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Originally published January 26, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified January 26, 2008 at 12:30 AM

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Mayor's panel wants more police scrutiny

The proposals would strengthen civilian oversight of the Police Department and require Chief Gil Kerlikowske to follow stricter guidelines when disciplining officers.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Seattle police officers would face tougher discipline and sharper scrutiny under a sweeping set of proposals to be issued next week by a mayor's panel, according to sources familiar with the panel's work.

Officers found to have lied in the course of their work would face a presumption they should be fired, the sources said.

The panel is to issue its long-awaited report Tuesday, setting up a likely battle between the Seattle Police Officers' Guild and Mayor Greg Nickels.

The proposals would strengthen civilian oversight of the Police Department and require Chief Gil Kerlikowske to follow stricter guidelines when disciplining officers.

Nickels appointed the 11-member expert panel in June after public outcry over Kerlikowske's handling of internal discipline, including whether he had improperly exonerated officers or reduced discipline.

The panel, which includes former Gov. Gary Locke and former Seattle Mayor Norm Rice, is expected to make 29 recommendations to bolster police accountability, the sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the recommendations haven't been made public.

Nickels is expected to respond to the proposals about a week after receiving them. According to aides, he is likely to embrace many aspects of the report.

The recommendations

Sources said the report will recommend:

Expanding the duties of the department's civilian auditor, who would conduct more probing reviews of internal investigations and provide more detailed reports to the public.

Creating a "presumption" that officers be fired when they lie about a material fact related to their official duties.

Requiring the police chief to explain in writing when he doesn't fire an officer for lying.

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Requiring the chief to give written explanations when he disagrees with disciplinary recommendations made by the department's Office of Professional Accountability, the civilian-led unit that investigates allegations of police misconduct. Kerlikowske was to start doing that Jan. 1, under an ordinance passed by the City Council last year, but the Seattle police union plans to challenge the law.

• Having the chief follow a different procedure when an officer provides him new information during the final stage of an internal investigation. If the chief at that point is not inclined to impose discipline, he must refer the matter back to the OPA for further investigation. That measure is aimed at preventing officers from withholding information to try to influence the chief at the last moment.

Kerlikowske has started doing that in anticipation of the mayor's report, sources said.

Barring officers from using vacation or leave time when they are suspended without pay.

Terrence Carroll, a former judge who chairs the mayor's panel, declined to comment Friday. Neither Kerlikowske nor Nickels' spokesman, Marty McOmber, could be reached for comment.

What led to the report

Nickels created the panel after Kerlikowske exonerated two officers accused of using excessive force in a downtown arrest last year, spurring criticism from a police-review board. Kerlikowske also had come under fire for not disciplining officers who had beaten an African-American man outside a Capitol Hill bar.

The panel's recommendation on the role of the auditor, who is appointed by the mayor, would dramatically broaden a job first created in the early 1990s.

Currently, the auditor monitors internal investigations and can make suggestions on how they should proceed. The auditor also writes reports about trends and makes policy recommendations.

Under the panel's proposal, the auditor would conduct even more comprehensive reviews of all aspects of the disciplinary system, write more detailed reports and operate less "behind the scenes," according to sources.

The auditor also would work closely with the OPA's civilian director, as well as the OPA Review Board, the City Council-appointed body that reviews closed internal investigations, sources said.

The report will further propose that the three-member review board be expanded to up to seven members and be given explicit authority to hold hearings, identify issues and write reports, according to sources. The board has operated without a clear mandate since it was established in 2002.

Among other proposals, the panel will recommend the Police Department provide more training to police sergeants who conduct internal investigations -- in part to avoid favoritism toward officers, the sources said.

Action could take years

The report will observe that the city has "bargained away toughness in the disciplinary process" to the police union, one source said.

Guild leaders have already said that anything other than small "tweaks" to the disciplinary system must be bargained with the union -- a process that could take years.

The police union claimed a major victory Thursday after a state labor examiner ruled the city wrongly gave the OPA Review Board disciplinary files with too much information. The city should have negotiated the issue, the examiner ruled.

The city plans to appeal to a three-member state panel.

City Councilmember Nick Licata, chair of the council's labor committee, said the city should begin discussing the recommendations from the mayor's panel during current contract negotiations with the union.

"If the panel's recommendations are not enacted in the next year, it's essentially the same thing as a pocket veto by the guild," Licata said.

Staff reporter Sharon Pian Chan contributed to this report.

Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or smiletich@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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