On the campaign trail, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn has sought to portray his clashes with the Justice Department over police reform as a positive part of his first-term record.
McGinn frequently notes his role in the creation of the Community Police Commission, a 15-member group that provides citizen oversight and input into the police-reform effort.
At times, McGinn has suggested he had to drag the Justice Department into an agreement to create the commission, which became part of the consent decree settling the DOJ’s claims of unconstitutional use-of-force by police. For example, in an interview with the West Seattle Herald, McGinn said “This is something I got into the agreement and isn’t something the DOJ initially wanted. I had to fight for it…”
But Jenny Durkan, U.S. Attorney for Western Washington, is pushing back against McGinn’s version of history.
In a letter sent Monday to the CPC, Durkan told commissioners “you may be aware of recent public comments suggesting that the U.S. Department of Justice resisted the formation of a community oversight panel, and that this somehow delayed or prolonged the consent decree negotiations.”
That’s not true, Durkan wrote in the letter co-signed by Jonathan Smith, chief of the special litigation section for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
“As you know, the community has been at the heart of this matter from the start, and an oversight board was a concept the DOJ actively supported and continues to believe plays a critical role in effective and measurable reform,” the letter said.
In fact, the letter notes, the city initially resisted DOJ efforts to address concerns about racially biased policing. The city’s initial response to the DOJ in May 2012, “was so limited in scope it nearly derailed the settlement process and prolonged negotiations.”
The DOJ formally proposed a “Community Monitoring Board,” as early as June of last year, more than month before the eventual settlement, the letter notes. It added that concept “was further developed and improved, and, ultimately, became the CPC.”
“City leaders should properly be credited with their role in crafting the the final provision and for supporting your work,” the letter said. “However, the DOJ never resisted or delayed an agreement because it contemplated community involvement.”
Robert Cruickshank, a spokesman for McGinn’s office, said the mayor is happy with the final outcome of the DOJ consent decree. “I don’t know that we have any interest in relitigating this,” he added.
The letter comes amid a mayoral campaign in which state Sen. Ed Murray has hammered McGinn on the DOJ issue. McGinn has responded by pointing to last July’s news conference announcing the city’s settlement with DOJ, at which Durkan and another top DOJ official specifically gave McGinn credit for creation of the CPC (see video of that here).
Thomas Bates, the executive assistant U.S. Attorney in Seattle, had no comment on the letter.
Durkan’s letter also said DOJ was willing to waive confidentiality of its negotiations with the city to release its proposal, which included a version of the CPC — allowing the city to release the document if it chooses. The Seattle Times has made a request for the document to McGinn’s office and to the office of City Attorney Pete Holmes.