On July 27, 2012, the Department of Justice concluded a years-long civil rights investigation of the Seattle Police Department. DOJ investigators announced that they had "found that SPD has engaged in a pattern or practice of excessive force that violates the Constitution and federal law". In order to rectify the situation, a settlement agreement was reached between the Courts, the Department of Justice and the Seattle Police Department. The agreement held that the Seattle PD would institute and follow rules and procedures stipulated by DOJ.
The Judge overseeing the case, James Robart, appointed an "Independent Monitor" to ensure that Seattle PD followed the new rules. That independent monitor was Merrick J. Bobb, the Executive Director of the Police Assessment Resource Center (PARC).
An investigation of the Seattle Police Department by the Puppycide Database Project has revealed that Bobb, the Police Assessment Resource Center, and employees and consultants of PARC have been billing the people of Seattle Washington at hourly rates from $125 to $250, adding up to monthly payments regularly exceeding a hundred thousand dollars.
In the 19 months from November 2012 to May 2014 the City of Seattle has paid the Police Assessment Resource Center, its employees and consultants a total of $1,393,991.24. PARC provides similar services for dozens of cities, including a number of police forces in Europe and South America.
One consultant, Ronald Ward, received a payment of $12,975.00 in the month of May 2014, for 52 hours of:
"[A]ttendance of meetings and conference with the parties and SPD; Monitoring Team meetings; community meetings; conference calls; miscellaneous calls and emails in connection with the foregoing."
Ward is a personal injury lawyer. Prior to pursuing PI, Ward was a Washington State assistant attorney general and the President of the Washington State Bar Association.
Another consultant, Julio Thompson, cleared $4,000.00 for the month of May 2013 for less than a week of work (32 hours) in which he provided the following services:
"[A]ttendance of meetings and conferences with the parties and SPD, ride-along; policy review; legal research and analysis"
In addition to the payments he receives from PARC, Thompson's "day-job" is in the Office of the Vermont Attorney General, where he is a Senior Assistant Attorney General. In 2015, his annual Salary from the State of Vermont was $90,064.
It is no coincidence that these two examples both spent time in an Attorney General's Office. Reviewing the staff list for PARC, time spent in law enforcement starts to appear like a requirement for employment. There are those who explicitly work as police, like Pat Gannon, the Chief of Airport Police at Los Angeles World Airports and Joseph Brann, the former police chief of Hayward, California who worked in the Justice Department with their COPS program. Even those culled from academia spent time with either defense consultants like the RAND Corporation, as Joseph Doherty did, or formerly worked in law enforcement, as Ellen Scrivner did.
PARC does not list any civil rights or criminal defense attorneys on their staff list.
Each invoice provides hourly billings for several members of individual consultants that are described as part of the "Seattle Police Monitoring Team" and an additional column which appropriates hourly billings for PARC itself. It remains unclear what these billings are for, but these billings represent the largest sums billed to the City of Seattle. In 2013, $800,000 was budgeted to pay PARC for monitoring, so it is possible that this 'blank' invoice is to meet a contractual obligation.
Typically these invoices provide lists accounting for each hour of labor. No such explanation is provided for the sums paid directly to PARC.
In addition to direct cash payments, the City of Seattle has spent tens of thousands of dollars on air travel and accommodation. In one month (April 2013), PARC expensed a total of 14 flights for employees to travel to and from Alaska. Those numbers were not extraordinary, either. The average number of monthly flights to Alaska was 6. Just to make it clear, this is Alaska the state, not some small suburb of Seattle.
The money didn't stop there. The City also purchased an apartment for PARC employees to use. The monthly rent for the apartment was $1925. Cable from Comcast wasn't included with the rent, so the City was kind enough to provide an expense payment for TV service with all the extras for $118.20 a month.
The apartment could have been justified as a money-saver, if PARC employees had used the apartment instead of regular hotel accommodation. But that wasn't the case. PARC employees stayed at the Renaissance Seattle Hotel Marriott in downtown Seattle. In August 2013, Julio Thompson opted for the Executive Suite for just a hair over $764.
Seattle paid for suites like this one for PARC staff
This isn't the first time that the huge sums of money that Bobb has been receiving from Seattle have come to light.
The Seattle budget office, the City Attorney's Office and the Department of Justice sent some fairly combative emails back and forth over the handing of expense reports. In one such email, Bobb wrote:
"[W]e decline in the future to go through the humiliating, time-consuming, and obstructionist process we went through this morning where we were required to justify each pillowcase in the Seattle apartment, a toolkit to put together furniture bought at IKEA, or a $5.99 corkscrew, among other trivialities."
With a more threatening tone, Bobb wrote in a follow-up email:
"I'm not certain that we can currently say we are getting cooperation from the city regarding the monitoring or movement toward full and effective implementation of the consent decree."
and that the failure to pay invoices immediately would place
"unnecessary roadblocks and obstacles"
in the way of Bobb's ability to monitor the Seattle Police Department.
Despite the media attention and the conversation between the city, Federal law enforcement and PARC, the amount of money being paid out increased in 2014 rather than decreased, with the average invoice growing from roughly $60,000 a month to $100,000 a month.
Federal intervention remains a vital part of the enforcement of civil rights law. The Puppycide Database Project has repeatedly found systemic problems with excessive force that are routinely ignored by municipal and even state governments. Federal law enforcement can represent the last hope to compel disfunctional law enforcement organizations to respect the rule of law.
Few members of the public at large realize that such Federal law enforcement services are essentially being privatized - when a court decrees that a municipal police force follow the dictates of a Federal or State law enforcement agency, that agency is not the one monitoring the day to day operations of the troubled municipal police. Like in Seattle, high-priced private consultants are filling the role that was once reserved for Federal law enforcement.
It remains an open question whether such a fundamental shift in law enforcement responsibility is appropriate.