” Jennifer Shaw, deputy director of the ACLU of Washington, said in a statement before the City Council’s vote.
In the end, the mayor said he would accept the council majority’s decision, “roll up his sleeves” and work with all those involved to implement the reforms.
The mayor earlier this month signed an executive order creating a new community police commission, another part of the reform package.
Bobb works as a special consultant to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to write regular reports on department operations. He is not officially connected to the department’s Office of Independent Review, headed by Michael Gennaco, though both main watchdogs have lately come under scrutiny as a result of continuing problems at the county jail.
Investigators found, though, that the Sheriff’s Department had failed to act on many of the major problems uncovered by the watchdogs.
Bobb had suggested, among other things, that deputies stop using heavy metal flashlights against inmates. He also advised the department to begin conducting sting operations to uncover corrupt employees.
“I can make all the recommendations I want, but if the sheriff doesn’t implement them, it doesn’t matter,” Bobb told the Los Angeles Times in September.
Bobb is not the only Los Angeles transplant into the city’s police reform efforts. Former Deputy LAPD Chief Patrick Gannon will be a consulting member of the new Seattle monitoring team. Gannon was appointed last week as police division chief for Los Angeles World Airports, which handles law enforcement at Los Angeles International, Ontario and Van Nuys airports.