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July 30, 2012 at 7:10 AM

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Seattle Police Department reforms - words on paper

The Seattle Police Department and Mayor Mike McGinn avoided being sued by the Department of Justice over federal concerns about SPD's use of force and allegations of biased policing. Everything else is a work in progress.

The settlement agreement and a memorandum of understanding announced at a Friday news conference full of knowing smiles came after a final flurry of intense negotiations. Two key elements draw praise: using a federal monitor to oversee progress, and straight-forward language about departmental procedures to investigate the use of force.

For all of the lawyerly brawling that shaped the final results, reading the documents suggest the parsing of words and expectations has only just begun. Via the settlement agreement, the SPD will develop, will clarify, will continue, will specify and will be guided by language for polices, reforms and procedures a long ways from being operational.

The strength, role and credibility of the monitor selected for this process are vital. The settlement's creation of the Community Police Commission to involve city residents in the provision of "effective, constitutional policing" is appealing. A similar, inclusive panel worked well for Cincinnati. The question here is if the commission nudges the existing and neglected Office of Professional Accountability into a nether world. OPA was shunted off to the MOU with unpredictable consequences for the future.

The next phase, stretching years down the road, is all about implementation. Pages of definitions and divisions of assignments and roles, and oversight, will shape what comes next.


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