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Originally published February 25, 2011 at 9:29 PM | Page modified February 25, 2011 at 9:42 PM

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Seattle City Council aims to improve police accountability

The Seattle City Council issued 11 proposals Friday designed to improve accountability and strengthen public trust in the police force.

Seattle Times staff reporter

The Seattle City Council issued 11 proposals Friday designed to improve accountability and strengthen public trust in the police force.

The recommendations include mandatory drug testing for police involved in deadly-force incidents, higher standards for hiring and training, and monthly reports about misconduct.

Tim Burgess, chairman of the council's Public Safety Committee, said the measures are meant to "stop the erosion of public confidence" after highly publicized confrontations between police and minority suspects caught on video over the past year.

"What we're hearing from the public are questions about what's going on and why it's continuing," Burgess said. "We want policies in place that create a culture in the Police Department where these incidents will not occur and where the effectiveness of officers will improve."

Burgess acknowledged that many of the recommendations were subject to bargaining with the department's two unions. But he said some could be adopted by the council as policy directives to the command staff.

Union contract

The Seattle Police Officers' Guild (SPOG) issued a statement late Friday afternoon warning that state law requires changes in work conditions to be bargained. The union is negotiating a new contract with the city.

"SPOG has demonstrated for many years that we are always willing to entertain new ideas and recommendations for improvement to police policy and procedures. ... SPOG is willing to discuss these recommendations at the bargaining table," the union said.

The department has come under criticism for its use of force against minorities and the length of time it takes to hold an officer accountable for misconduct.

The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating whether officers engaged in a pattern of unnecessary force, particularly against minorities.

In his State of the City address Tuesday, Mayor Mike McGinn suggested the issue of trust could be addressed through the impending retirement of about 300 officers. He noted that more than 80 percent of police live outside Seattle and that new officers could be recruited who share "our commitment to racial and social justice."

Critical of speech

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Burgess, who is himself viewed as a possible mayoral candidate in 2013, criticized McGinn's approach after the speech as lacking specifics.

On Friday, Burgess said his committee's proposals to make the department more accountable and transparent "are focused on specific outcomes," rather than values, although he said values "are a legitimate concern."

The 11 recommendations were sent to McGinn, Police Chief John Diaz, Lt. Eric Sano, president of the Seattle Police Management Association, and Sgt. Rich O'Neill, president of the guild.

They were signed by Burgess, and the public-safety committee's two other members, Sally Clark and Sally Bagshaw.

The proposals include:

• Improved hiring standards and training. The department should provide de-escalation training for all patrol officers with special emphasis on misdemeanor and low-level encounters. Previous audits of the department have said that too many minor incidents escalate into violence.

• Monthly reports on sustained misconduct findings that include a summary of the incident, the nature of discipline and the name of the officer disciplined.

• Expedited review of cases that could result in criminal charges against an officer.

• Mandatory testing for drugs, including steroids, of all officers involved in deadly-force incidents.

• Priority in recruiting and promotion of officers who have attended college. Current policy requires a high-school diploma or GED.

Burgess said the council will act on recommendations in the coming two months.

Those subject to collective bargaining will be introduced into the negotiations with the unions, he said.

Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or lthompson@seattletimes.com

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