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Originally published March 30, 2012 at 9:44 PM | Page modified March 30, 2012 at 9:48 PM

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Feds stand firm on reforming SPD

As the Department of Justice met with city officials to start negotiating reforms to the Seattle Police Department, U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan stressed that any solutions must come with federal court oversight to ensure the fixes last.

Seattle Times staff reporter


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Federal civil-rights attorneys have told Seattle officials that they intend to seek a court-monitored decree to ensure that proposed Police Department reforms are "lasting and sustainable."

U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan said requiring the city to enter into a formal consent decree — a binding legal document that is enforceable by a federal judge — will guarantee that the Seattle Police Department will address the use-of-force and biased-policing issues raised by a Department of Justice civil-rights investigation last year.

"Whatever solutions we arrive at have to be part of a court-ordered agreement," Durkan said Friday after meeting behind closed doors with Mayor Mike McGinn, City Attorney Pete Holmes and City Council members Sally Clark and Tim Burgess. "I'm optimistic and I have every expectation that the city and the [Justice Department] will reach an agreement."

McGinn, meeting briefly with reporters after the meeting, deflected questions about his willingness to stipulate to court oversight of any settlement.

"We will negotiate in good faith," he said.

The meeting came one day after McGinn and Police Chief John Diaz released the city's own package of proposed reforms in response to the Justice Department's findings that Seattle police use unconstitutionally excessive force in one in every five instances when force is used.

Federal officials also noted inconclusive evidence of biased policing. Some of the proposed reforms directly address issues raised by the Justice Department investigation: reducing police escalation of low-level incidents into violent incidents; creating specific guidelines for reporting the use of force; and educating officers on when and how they can stop to question or search citizens.

Durkan declined to say whether she believed the mayor's plan to roll out the 20 police-reform and anti-crime initiatives in 20 months would satisfy the issues raised by the investigation.

"I think what I'm most encouraged about, though, is that I saw the mayor and the chief of police side-by-side saying they support reforms," she said.

Durkan and Jonathan Smith, the head of the Justice Department's special litigation section in Washington, D.C., presented the city officials with a first draft of a court document that lays out Justice's proposed solutions and deadlines for the city to address the investigation's findings.

None of the officials who saw the report would characterize it, and all have agreed not to discuss its contents while negotiations are under way.

The Justice Department left only a handful of copies of the document, which will be kept in a safe in the city attorney's office when not in use, according to two sources.

The 11-month investigation into the Police Department was prompted by a series of high-profile clashes between minority citizens and police, including the fatal August 2010 shooting of First Nations woodcarver John T. Williams by Seattle police Officer Ian Birk.

The city's efforts to collaborate on a response to the Justice Department findings have been strained by a rift between the mayor and City Council, according to two sources familiar with the negotiations.

Initially, leaders promised to form a supercommittee of the city's top elected officials to formulate a unified response and come up with reforms to address community mistrust of Seattle police. Those efforts fractured early on when McGinn, at the urging of police brass, decided he wanted to see the data that led to the Justice findings before buying into a consent decree, the sources said.

The committee stopped meeting more than three weeks ago. Three key members of the council — President Sally Clark, Bruce Harrell and Tim Burgess — earlier this week sent McGinn a letter expressing disappointment in the committee's failure and outlining the essentials of what a settlement with the Justice Department should include.

The sources confirmed that staff attorneys from the city and the Justice Department are scheduled to meet to begin negotiations next week.

Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or mcarter@seattletimes.com

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