A deadline looms next week in the city's efforts to bring changes to the Seattle Police Department in light of a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into excessive use of force.
Five months after the U.S. Department of Justice found a “pattern and practice” of excessive force by Seattle police, city officials face a deadline next week to reply to proposed remedies that sources say include increased supervision by sergeants and a court-appointed monitor with sweeping powers.
Federal attorneys, who have told the city they will file a lawsuit in early June if there is no agreement on the fixes by then, insist on a mutually agreed-upon consent decree that would spell out the changes and provide a timetable, according to the sources.
The monitor, who one source described as a “shadow chief,” would answer only to a federal judge overseeing the agreement.
The proposed consent decree also calls on the department to increase the number of sergeants, the department’s first-line supervisors, to a ratio of one sergeant for every six officers. With the current ratio at roughly one to eight, the change would likely require the city to hire more police to fill the ranks.
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The proposal, given to the city March 30, is secret, and the five copies are under lock and key at City Hall. The sources agreed to discuss the contents on the condition of anonymity, since the city and federal government have agreed not to publicly comment on the negotiations.
Among the other key changes, the sources said, would be a significant expansion of the power of the independent outside auditor who reviews the work of the Police Department’s internal-investigation section, the Office of Professional Accountability. The move would add major costs by providing the auditor with staff.
The Justice Department is also asking police for clear protocols on the use of force, including a policy barring officers from striking suspects in the head with their fists, flashlights or batons except in instances when they believe deadly force is necessary, sources say.
Federal attorneys further want tighter policies for promoting officers with significant discipline histories, sources say.
Mayor Mike McGinn and Police Chief John Diaz have drafted and are implementing a plan called “20/20,” detailing 20 initiatives in 20 months.
Speaking before The Seattle Times editorial board Wednesday, McGinn said the plan addresses many of the Justice Department’s concerns and probably can be undertaken within the city’s current budget. It addresses some of the issues raised by Justice, including increased training for officers in the use of force and how to de-escalate potentially violent confrontations.
“This is where we’ve put a stake in the ground marking what we know we can do,” McGinn said.
McGinn, who has called a news conference Thursday to promote the plan, repeatedly declined to address specifics of the proposed consent decree or the city’s pending response, due by next Wednesday.
He said the city continues to “negotiate in good faith,” and that his decisions will be driven by the need to address a Police Department facing what McGinn called “challenges,” while considering the city’s $30 million budget shortfall.
Sources familiar with the negotiations said the mayor privately is deeply concerned about the potential costs of implementing the Justice Department’s suggested changes, which could include the city paying for the court-appointed monitor and staff at a cost of millions of dollars over several years.
According to one source, the Justice Department has asked the city by Friday to provide it with the names of three people it would be willing to have in the position. The Justice Department would propose its own three names, then see if there was mutual agreement on any individuals, the source said.
McGinn declined to discuss the request.
U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan, who in her current position and as a private attorney has been involved in official efforts to bring change to the Police Department for more than a decade, has said the Justice Department will insist on a court-appointed monitor to ensure that needed changes take hold.
McGinn, who has refused to signal whether he would accept a monitor, said Wednesday he would have to consider the “effectiveness” of proposed changes, the cost to the city at a time of other pressing needs and the “capacity” of the Police Department to absorb the changes while dealing with crime problems.
He also said he had to weigh whether changes would have to be negotiated with the police union.
McGinn expressed confidence in Diaz and Assistant Chief Mike Sanford, who was chosen in March to spearhead implementation of the “20/20” plan. Sanford was cleared by prosecutors Tuesday of criminal allegations that he had abused his power in the handling of a sergeants’ promotional exam, a traffic accident involving his daughter and the solicitation of charitable donations from subordinates.
The Justice Department found in December that Seattle police officers routinely and illegally use excessive force, mostly against minorities and the impaired, and that there was disturbing but inconclusive evidence of biased policing.
As part of the proposed consent decree, the Justice Department also is seeking a policy requiring that officers work as internal-affairs investigators in the Office of Professional Accountability before they can be promoted above the rank of sergeant, one source said.
Officers also would be barred from promotion if they have certain serious misconduct findings in their history, the source said.
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