August 22, 2013

It Happened in Seattle

GUEST POST: Who is Merrick Bobb?


I haven’t made a practice of publishing others’ opinions on my blog, however, I am making an exception in this case for a reason that strikes close to my heart: In a similar circumstance to my own, the Seattle Police Officers Guild newspaper, The Guardian, declined to publish the following article, for what I believe are purely political reasons. What follows is a well-written article stating an officer’s First Amendment protected opinion (likely shared by a great many of his fellow officers) based on his assessment of the facts. It is free of personal attacks, addresses only behaviors and circumstances, and is measured in its delivery.

The Guardian is not and should never be a ‘rah-rah SPD’ periodical. It is a union paper, plain and simple. Even with the current administration in D.C. spying on Associated Press and Fox News reporters, ‘freedom of the press’ and the First Amendment are still the law of this land. As I say at every new-hire orientation session ‘you do not give up one single constitutional right when you pin on your badge’” (The Guardian, June, 2013). Sgt. Rich O’Neill, President Seattle Police Officers Guild.

(The following does not necessarily reflect this website owner’s opinions, and is solely the opinion of the author.)

Who is Merrick Bobb?


Anthony James Reynolds

Merrick Bobb is one of many who applied for the position of monitor to oversee implementing DOJ-mandated reforms at SPD. His application was approved by the City Council, the DOJ, and begrudgingly, by Mayor McGinn. He was then appointed by Judge Robart.

Bobb graduated from UC Berkeley Law and worked for a number of years as a corporate litigation attorney around LA. While at Berkeley he had a run-in with an Oakland officer who perceived Bobb intentionally drove his vehicle toward him. Bobb envisioned his career had come to a screeching halt and was understandably scared. Some UC Berkeley officers, who were nearby intervened, told Bobb that they believed him, and let him go. The incident had a lasting impact on Bobb, who stated he was struck by the latitude the officers had in their discretion.

After Berkeley and his stint in corporate litigation, Bobb became involved in an oversight committee in 1993 in response to the infamous Rodney King incident. Bobb stayed in LA where he continued to oversee reforming the LA County Sheriff’s Department and made the radar of some players in police reform.

In 2001, the Vera Institute of Justice created the Police Assessment Resource Center and placed Bobb as its president and executive director. From this position Bobb served as monitor of the LASD and now SPD. His most recent contract with LASD was renewed by the Board of Supervisors for LA County in 2009 for three years and a maximum salary of $223,000 per year.

The observant reader might notice that in all his years of experience, Mr. Bobb doesn’t have any real training in law enforcement. He contends this doesn’t matter so long as he understands the officers’ viewpoints. I contend that he cannot possibly understand from the sidelines.

Mr. Bobb doesn’t let his lack of experience prevent him from Monday morning quarterbacking. Perhaps an unfair comparison, as most people who engage in Monday morning quarterbacking have actually played football at some point in their lives. But in any case, he doesn’t see it as a hindrance. And perhaps it’s not, but if so then perhaps next time we’re looking for a monitor, we should hire whoever makes the inevitable “they should have just shot him in the legs” comment about the latest OIS. In the interest of saving money, maybe someone slightly less qualified, but clearly capable of making equally relevant suggestions.

I learned early on that examining one’s motives is revealing and provides for much higher level of understanding. For most people, the motivation for training, seeking, and attending their respective jobs is acquisition of financial resources. Money is power and in most cases the power to take care of one’s family; in others, the power wielded and granted by financial means can be extraordinary and even encourage compromise of values. Merrick Bobb is paid a yearly salary on a contractual basis, that is, his compensation is dependent on availability of work.

The reports I read that were authored by Merrick Bobb were riddled with examples of where the LASD failed to meet criteria satisfactorily, even a decade or more after the Rodney King incident. Occasionally he would make suggestions, such as increasing rates of discipline and changing policy in order to bring the LASD closer to compliance as only Merrick Bobb defines it. He often used the woefully ambiguous language of whether the LASD has “done its best” in fixing the alleged problems, of which Bobb is the only judge. The reports would almost invariably find the LASD’s efforts were failures. Bobb would also introduce issues not previously mentioned in other reports. If a law enforcement agency already met the requirements (i.e. done their best), there would be no reason for the monitor and his team to continue monitoring it and collect a paycheck. The reader might also notice that Merrick Bob’s employment at the LASD lasted for approximately 20 years.

One of his more famous recommendations was to ban solo officer foot pursuits because from 1997 to 2004 of the 283 LA County deputy involved shootings, 64 were either during or at the conclusion of a foot pursuit (~22.6%). It is not specified how many of them were solo foot pursuits.

Recently Merrick Bobb sent some expense reports to the city asking for reimbursement. He asked Seattle’s taxpayers to cover the costs of his dining out, cable, and his alcohol. Additionally, he asked the city to pay for an excessive baggage fee for someone who isn’t involved with the monitoring team. When questioned about it, Mr. Bobb seemed rather irritated. He replied that the questions were, “humiliating, time consuming, and obstructionist.” He also conjectured that the city is not cooperating with his efforts. Bobb clearly expected Seattle to pay for his steak and wine and Downton Abbey, after 20 years of doing the same work for LA County. I wonder; what did LASD pay for?

This seems a typical reaction for Mr. Bobb. Our guild had just issued a motion in federal court to protect our collective bargaining rights as required by RCW. A recent interview on KUOW, on 13 March 2013, Mr. Bobb referred to attorney Peter Ehrlichman when asked about SPOG’s motion. Mr. Ehrlichman called it a “further distraction,” and “inappropriate” as Bobb is an “agent of federal court.” The implication being that federally appointed agents don’t have to abide the law, especially Merrick Bobb. Any resistance however valid it may be is responded to with allegations of purposeful obstruction and veiled threats. It goes like this: Either you be quiet and pay my bills and do as I say, or I report to the federal judge that you’re disobeying him and not cooperating. There is a legal term for this. Those of us trained in law enforcement know what it is.

It isn’t all that surprising. The Monitoring Plan for the First Year explicitly states that: “The monitor and the settlement agreement cannot be limited by Seattle Municipal Code.” Basically they don’t have to follow our laws if they see it as contradictory to their efforts.

Of course, there are motivators other than financial. Some might be more applicable to a person with the financial security Merrick Bobb enjoys. So what might it be in this case?

Mr. Bobb is interested in more than solo officer foot pursuits. He has also taken issue with detentions, use of force and weapons, as well as early warning systems, open-ended policies, and best practices. Many of these may sound familiar, because they are very much the same as the “problems” that SPD is to be addressing. What’s more is that despite his directive of ensuring constitutional policing, he has no intention of obeying laws that preclude his measures, because for Mr. Bobb, the ends do in fact justify the means.

Remember back to his altercation with the Oakland officer. He said the amount of discretion the officer had, made an impression, and the fear he had was almost traumatizing. Ever since, he has been waging a personal war with officer discretion. He wishes to ban solo officer foot pursuits and make significant changes to pursuit policy in general. He wants to create use of force policy that is weapon-specific. He has sought and continues to seek reforming of best practices. He is a passionate advocate of data-driven computerized early warning systems. He takes issue with policy setting guidelines rather than defined rules. Accepting all recommendations will eventually lead to policy reading more like a board game rulebook than a practical guide for law enforcement. I can’t help but think if Merrick Bobb has his way, every officer decision will be determined by a PARC flowchart.

Merrick Bobb has shown us that he views the average police officer as under-educated, incompetent, and untrustworthy. It is his desire to control us vicariously by limiting our discretion and making our decisions for us because we are not intelligent enough to do so ourselves.

If Mr. Bobb truly wishes to understand, then I’d like to offer an opportunity for him to ride with me in my patrol car on Rainier Beach from 0300-1200. Diminishing job security is not a concern I have.


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