Previously confidential documents released Monday reveal deep divisions between the federal Department of Justice and Seattle officials in how to bring about changes in the Seattle Police Department.
City officials and federal attorneys released more than 150 pages of previously confidential documents Monday that reveal, far more than previously known, deep divisions in how to bring about sweeping changes in the Seattle Police Department.
Included in the materials, most of which were disclosed under a public-records request, is the city’s initial response to address the Department of Justice (DOJ) finding in December that Seattle officers too often use excessive force in violation of the Constitution.
The DOJ, separately, disclosed its proposals, which call for widespread changes in the way the Police Department supervises, trains and oversees officers.
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Although city officials flatly disagree with the excessive-force finding, they said the city was willing to enter into a reform plan to ensure the Police Department is “functioning at an exceptional level and that it has positive relationships with all it communities.”
City officials also expressed their willingness to enter into a plan to avoid the “cost, delay, and effect on the City’s interests of protracted litigation.”
While they offer to make improvements in the way the Police Departments tracks, investigates and responds to the use of force, they continually challenge the methodology used by the Justice Department and the effectiveness of its proposed remedies.
“The fact that DOJ has limited its analysis to a small subset of cases where force was used should prompt caution in drawing broad conclusions from the evidence,” the city wrote in its May 16 response to the Justice Department.
Even if the factual conclusions are valid, the city argued, they do not show that alleged instances of excessive force are “rooted in any municipal policy” or reflect a “deliberate indifference” to citizen rights.
In a letter sent to City Attorney Pete Holmes the same day, a top Justice Department attorney wrote that a preliminary review of the city’s response “suggests that there is a very dramatic gap” between the parties.
“We are particularly troubled and surprised that the City has not included any measures to respond to the issues of discriminatory policing, community engagement, or the City’s accountability system,” wrote Jonathan Smith, chief of the Special Litigation Section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division in Washington, D.C.
Major changes sought
Among the significant changes sought by the Justice Department are a major boost in sergeants to oversee supervision, enhanced training and an expansion of the internal-investigation process, according to the documents.
The Justice Department’s proposed agreement was delivered to the city March 31. Its contents were leaked on May 15 to The Associated Press, which disclosed many of the details.
In a joint statement Monday, federal and city officials said they released the documents to “increase transparency” and respond to broad public interest in proposed reforms.
“These proposals have served as the starting point for negotiations between the parties to reach an agreement on all issues,” the statement said. “We continue to move forward with those negotiations beyond these documents and are currently in mediation.”
The mediator has been identified by a source as Teresa Wakeen, president of Wakeen & Associates in Seattle.
Both the city and Justice Department said they would make no further comment on their initial proposals and the status of the talks, saying it would be counterproductive to making progress and enacting long-term reforms.
Throughout the negotiations, the Justice Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle have insisted on a court-enforced consent decree with a monitor.
Mayor Mike McGinn has said he is willing to accept a consent decree but has questioned the scope and cost of the Justice Department’s proposals, saying the city might be forced to spend up to $41 million a year and put vital city services at risk while facing a $30 million budget shortfall for 2013.
Federal attorneys have said the city’s financial analysis of the costs is wrong.
In a May 23 letter to Holmes, Smith accused the city of going “backwards” on its agreement to accept a consent decree and a monitor. He wrote the city now was proposing that all remedies, including those that address use of force, be covered in a memorandum of understanding that would not be subject to court oversight and independent monitoring.
McGinn’s legal counsel, Carl Marquardt, challenged the assertion in a May 31 reply letter, saying the city’s position had been mischaracterized.
“We are open to discussing different forms of agreement, including a court-enforceable reform plan for use of force provisions and a memorandum of agreement for other provisions,” Marquardt wrote, referring to what he described as the DOJ’s insistence on including measures for which it made no findings.
In its December report, the Justice Department didn’t reach an official finding of biased policing affecting minorities, although it cited troubling evidence of a problem.
Marquardt wrote that the city’s proposals draw on the best practices of other departments, a national policing expert who is not identified and input from police and city staff.
“We believe the measures in our proposal would establish the Seattle Police Department as a national model in reporting, monitoring and reviewing use of force,” he wrote.
2 views of “20/20”
McGinn has pushed the city’s own “20/20” plan, which was unveiled in March and calls for 20 changes to the Police Department in 20 months, saying it would be less costly and addresses the Justice Department’s concerns. Part of the plan deals with biased policing, according to McGinn.
U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan has described the plan as a “framework” that lacks substance, a sentiment echoed last week by community groups that originally pressed the Justice Department to investigate the Police Department.
Marquardt, in his May 31 letter, disputed Smith’s claim, made in his May 23 letter, that the “20/20” plan is an “acknowledgment” of needed reforms.
“That is incorrect,” Marquardt added, saying the plan simply “acknowledges that SPD can do better on many fronts.”
“It does not amount to an acknowledgment that DOJ’s proposal — which includes measures that appear impractical, ineffective, and unaffordable — is the best way to get there,” Marquardt wrote.
Smith, in the May 23 letter, said that while the Justice Department appreciated that bargaining through incremental moves is a “common negotiation strategy — this is not a common matter.”
“The goal of this case is to accomplish essential reforms to the Seattle Police Department. Real solutions require a comprehensive approach, not piece meal bargaining,” he wrote.
Information from Times archives is included in this story.
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302