Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn said Thursday he never intended to suggest the Justice Department had opposed the creation of the city’s new Community Police Commission.
In response to criticism from Justice Department officials, McGinn released a mostly conciliatory letter acknowledging the DOJ always had favored some form of community involvement in negotiating reforms of the Seattle Police Department.
McGinn wrote that he was “somewhat surprised that DOJ is weighing in on these issues now” — referring to the pre-election timing of the letter criticizing him, which was signed this week by U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan and another top DOJ official.
The back-and-forth volley comes less than two weeks until ballots are counted in the Seattle mayoral race in which McGinn’s challenger, state Sen. Ed Murray, has repeatedly bashed the mayor’s contentious negotiations with the Justice Department over police reform.
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In an interview, McGinn declined to elaborate on any possible political motives of the DOJ letter’s timing, saying: “I don’t think it is productive to get into that.”
In their letter to the CPC earlier this week, Durkan and Jonathan Smith, chief of the special litigation section for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights division, took McGinn to task for some campaign-trail comments that seemed to paint DOJ as an obstacle to the new citizen commission.
The DOJ “never resisted or delayed an agreement because it contemplated community involvement,” Durkan and Smith’s letter said. The U.S. Attorney’s Office had no further comment Thursday.
In his response, McGinn agreed the Justice Department had always been on board with the general concept, though he maintained it was accurate to say he “fought” for inclusion of the commission as part of negotiations surrounding a federal consent decree to settle a finding that Seattle police had engaged in a pattern of excessive force.
“I have not intended for [my] comments to sound as a criticism of DOJ, or a suggestion that DOJ does not believe the community should be involved in police reform,” McGinn wrote.
McGinn’s tense relationship with the DOJ — and with City Attorney Pete Holmes — during the police-reform talks has been repeatedly seized on by critics as evidence of the mayor’s brawling political style.
However, when those talks were finally resolved last July, both Durkan and Thomas Perez, then the top civil-rights enforcer for the DOJ, credited McGinn at a news conference for the creation of the new Community Police Commission, which gives citizen representatives a formal role in ongoing police policy and training reforms.
“He crafted this very important mechanism to ensure continued and meaningful public input,” Durkan said at that time.
In his letter, McGinn said the commission arose from his collaborative talks with the DOJ, saying, “we settled on the idea” to have a community-based commission as part of the deal.
Prodded by a suggestion in Durkan’s letter, McGinn’s office on Thursday also released part of a draft DOJ proposal from last June that shows the feds were on board with creating a “monitoring board” comprised of community representatives. That idea eventually morphed into the Community Police Commission.
“The fact that there is ongoing discussion of who should get credit for ‘the idea’ suggests, mainly, that people like the idea now,” McGinn noted.
Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @Jim_Brunner