Former Mayor Mike McGinn contends Monitor Merrick Bobb’s top-down approach doomed Seattle’s police reform efforts from the start–long before SPD’s recent fall from grace over its violent response to protests.
“The SPD is at its nadir,” court-appointed Seattle Police Department (SPD) monitor Merrick Bobb wrote in his resignation letter, which blamed a failed response to recent protests for derailing the police reform effort he led–otherwise characterized as masterful. Former Mayor Mike McGinn sees it differently: “If it’s a nadir like said Merrick Bobb, he’s the one who built the luge run to it.”
Merrick Bobb served as the SPD Monitor for seven years before stepping down this month. Bobb’s parting letter details what he sees as his police reform successes, the obstacles that remain, and even storm clouds ahead. Bobb criticized both SPD’s brutal crowd control tactic versus protesters, and a Seattle City Council’s meddling. He saw the City Council’s pledge to defund SPD by 50%, and strict chemical weapons ban as counterproductive and overreaching.
Bobb complimented federal Judge Richard Jones for enacting a carefully tailored temporary chemical weapon prohibition–in contrast to the City Council’s more sweeping ban.
McGinn asked why, eight years into the Consent Decree, SPD didn’t have better crowd control and de-escalation tactics that would have prepared them for a summer of protests. Instead of preparation, we saw a department determined to teach protesters a lesson. SPD blew through its stockpile of pepper spray and blast balls and casually turned to copious amount of tear gas. Children, journalists, legal observers, and medics were pepper sprayed, blast balled, and tear gassed; many received serious injuries.
“Merrick Bobb has had the greatest influence on SPD policy and operations over the past eight years than any other person,” McGinn said. “Since he was appointed, we have had five different mayors, the City Council’s nine members have completely turned over and there have been seven police chiefs. And police reform is not succeeding.”
We shouldn’t need court orders to stop police from brutalizing Black Lives Matter protesters. It should be standard practice for SPD to prevent unnecessary violence. Instead, by brutalizing people protesting police brutality, SPD has proven their critics’ point. Even a sympathetic observer in Bobb admits, “[T]he SPD set itself up for criticism.”
While generally gushing praises on SPD officers for enacting reform, Bobb did have some criticism for the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG), which represents more than 1,300 sworn officers. He didn’t connect the dots that those commendable officers have elected leadership that have fought that reform.
SPOG has only gotten more resistant to change during the Consent Decree process. Alycia Ramirez laid out SPOG’s radical rightward drift in a recent South Seattle Emerald article. SPOG decisively elected a hard-line president in Mike Solan early in February 2020 who essentially ran on tear gassing, punishing protesters, and tamping down on Leftists.
“When you bend to the mob, we lose as a society, we lose as a nation,” Solan said in an interview with KIRO radio’s Dori Monson show. “Seattle and Portland are the epicenter of far-left progressive socialism and neo-Marxist ideology. This is all about November’s election and police are caught in the middle.”
With an outlook like that, it does seem that Black Lives Matters protests have gotten harsher treatment than right-wing protests or religious demonstrations.
“The consent decree process is failing,” McGinn said. “When you have SPD putting on music to amp themselves up for protesters, covering up their badges, not going into the CHOP when people are hurt, abandoning the East Precinct…”
While Bobb paints himself as the hero of the Consent Decree process and insinuates McGinn was one of its villains, former Mayor Mike McGinn’s story sharply contradicts that. Obviously both men want to paint themselves as strong reformers on the right side of history, but Dominic Holden’s account of events gives some credence to McGinn’s, as he titled one piece: “How Mayor Ed Murray Unraveled Two Years of Police Reform in Only Two Months.” While Holden paints McGinn as “feckless” on reform, he grants progress did happen and Murray actively undermined it in his first year.
Monitor Bobb appears to have done little as Murray weakened accountability measures, and in fact credits Murray as a reformer.
“Unquestionably, Mayor Murray had the best of intentions and helped the SPD to achieve substantial compliance. He thus realized one of the principal goals of his administration,” Bobb wrote.
Praise for Murray seems to be a reflection of Bobb’s high esteem for Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole, who Murray appointed in 2014 and who served in the role for three years. In contrast, he paints McGinn as “hostile” and “strongly opposed” to him–Bobb started his role as Court Monitor in April 2013 during McGinn’s final year in office.
“Indeed, it is notable that the Team achieved reform within five years from then, given the intensity of the opposition the Team faced during the first two,” Bobb wrote. “We had a hostile mayor and an angry, resentful police department run tightly by a small coterie of men who had worked together for years to thwart reform.”
McGinn isn’t shy in his criticism of Bobb, either. “Bobb is always the smartest guy in the room in his estimation.” McGinn said Bobb wasn’t on his list of candidates for Monitor because he worried about his willingness to collaborate with community advocates and commitment to a strong role for the Community Policing Commission (CPC). When the DOJ, City Attorney Pete Holmes, and the Seattle City Council by an 8-1 vote insisted on Bobb, McGinn said he ultimately bowed to their wishes.
Early days of Seattle’s Consent Decree
The sparring between Bobb and McGinn reflects that both played major roles in the consent decree and had different philosophies about it. McGinn also seems to have earned Bobb’s ire when his administration questioned his invoices which included some personal expenses not officially approved for City reimbursement. Bobb pulled in about $50,000 per month, McGinn said. Bobb noted in his farewell that the Egyptian sheets (for which he took some flack) were purchased at Costco.
McGinn was elected Mayor in 2009 and took office in January 2010. A chain of events starting in McGinn’s first year in office set the Consent Decree in motion: