Facing a Wednesday deadline to respond to the Department of Justice's proposal, Seattle's own plan would cost less, the mayor said at a news conference.
Raising the specter of painful cuts to parks, fire protection and human services, Mayor Mike McGinn said Thursday he has tentatively set aside $5 million a year to pay for the U.S. Justice Department’s proposed plan to reform the Seattle Police Department.
At a news conference where he was alternately combative and conciliatory, McGinn stressed the need to redefine how Seattle police perform their jobs in light of the Justice Department’s finding last year that officers had routinely used excessive force.
But McGinn touted the Police Department’s own plan for change, saying it would address Justice Department concerns while likely staying within the existing police budget.
McGinn said that plan, dubbed “20/20” for 20 initiatives in 20 months, represents a broad effort that goes beyond the changes sought by federal attorneys.
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He acknowledged he had pulled the $5 million figure “out of a hat,” explaining it is part of a $30 million shortfall in the city’s 2013 budget.
McGinn also admitted to being “skeptical” about the cost claim for the Police Department plan, saying he had requested proof it would remain within the budget. The department’s current yearly budget is $254 million.
With the city facing a Wednesday deadline to respond to the federal plan, McGinn said he is continuing to negotiate a mutually agreeable solution. One option is a court-approved consent decree, under which both parties would agree to changes that could include oversight by an independent monitor, who would be paid by the city.
U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan has said the Justice Department will insist on a court-appointed monitor to ensure that the needed changes take hold.
It isn’t known how many years a consent decree would remain in place, largely because such agreements may be open-ended and depend on the rate of compliance.
McGinn gave no indication he plans to reject a consent decree, but noted the terms would impose financial burdens on the city at a time he is looking at harsh cuts to parks, the Fire Department and human-service agencies.
City Councilmember Tim Burgess took issue with McGinn, saying Thursday night, “The primary focus should be on providing the most effective and professional policing that garners the highest trust and confidence of the people.
“The cost issues should follow, not the other way around,” Burgess said.
In his most pointed remark, McGinn noted that if the Justice Department concludes no progress is being made, federal attorneys have the option to file a lawsuit and try to force changes through litigation rather than attempt to negotiate in good faith.
Deadline is Wednesday
McGinn has declined to comment on what the Justice Department is seeking, citing an agreement with federal attorneys to keep the talks and terms of the proposed consent decree confidential.
City officials face a deadline Wednesday to reply to the Justice Department’s proposed remedies, and federal attorneys could file a lawsuit against the city by early next month if the two sides fail to reach an accord, according to sources.
The Justice Department, sources said, has proposed remedies that include increased supervision by sergeants; stricter promotion policies to weed out officers with significant discipline history; and additional power and a staff for the independent civilian auditor who reviews the work of the Police Department’s internal-investigation section, the Office of Professional Accountability.
McGinn and Police Chief John Diaz have promoted the “20/20” plan, which addresses some of the issues raised by the Justice Department, including increased training for officers in the use of force and how to de-escalate potentially violent confrontations.
During the news conference, McGinn and police officials unveiled the names and duties of more than 30 people, including top commanders, who will be part of the mandate.
Declaring that the effort came at an “unprecedented time for change,” McGinn said the team, grouped in 20 units, with titles like leadership, community relations and values, would carry out 125 specific initiatives.
Assistant Chief Mike Sanford, who is spearheading the effort, said, “Seattle will not settle for superficial changes.”
ACLU: Plan “too vague”
After the news conference, Kathleen Taylor, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, issued a statement saying that to “ensure that reforms to the Seattle Police Department are fully implemented and long-lasting, the city needs speedily to agree to a consent decree with the Department of Justice that includes a monitor and court oversight.”
“The DOJ investigation and recommendations resulted from the SPD’s inability to curtail excessive and unconstitutional use of force by some of its officers,” Taylor said. “It’s clear that the problems within the police department have been so ingrained that our city can’t fix them without outside help.”
While the “20/20” plan includes some good ideas, it is “too vague” and “lacks teeth,” Taylor said.
She said the expense of defending against a Justice Department lawsuit will be greater if settlement discussions fail, citing attorneys’ fees, costs of experts and other expenses in “a drawn-out court battle, one which would likely result in similar court-ordered conditions to those now offered by the DOJ.”
The ACLU of Washington and 34 other groups requested a civil-rights investigation of the Police Department in December 2010 after a series of violent confrontations between officers and citizens.
Last December, the Justice Department found that Seattle police routinely and illegally use excessive force, mostly against minorities and the impaired, and that there was disturbing but inconclusive evidence of biased policing.
Included was a finding that 20 percent of use-of-force incidents were excessive, a conclusion strongly questioned by Seattle police.
Seattle Times news researcher David Turim contributed to this story, which also includes information from Times archives.
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