In a radio interview, Mayor Mike McGinn asserted that the scope of the federal plan for the Seattle Police Department could saddle the city with a "shadow mayor" and cost $41 million a year.
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn warned Monday that it could cost up to $41 million a year to pay for the U.S. Justice Department’s proposed remedies to curtail excessive force in the Police Department, issuing a dire-sounding memorandum outlining severe consequences for the city.
An influential City Council member and a federal official challenged the figure, calling it inflated.
McGinn went on the radio Monday to say the Justice Department’s proposal would put vital services at risk and potentially saddle the city with a powerful outside monitor, or “shadow mayor,” who could interfere with the city’s ability to deal quickly with events such as the Police Department’s recent response to violence during the May 1 protests.
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“So this number is frankly, shocking,” McGinn said of the $41 million figure during a morning interview on KUOW radio.
But the city’s confidential memorandum, a copy of which was obtained by The Seattle Times, acknowledged the financial numbers were an estimate produced by the Police Department that had not been verified by city budget analysts. Among the costliest items would be the promotion of 54 officers to sergeant to satisfy Justice Department concerns over adequate supervision.
During the interview, McGinn expressed for the first time his willingness to accept the Justice Department’s proposal for a court-enforced consent decree with oversight by an independent monitor.
“That is not a sticking point for us,” he said. But he noted the role of the monitor and the “substance” of a settlement would be key to reaching a resolution, along with the costs and the flexibility to respond to public-safety needs.
City officials face a deadline this week to submit a counterproposal to the Justice Department. McGinn’s comments came three days after U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan said the Police Department must produce more detailed changes than it has offered under its so-called “20/20” reform plan, which outlines 20 changes the department plans to undertake in 20 months.
Although both sides have yet to agree on the appointment of a monitor, they were to exchange three names to see if they could find a common candidate, according to one source. One name that emerged is Saul Green, who served as the monitor overseeing police changes in Cincinnati, another source said.
City Council members were briefed on the potential budget impacts Monday in a closed executive session.
After the briefing, Councilmember Tim Burgess cautioned that the $41 million estimate had not been vetted by the council or the city budget office.
“Some of these numbers are scare numbers,” said Burgess, the former chairman of the council’s public-safety committee.
He said the immediate focus should not be on the cost but on the question, “What should we do to have sustainable and meaningful reform of policing in Seattle?”
DOJ disputes figures
In a statement, Thomas Bates, executive assistant U.S. attorney in Seattle, said, “The budget numbers being projected by the City are simply wrong. The cost of any agreement will not be remotely close to the figure cited today. We are confident that once the City understands our proposed agreement, it will conclude that what we cannot afford is further delay.”
He said an agreement would improve public safety, relations with the community and the ability of the police to do their jobs.
Bates said federal attorneys remain optimistic they can reach an agreement with the city that provides officers with “the training, tools and supervision they need to do their jobs safely and effectively.”
If no agreement is reached, the Justice Department could file a lawsuit to force changes.
Federal attorneys found in December that Seattle officers had engaged in a pattern of excessive force, as well as evidence of biased policing. At the end of March, they proposed a consent decree, initially prompting private exchanges that exploded into public view in the past week.
In his radio interview, McGinn did not indicate how long a consent decree might last. The length typically depends on the rate of compliance.
But he said potential costs could mean deep cuts to other city programs. Included would be potential cuts to mental health, substance-abuse treatment and community centers that are vital to public safety, McGinn said.
The $41 million budget estimate, summarized in a memo presented Monday by Budget Director Beth Goldberg to the City Council, asserted that the Police Department’s initial analysis of the “most straightforward” proposals would cost the city about $13 million.
That would include $7.3 million to add 54 sergeants to the force, bringing the number of front-line supervisors for patrol, support and specialty officers down from a ratio of 8-to-1 to 6-to-1.
More hiring and “backfill” would be required as a result of promoting officers to sergeant, McGinn told KUOW.
Goldberg’s memo questioned whether the boost in sergeants could be accomplished in the 180 days the Justice Department has suggested for many of its proposed changes.
It also would “require the suspension of existing civil-service rules, lowering of existing standards for promotion and would significantly reduce the patrol strength of the Department unless and until new officers could be hired,” Goldberg wrote.
The $13 million figure would include expanding the Police Department’s Office of Professional Accountability, which oversees internal investigations, according to Goldberg’s memo.
An additional $18 million would be required to meet the training requirements outlined in the Justice Department plan, according to the memo. The Justice Department has recommended enhanced training for all Seattle officers in use-of-force decision-making, de-escalation techniques, discriminatory policing and cultural awareness.
The $18 million presumes officers taking the additional training would have to be covered by other officers at overtime rates. It also presumes the force would have to add 120 annual training hours to its current 40 hours of training per officer to meet what federal attorneys are seeking.
The remaining $10 million represents costs that are “more difficult to quantify,” according to the memo.
Overall, the memo warned, absorbing the costs within the Police Department’s existing budget would likely “mean pulling resources away from other day-to-day functions, such as patrol, and could result in increased response time for emergency calls.”
Goldberg wrote that the budget office is just beginning to determine its estimates of the proposed federal impacts, cautioning “at this early stage of the discussions it is premature to be able to accurately estimate the final costs of any agreement.”
Only last week, McGinn said the city had forecast a cost of $5 million a year to make assumed changes, calling it part of $30 million budget shortfall for 2013.
But that figure was based on an April budget forecast that came before the Justice Department proposal, according to Goldberg’s memo.
In his radio interview, McGinn said the scope of the oversight would make the independent monitor a “shadow mayor,” a reference to a comment by a source who told The Seattle Times last week that the monitor could become a “shadow chief.”
The mayor said he would have to receive permission from the monitor to shift tactics in a developing situation, hampering his ability to issue immediate orders to police.
“We are prepared to spend money … but not in a way that compromises public safety,” McGinn said.
Bates, of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said in his statement, “Constitutional policing does not inhibit or hamstring good policing, and it is irresponsible to suggest it does.”
McGinn said the city will propose its own court order as well as a monitor, but will not agree to conditions that limit its ability to respond to developing events.
Aaron Pickus, the mayor’s spokesman, declined to comment on the possibility the monitor could be Green, a Detroit lawyer with considerable public-service experience who oversaw reforms of Cincinnati’s police in the 2000s after a Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation.
In Cincinnati, he oversaw a team brought in to improve police practices, meeting considerable resistance from law enforcement. However, six years after he began, Green issued his final monitoring report and declared the process “one of the most successful police reform efforts ever undertaken.”
Green served as a U.S. attorney in Michigan from 1994 to 2001 and as Detroit’s deputy mayor for three years, resigning from that post last year.
Burgess, in remarks after Monday’s private briefing, questioned the mayor’s assertion about a “shadow mayor.”
“That would never happen,” he said.
Council President Sally Clark said a “shadow chief” or “shadow mayor” would not be an outcome of negotiations with the DOJ. “That’s not what DOJ wants and not what we want,” she said.
Clark also was critical of the mayor for raising the possibility of cuts to city services.
“There will be costs,” she said, but added, “We have a responsibility to maintain the services people expect. One of those services is a well-functioning Police Department.”
Seattle Times staff reporters Maureen O’Hagan and Mike Carter contributed to this story.
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302