Seattle police object to DOJ proposal
Calling reforms wildly unrealistic, expensive
By Gene Johnson
SEATTLE — The Seattle Police Department is objecting to reforms proposed by the Justice Department as wildly unrealistic and expensive, according to documents reviewed by The Associated Press.
The DOJ presented its confidential settlement proposal to the city at the end of March, after finding that Seattle police regularly used illegal force, often for minor offenses. The DOJ threatened to sue unless the problems were fixed.
The AP reviewed a copy of the proposal Tuesday, which shows the DOJ wants the city to change policies, add training for officers and hire more sergeants to supervise patrol officers. The city must also agree to the appointment of an outside monitor, at city expense.
A Seattle Police analysis of the DOJ's proposal, also reviewed by the AP, takes issue with the cost of the reforms — $41 million, according to a preliminary estimate — as well as the four- to six-month timelines for many of them. It complains that the 1-to-6 ratio of sergeants to patrol officers that prosecutors are seeking, as opposed to the department's current ratio of 1-to-8, is not a standard found in most major city police agencies, and would take, conservatively, two to three years to accomplish.
"Plainly stated, the overwhelming majority of programs proposed by DOJ cannot be implemented in less than one to three years, if at all," the analysis reads. "These timelines can only be described as impossible and prompt serious questions about the analytical thoroughness and organizational experience of those who proposed them."
The DOJ's proposal calls for reaching the 1-to-6 ratio of sergeants to officers in six months, but appears to give some flexibility by saying that before that, the city and police department should evaluate the ratio to determine whether the suggestion is appropriate.
In the first year, the analysis said, officers would be recruited and trained to fill in for promoted sergeants. The sergeant exam must be announced a year in advance, according to civil service laws, and by city rules, the exams are given every other year. Any shortcut to the rules can result in appeals, and typically no more than 20 percent of those taking the exam are promoted.
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn is due to present his response to the DOJ's proposal this week, which he expects will be followed by "good-faith negotiations" between the city and DOJ. If no agreement is reached by the end of the month, the city expects to face a lawsuit from DOJ on June 1.
Last week, the DOJ sued tough-talking Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Maricopa County, Ariz., over allegations that his department racially profiled Latinos. It was only the second time since the verdict in the Rodney King police brutality case and Los Angeles riots that the Justice Department filed a lawsuit against a law enforcement agency with which it was unable to reach an agreement.
McGinn first announced the cost estimate of $41 million on Monday, prompting the U.S. attorney's office in Seattle to describe the figure as inflated. The city is facing a budget hole of about $30 million.
"The budget numbers being projected by the city are simply wrong," Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Bates said in a written statement Monday. "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."
The U.S. attorney's office declined to comment Tuesday.
The Justice Department launched its formal civil rights investigation early last year, following the fatal shooting of a homeless, Native American woodcarver and other incidents of force used against minority suspects.
Surveillance cameras and police-cruiser videos captured officers beating civilians, including stomping on a prone Latino man who was mistakenly thought to be a robbery suspect, and an officer kicking a non-resisting black youth in a convenience store.
In December, a DOJ report found that one out of every five times an officer used force, it was used unconstitutionally. The department failed to adequately review the use of force and lacked policies and training related to the use of force, it said.
McGinn has said he agrees with many of the DOJ's findings and has already pushed initiatives to address some of the issues raised. U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan has said those are encouraging, but too vague to satisfy the DOJ.
The mayor has expressed some heartburn over the appointment of an independent monitor to oversee the changes, saying it could hamstring officers in some situations — for example, during a public safety emergency, such as rioting that gripped the city's downtown on May 1. The mayor has suggested that he would not have been able to take certain actions, such as issuing an emergency order authorizing police to seize bats and long sticks from the protesters, without advance approval from the monitor.
The DOJ has disputed that — "Constitutional policing does not inhibit or hamstring the police," Durkan said — and McGinn announced Monday that he ultimately will agree to the appointment of a monitor.
"The monitor shall not, and is not intended to, replace or assume the role and duties of the city or Seattle Police Department, including the chief of police," the DOJ's proposal reads.
The DOJ's 100-page settlement proposal includes a wide array of changes.
– Officers must use "disengagement and de-escalation techniques" to calm agitated suspects or call in specialized units to reduce the need for force, and only use force proportional to resistance used by suspects;
– Officers shall not use any weapon to strike someone in the head unless deadly force is authorized;
– All uses of force, including pointing a gun at someone, must be reported;
– No force can be used against someone who merely talks back to an officer;
– New reporting requirements for investigative stops of civilians, including duration of stop and perceived race of person stopped, to collect data to ensure bias-free policing.
– An expansion of the police department's crisis intervention teams;
– Policies to protect whistleblowers, with the presumed punishment for retaliation being firing;
– An expansion of the city's police-review board, the Office of Professional Accountability, to include a review of whether the board should report to the mayor rather than the police department. The city maintains that many of the changes to OPA would require negotiations with the Seattle Police Officer's Guild; according to the Seattle Police analysis, the last time changes to the OPA were negotiated, it cost the city more than $24 million in pay raises for union members.
The DOJ's proposed settlement also calls for 40 hours of annual training for officers, sergeants and commanders on topics ranging from role-playing in proper use-of-force decision-making, use of weapons, de-escalation techniques, crisis intervention, anti-bias training and evaluating written reports. The police department believes adequate training covering all those topics would take far longer than 40 hours — perhaps 120 hours or more of training beyond the 40 hours officers already undergo every year.
That would require other officers to fill in, on overtime, for those receiving training, the department said.
The department is already operating at a bare-bones level with 520 patrol officers and average response times hovering at just under six minutes, the analysis said, and it would be "preposterous" to simply promote 54 officers to sergeant without replacing them, the analysis said.
Copyright 2012 Associated Press