Feds, Seattle agree to police reforms
SEATTLE (AP) – Seattle officials agreed to an independent monitor and court oversight of its police department as part of an agreement announced Friday with the Justice Department following a damning report that found officers routinely used excessive force.
City and federal negotiators were involved in tense talks over the scope of a deal for months, and Justice Department lawyers had threatened to sue the city if a deal was not reached by July 31. The agreement was announced at City Hall by Jennifer Durkan, U.S. Attorney for Seattle, and Mayor Mike McGinn. The deal also calls for a special commission to concentrate on use of force issues.
The Justice Department launched its civil rights investigation early last year after the fatal shooting of a homeless, Native American woodcarver and other incidents when force was used against minority suspects. Surveillance cameras and police-cruiser videos captured officers beating other 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 officers were too quick to reach for weapons, such as flashlights and batons, even when arresting people for minor offenses. In all, the report found that force was used unconstitutionally one of every five times an officer resorted to it. The department failed to adequately review the use of force and lacked policies and training related to the use of force, it said. The ACLU and other community groups called for scrutiny of the department after a Seattle officer shot and killed the woodcarver, John T. Williams, in 2010.
Video from Officer Ian Birk's patrol car showed Williams crossing the street holding a piece of wood and a small knife, and Birk exiting the vehicle to pursue him. Off-camera, Birk quickly shouted three times for Williams to drop the knife then fired five shots. The knife was found folded at the scene, but Birk later maintained Williams had threatened him. Birk resigned from the force and was not charged. A review board found the shooting unjustified.
On Tuesday an agreement was announced between federal officials and the New Orleans Police Department to make sweeping reforms. The agreement detailed strict requirements for overhauling the police department's policies and procedures for use of force, training, interrogations, searches and arrests, recruitment and supervision.
Attorney General Eric Holder described the New Orleans agreement as the most wide-ranging in the Justice Department's history. It was aimed at resolving allegations that New Orleans police officers had engaged in a pattern of discriminatory and unconstitutional activity. The allegations against the Seattle Police Department were not as extensive or broad, but federal investigators determined Seattle officers engaged in excessive force that violated federal law and the Constitution.
In March, McGinn proposed a series of police reforms that included training for all officers on use of force standards, the development of protocol to make sure encounters don't escalate, and steps to address biased policing. Talks between Seattle officials and the Justice Department had been hung up after city officials initially balked at some federal proposals for reform.