Mayor Mike McGinn will appoint a commission to review Seattle police policies and practices, but its members must be confirmed by the City Council.
A hard-fought settlement agreement announced Friday between the U.S. Department of Justice and the city of Seattle reaches into almost every aspect of how police officers interact with citizens, from casual contact to the use of deadly force.
The settlement, finalized just days before a July 31 deadline, was hailed by city and federal officials as an innovative breakthrough that will bring in a federal monitor to oversee many of the changes.
It includes creation of a Community Police Commission to help guide the independent, court-appointed monitor and ensure community involvement in the reforms.
The result, said U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan, will be a “sea change” in policing in Seattle. “We think we got it right.”
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The agreement also drew praise from Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, who oversees the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division and who flew to Seattle for the announcement.
The last time Perez was here, in December, it was to release a scathing DOJ report that found police routinely used unconstitutional levels of force and may have engaged in biased policing.
Seven months of posturing and difficult negotiations — mostly accomplished in the past few weeks — ended with a compromise that Perez said will provide citizens with “effective and constitutional policing” and make the jobs of police officers “easier, not harder.”
The negotiations picked up speed last month after Mayor Mike McGinn flew to Washington, D.C., and met with Perez.
Among requirements of the agreement is that officers be specifically trained to use each weapon they carry and report any force that results in injury or a complaint. The more force used, the more detailed the reporting requirements and the greater the scrutiny it will receive.
Police officers will now have to file a use-of-force report when they point a gun at someone, something the department did not require in the past.
The agreement calls for officers to look for ways to de-escalate confrontations and, within safe bounds, decrease their use of force.
The DOJ alleged that illegal force was most often used against people of color and those who were either mentally or chemically impaired.
The Seattle Police Department (SPD) will also establish a Crisis Intervention Committee to focus on training, researching best practices, and providing officers with new and additional resources to deal with the mentally ill on the streets.
McGinn was credited with coming up with the idea of the community commission, and Perez said he wouldn’t be surprised to see it incorporated in other cities under DOJ scrutiny.
McGinn will appoint its members with the approval of the City Council in the next 90 days. Once established, it will review the monitor’s semiannual reports to the court, hold public meetings, make recommendations to the city, and engage the community in police reforms. It also will review recommended changes to the department’s civilian-run Office of Professional Accountability, among other tasks.
The mayor said the final settlement meets the criteria on which he had insisted: It provides effective reforms, enhances public safety and fits within the city’s tight budget. As for the last point, McGinn said he did not know yet how much implementing the settlement will cost: “But it will cost.”
The city has agreed to set aside $100,000 to help hire the monitor, who must be jointly selected by both sides within 60 days. The monitor will be allowed to hire staff and may incur other expenses.
In a March proposal, the DOJ suggested the department also lacked enough supervisors and recommended a 1-to-6 ratio of sergeants to officers. McGinn said that would be too expensive and force the department to rapidly promote officers, taking them away from responding to calls.
The agreement instead requires the SPD to provide “sufficient first-line supervisors” to assure that use of force is reviewed and documented, and that officers are assigned to a “single, consistent, clearly identified first-line supervisor.”
McGinn also cautioned that there may be some resistance from within the department and possibly even some backsliding before policing improves.
City Attorney Pete Holmes, who called the agreement “very promising,” also cautioned that “we have years of implementation ahead … of us.”
The agreement would be in place for five years, possibly shorter if both parties agree the city and Seattle police have been in compliance for at least two years.
The 76-page agreement, which was filed in U.S. District Court and subject to approval by U.S. District Judge James Robart, requires the Police Department to take steps to deal with biased policing of minorities, even though the city at one point resisted incorporating that into a settlement.
While the agreement represents a significant turning point in the city’s policing, the city said in the document that it “does not admit or agree” with the DOJ’s findings, but enters into the agreement “because it wishes to ensure that its police department is functioning at an exceptional level and that it has positive relationships with all its communities.”
The mayor acknowledged the challenges facing the department: “Bias and discrimination exist in all levels of our lives,” McGinn said. “Our Police Department is no different. But this city is committed to eliminating bias.”
Police Chief John Diaz said his department is ready and willing to implement the changes the community has called for. “In the end,” he said, “we will be a better Police Department.”
However, those involved agreed the negotiated agreement is just one step is what will almost certain be a long and difficult process. The news conference had barely ended when the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, which has steadfastly rejected the DOJ’s findings, issued a release saying it wished the city had instead let DOJ sue.
Although the union “had hoped that the City of Seattle would force the DOJ to go to court to prove their allegations,” the statement said, “we understand the need to get this issue resolved, so that the police department and the city can move on.”
Seattle Times news researchers Miyoko Wolf and David Turim contributed to this report. Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org.