Diaz: 'I plan on following through' on SPD reforms
Facing mounting public outcry, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn Wednesday ordered Police Chief John Diaz to immediately begin carrying out reforms...
Seattle Times staff reporters
Letter from McGinn to ACLU
Justice Department's investigation report
Facing mounting public outcry, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn Wednesday ordered Police Chief John Diaz to immediately begin carrying out reforms urged by the U.S. Department of Justice in its scathing report on the Police Department's use of force.
"This process of change cannot wait," McGinn declared in a strongly worded letter.
The directive represented a dramatic change of course for McGinn, who stood with Diaz when the Justice Department report was issued last Friday, and both questioned what they called "allegations" that Seattle police engaged in a pattern of excessive use of force.
It also set the city on a course that could result in the most sweeping changes in the Police Department since it was fundamentally altered in the 1970s after decades of corruption and payoffs.
McGinn said he would convene a public review panel to oversee the city's response to the report, which also raised serious concerns about the Police Department's treatment of minorities.
Although McGinn reaffirmed his support of Diaz, the chief now finds himself in a weakened position, forced to accept the mayor's edict after Diaz defiantly challenged the Justice Department findings. In an interview Thursday, Diaz said it has been his intent from the beginning of the Justice Department's investigation to work with federal attorneys on changes, and that he took steps even before the report was issued.
But that "got lost" amid the initial reaction, said Diaz, adding that he is fully committed to following McGinn's order.
"I plan on following through with every one of them," he said of the Justice Department recommendations.
Diaz said the public panel will play a crucial role in the effort, giving the community an opportunity to offer the "best way to handle" the issues.
Still to be resolved is how McGinn and Diaz will transform policies into the cultural shift that many of the city's political and community leaders say is instrumental to reform.
Diaz said that will be done through coaching, training, mentoring and clear policies.
Thomas Bates, the executive assistant U.S. attorney in Western Washington, said, "We continue to be encouraged that the Seattle Police Department is taking positive steps to implement reforms, and we will continue to work with city and SPD leaders to institute real and lasting change."
McGinn's announcement came in a letter to the ACLU of Washington, which had sent the mayor a letter earlier in the day calling on him to embrace the Justice Department's findings and include members of the community in working toward solutions.
The ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) and 34 community groups, many representing minorities, pressed McGinn to "make a strong public statement outlining your plans for addressing the very serious issues" raised by the Justice Department report.
Several leaders of those community groups expressed anger over the past few days that McGinn had not immediately pledged to act on the recommendations and move forward to address longstanding complaints about police officers' use of force.
In his letter to Kathleen Taylor, executive director of the ACLU, McGinn said Seattle deserves a police department that fights crime in a "fair and equitable" way.
"We have heard from the public and now the federal government that more must be done," the mayor wrote. "We agree. Let us be very clear: we are committed to reform."
In an interview, McGinn said Seattle police would begin implementing all the recommendations in the Justice Department report, with the intent of incorporating them into a legally binding consent decree sought by federal attorneys. The recommendations are aimed at improving supervision and training of officers and community relations.
"We're committed to making reforms here, but we need to work through with DOJ (Department of Justice) about what those reforms look like," he said. "There's not a recommendation that we say, 'we can't do that,' or 'you're wrong there.' There are some we've done already; there's some we started; and there are some we're working toward."
Committed to chief
McGinn said he remains committed to Diaz, who was named chief by the mayor in mid-2010. He declined to say whether Diaz should make changes in the department's command staff, out of deference to the chief's authority and because he doesn't like to publicly discuss personnel issues.
"My objective is to have a highly professional police force that treats everyone with dignity and respect, and I think that's a goal that is shared by a vast majority of officers," he said.
Diaz said Thursday that he wouldn't discuss changes in the command staff, except to say that he is "fully supportive" of them. He said he will makes changes if that is needed.
Of his own status, Diaz said he is capable of leading the department.
McGinn, in previous statements, said he and Seattle police wanted to see the Justice Department's methodology and data that led to a finding that 20 percent of use-of-force incidents were excessive, in order to give officers clear operating guidelines. On Wednesday, McGinn said that was still the case, but he described the city as more focused on implementing the reforms.
Some of the recommendations require discussion with both the Justice Department and community groups to work out complicated issues, McGinn said. As an example, he cited a recommendation that each person included in a police report be described by ethnicity or race.
"Asking about ethnicity and race can be a sensitive issue," he said.
He also cited the Justice Department recommendation that Seattle police change instructions to officers regarding so-called Garrity rights, named after a U.S. Supreme Court decision that compelled statements from officers can't be used in a criminal prosecution.
"We're committed to making reforms there, but need to work through with DOJ what those reforms would look like," McGinn said.
McGinn acknowledged a change in tone in response to the Justice Department report. He said initial news accounts focused on concerns about the report's methodology, instead of the city's commitment to reforming police practices.
Asked if a change was needed in the culture of Seattle police, McGinn said, "What we heard from DOJ is most officers don't use force, don't use excessive force. What we need from them is, what are the specific examples and concerns raised by DOJ about excessive force, and what are the practices — in training, in oversight, in discipline — that need to be changed."
The list of reforms cited in the mayor's letter to the ACLU includes a system of consistent supervision of patrol officers; a new Professional Standards Section, a new Force Review Board and a force investigative team; a rewrite of the department's policies and procedures; and work to revise and simplify the Office of Professional Accountability, which investigates complaints against officers.
In the letter, McGinn concluded, "Chief Diaz and I expect our police force to be a national model of professionalism and accountability. ... "
In response, the ACLU's Taylor issued a written statement saying: "The Mayor's statement embracing the DOJ's recommendations for reform is a welcome and positive development. The ACLU and other groups who wrote to the Mayor today look forward to working with City officials and the DOJ to bring about much-needed changes."
An angry reaction
Community leaders who a year ago had called for the federal investigation into the Police Department's use of force reacted with growing anger to the skepticism initially displayed by McGinn and Diaz.
Many minority groups supported the mayor's election and said they were hopeful when McGinn remarked in December 2010 that he welcomed the scrutiny the Justice Department could bring to the Police Department.
Pramila Jayapal, executive director of OneAmerica, praised the mayor for ordering Diaz to implement the federal recommendations. She said she spoke with Deputy Mayor Darryl Smith over the weekend and again on Monday, relating that she and other community leaders were "deeply troubled" by the defensive reactions to the Justice Department report.
Jayapal said she understood that McGinn wanted to be cautious and to be fair to the Police Department. But, she said, "This is not the time for deliberative thinking. It's time for a clear statement that he wants the force to be the best it can be to serve and protect the community."
Others questioned why McGinn didn't speak out strongly on the need to embrace the recommendations from the start.
"It's disappointing that it took community pressure to get him to implement reforms. This is what he should have been saying originally. He only said it when it was clear the public was outraged" by the lack of action, said Nicole Gaines, president of the Loren Miller Bar Association, a statewide organization of African-American attorneys and judges, and one of the 34 community leaders who requested the Justice Department investigation. "It seems more politically motivated than that it's the right thing to do."
City Councilmember Bruce Harrell, who will take over the council's public-safety committee in January, said it was "great" that the mayor ordered Diaz to implement the recommended reforms but added, "It's also important to find out why they were made."
Harrell pointed to a finding in the report that 20 officers were responsible for 18 percent of all the department's use-of-force incidents in 2010. "If we can't identify the frequent fliers, that's a huge problem. This has been an issue for the community for years. They know these officers by name."
Seattle Times staff reporter Mike Carter contributed to this story.
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or email@example.com
The headline for this story on the seattletimes.com home page had an incorrect acronym for a short time. A previous version of the headline said SPJ instead of SPD.
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