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Originally published Friday, May 11, 2012 at 9:43 PM

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Durkan: City must flesh out its '20/20' proposal

U. S. Attorney Jenny Durkan says the Seattle police "20/20" reform plan is a good framework, but that the Department of Justice expects far more details next week if the city hopes to avoid a federal lawsuit.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan said Seattle's "20/20" plan to reform the Police Department is a good start, but that the Department of Justice expects to see a far more detailed proposal next week if the city hopes to avoid a federal civil-rights lawsuit over findings of widespread and routine excessive force and evidence of biased policing.

"Part of '20/20' heartens me very much," Durkan said Friday, pointing out that Mayor Mike McGinn and Police Chief John Diaz have both acknowledged problems exist within the department in the areas identified in the Department of Justice findings. She said the plan also presents ideas on how the problems will be addressed.

"The framework is all there to get to an agreement," she said. "And, at the end of the day, I still believe that we will get to an agreement because the alternatives are just not good for anybody. Think about the impact of litigation to the city and the department."

McGinn has repeatedly said the city intends to "negotiate in good faith" with the Justice Department, but otherwise has refused to discuss the city's planned response, citing an agreement with federal attorneys to keep the talks and terms of a proposed agreement confidential.

Durkan, however, said that — with a crucial deadline pending next week — there have as yet been "no negotiations of substance."

"I am looking forward to getting their thoughtful and considered input," she said.

McGinn and the Police Department have put a big push behind the "20/20" plan as a solution to deep concerns within the community about a series of high-profile incidents, some caught on video, involving police use of force. Those concerns prompted a Justice Department investigation.

The city's plan calls for implementing 20 wide-ranging reforms over 20 months, addressing everything from use-of-force to internal affairs to officer hiring and training.

McGinn has said the proposals go "far beyond a response" to the Justice Department's findings and outline new ideas to target and reduce crime.

Durkan said "20/20" contains "terrific goals and aspirations," but lacks the substance the Department of Justice wants.

McGinn: Doing our best

"We fully cooperated with the Department of Justice during their eight-month investigation," McGinn said. "We offered our assistance during the three-and-a-half months they took to prepare their proposal. And we will respond within the six-week timeline we have said we needed for review.

"As the U.S. attorney said on KUOW today, the city has an agreement with the U.S. Attorney's Office to not discuss negotiations in the press as we work in good faith toward a mutually acceptable agreement to support a just and effective police force."

Sources have said the city's deadline for submitting its proposed reforms is Wednesday. Durkan, however, would say only that the deadline is next week.

"We have to have specifics for each of the areas ... timetables, supervision and accountability," she said. "We need them to put meat on the bones."

Sources familiar with the talks say federal attorneys want increased supervision by sergeants; more power for the independent civilian auditor who oversees the Police Department's internal-investigation unit; and tighter promotion policies to ensure that, in the future, commanders have worked in the internal-investigation unit and don't have a serious discipline history.

One thing Durkan reiterated is that the Department of Justice will demand a court-enforced consent decree, as well as an outside monitor to ensure the fixes take.

"You know that, over the years, we've had episodic issues in Seattle with the police. What has happened is that a panel will be appointed and come up with ideas, and a checklist will be made of reforms, and then they get put on the shelf," said Durkan, who as a private attorney has been a member of two such panels in the past 10 years.

This time, she said, the only way to ensure the changes are permanent is a monitor who can actively engage the community, the police, the Department of Justice and the federal court. She dismissed as a scare tactic the notion that the monitor would be, as one source told The Seattle Times, a "shadow chief" who would take over the department.

"It can't work, and we don't want it either," she said.

Admissions of a need

The "20/20" plan also might serve another purpose, though not one the department or city intended.

Durkan said the Department of Justice considers "20/20" and the "statements made around it to be clear admissions of the need for reform, and the problems addressed [in the plan] are in the exact areas as we defined them" in their investigation.

In other words, the Department of Justice could use the "20/20" plan as evidence to prove its claims.

Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, who oversees the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division in Washington, D.C., which oversaw the investigation of Seattle police, said as much Thursday in the case of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, of Maricopa County, Ariz., whose department was sued earlier this week in connection with racial profiling.

Arpaio had released a 17-page document addressing proposed department reforms the day before the lawsuit was filed.

"We see these 17 pages as largely an admission of the problem," said Perez, who called the Arizona sheriff's response a "too little, too late document."

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

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