SPD official leaving reform job; replacement sparred with feds

A retired Seattle police captain hired to help the Police Department comply with federally mandated reforms is leaving the job after less than four months and has been replaced by a former city official who sparred with the Department of Justice (DOJ) over the changes.

Steve Brown, who was recruited by Police Chief John Diaz to serve as compliance coordinator, a key position in the reform effort, gave his notice last week and plans to depart on Feb. 1. His position has been filled by Bob Scales, who previously served as director of the Government Affairs Section of the Seattle City Attorney’s Office from January 2010 until July. He left to take a job as an attorney at Microsoft.

In the government-affairs position, Scales took a lead role in negotiating an agreement on police reforms with the Justice Department, although he left before the settlement was concluded in late July.

Before his departure, Scales joined with Mayor Mike McGinn and other city officials in strongly challenging the Justice Department’s findings that Seattle officers had engaged in a pattern of excessive force and displayed evidence of biased policing, according to sources familiar with the talks.

As compliance coordinator, Scales will serve as liaison between the Police Department, the Justice Department and the independent federal monitor, Merrick Bobb, who was assigned by U.S. District Judge James Robart to assure that court-ordered reforms to address excessive force and biased policing are carried out.

Justice Department officials view Scales as “not a neutral party,” said one official familiar with the reform process, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

In addition, Brown’s sudden departure has stirred concern about potential delays in carrying out changes in the Police Department, the official said.

Brown apparently left because the job came with too many “headaches” that were interrupting his retirement and disrupting his home life, the official said.

Brown, who retired from the Police Department in March, could not be reached for comment.

Thomas Bates, executive assistant U.S. attorney in Seattle, issued a written statement Tuesday disputing the suggestion that his office does not view Scales as neutral: “We were concerned that Brown’s unexpected departure would slow or impede progress. Based on meetings today, we don’t think that will be the case. We are very much focused on moving forward. There is a strong agreement in place with an experienced monitor and firm court oversight. We don’t see any reason why the reforms required by the agreement can’t take root in the Seattle Police Department.”

McGinn spokesman Aaron Pickus declined to discuss Brown’s departure, saying the office does not comment on personnel matters.

Of Scales’ ability to work with federal officials, Pickus wrote in an email, “Bob played a key role in our successful work with the DOJ to reach an innovative settlement agreement on police reform.”

He noted that Scales was a finalist for the job when Brown was chosen for the job.

Scales, who has begun the new job, did not respond Tuesday to phone messages.

He is to be paid $143,000 annually; Brown’s annual salary was $124,000.

Scales previously served as a senior policy analyst in the city’s Office of Policy and Management from 2002 to 2009, where his work included efforts to bolster police accountability.