Judge warns Seattle City Council to be ‘mindful’ of federal oversight in SPD defunding battle

Days before the Seattle City Council is set to vote on slashing the Seattle Police Department budget, a federal judge warned the council to be ‘mindful’ of the long-standing federal oversight when passing any legislation.

The council already ran into resistance when it tried to ban crowd-control weapons. Last month, the Justice Department succeeded in securing a temporary restraining order on the ban from U.S. District Court Judge James Robart. 

The federal government successfully argued that it needed time to consider whether the ban impacts the consent decree, a reform agreement between the DOJ and SPD that has governed the department since 2012. 

On Thursday, Robart predictably extended the restraining order, which was set to expire Friday.

“And then there’s this one paragraph at the end in which the judge basically shot a warning shot across the bow at the city council,” Seattle City Council Insight’s Kevin Schofield remarked.

Buried at the bottom of the order, Robart wrote, “…legislation passed by the City Council may impact the City of Seattle’s obligations under the Consent Decree…the court encourages the City of Seattle to remain mindful of its Consent Decree obligations.”

Schofield, an independent journalist and Seattle politics expert, said he has no doubt the warning is about city council’s desire to defund the police department. 

“The implication is very clear that he was warning them, saying that, ‘I already once stopped something that you passed that violated the consent decree, if you go down this path again I will have no hesitation to do that again,’” he said of Robart.

In trying to cut SPD’s budget amid protest calls to defund police, the council wants to cut funds for implicit bias training, which is related to the consent decree. They also want to cut officer jobs, which could be challenged for not providing adequate police protection across the city.

“The political pressure on the council to pass budget cuts to SPD right now is so intense, I have a hard time believing that they would push that out even further to run the gauntlet of the Department of Justice and Judge Robart,” Schofield said.

The council is slated to vote on the 2020 budget Monday. In a statement, a council spokesperson told Q13 News, “The Seattle City Council has ever intention to comply with the consent decree obligations as it crafts the budget, and will continue to work with Judge Robart, the Department of Justice and other appropriate stakeholders to achieve such compliance.”