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March 29, 2012 at 11:18 AM

McGinn announces major reforms for Seattle police

Mayor Mike McGinn and Police Chief John Diaz today announced a sweeping package of reforms in response to a scathing federal report on the Seattle Police Department following a series of high-profile incidents involving minorities.

The 20 proposed reforms are aimed at “supporting a just and effective police force,” said McGinn during a news conference at City Hall. The reforms are to be implemented in 20 months, he said.

McGinn, Diaz and the department’s Assistant Chief of Operations Mike Sanford said the reforms fall under five major categories: Protecting constitutional rights; training for Seattle’s values; earning public trust; using data-driven practices; and partnering with the public.

Among the areas addressed in the reforms are preventing low-level offenses from escalating; preventing biased policing; training new officers so they understand Seattle; ensuring that all officer use-of-force incidents are consistently reported; launching a community outreach initiative; changing the way officers manage public demonstrations, including limiting the use of pepper spray to self-defense only; and developing a binding code of ethics.

To see a PDF of the department’s proposed reforms, click here.

“These initiatives reflect the values of our city,” Diaz said.

The proposed reforms follow a U.S. Department of Justice investigation that concluded the Police Department’s officers have engaged in a “pattern and practice” of excessive force. The investigation also uncovered troubling evidence of biased policing, but lacked the data to find a pattern.

The Justice Department’s 41-page report said its investigation found “deficiencies in SPD’s training, policies and oversight” and that “starting from the top, SPD supervisors often fail to meet their responsibility to provide oversight of the use of force” by officers.

The report, released Dec. 16, concluded that one of every five instances of force by Seattle officers violates the Constitution’s protections against illegal search and seizure.

Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said the department’s practices to assure accountability and public trust are “broken” and that the only sure fix is through court-ordered, long-term reform and an outside special monitor to oversee it.

The Justice Department report followed an 11-month investigation launched at the request of 34 minority community groups following the fatal shooting of a First Nations woodcarver by a Seattle police officer and other high-profile incidents with citizens.

Diaz and McGinn initially reacted to the report with skepticism. Diaz questioned the methodology used by Justice Department, saying he and his commanders examined the same data and did not reach the same conclusions.

However, a few days after the release of the Justice Department report McGinn ordered Diaz to immediately begin carrying out department reforms. McGinn also said he would convene a public review panel to oversee the city’s response to the report.

But sources have told The Seattle Times that efforts to create a unified response to the report have unraveled. The city is meeting with Justice Department officials tomorrow.

One of the sticking points with McGinn and police, sources tell The Times, is the need for court oversight of the changes recommended by the Justice Department.

Responding to the Police Department’s proposed reforms, Kathleen Taylor, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, said in a news release:

“The ACLU is encouraged that the City is responding to the Department of Justice investigation by identifying some steps to improve the Seattle Police Department. We urge the City to speedily negotiate a consent decree with the DOJ that will include a monitor and court oversight. Seattle cannot solve the longstanding problems of SPD culture and accountability without that assistance. A consent decree is critical to ensure that reforms are thoroughly implemented and are sustained for the long term.”

Comments | More in The Blotter | Topics: John Diaz, John T. Williams, Mayor Mike McGinn

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