Seattle police call DOJ's reform proposals wildly unrealistic
In an analysis, Seattle police call the Justice Department's proposed reforms wildly unrealistic and expensive.
The Seattle Police Department is objecting to reforms proposed by the U.S. Department of Justice as wildly unrealistic and expensive, according to documents reviewed by The Associated Press.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) presented its confidential settlement proposal to the city at the end of March, after finding that Seattle police regularly used illegal force, often for minor offenses. Federal attorneys threatened to sue unless the problems were fixed.
The Associated Press reviewed a copy of the proposal Tuesday, which shows the DOJ wants the city to change policies, add to training for officers and hire more sergeants to supervise patrol officers. The city must also agree to the appointment of an outside monitor, at city expense.
A Seattle police analysis of the DOJ proposal, also reviewed by The Associated Press, takes issue with the cost of the changes — $41 million a year, according to a preliminary estimate — as well as the four- to six-month timelines to implement many of them. It complains that the 1-to-6 ratio of sergeants to patrol officers that federal prosecutors are seeking, as opposed to the department's current ratio of 1-to-8, is not a standard found in most major city police agencies, and would take, conservatively, two to three years to accomplish.
"Plainly stated, the overwhelming majority of programs proposed by DOJ cannot be implemented in less than one to three years, if at all," the analysis reads. "These timelines can only be described as impossible and prompt serious questions about the analytical thoroughness and organizational experience of those who proposed them."
Mayor Mike McGinn and city officials are preparing to submit a formal counterproposal to the DOJ this week.
A source familiar with the latest draft told The Seattle Times the counterproposal uses the term "response to resistance," substituting that wording for "use of force." The city of Austin, Texas, used that phrase when it responded to a DOJ civil-rights investigation in 2008.
Seattle police also want to be released from a court-enforced consent decree after two years if they have complied with changes by then, the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
If the decree is still in place after four years, DOJ would have to prove that it should go beyond that, according to the source. At a maximum, the decree would be capped at six years, according to the source.
The DOJ's proposal calls for reaching the 1-to-6 ratio of sergeants to officers in six months, but appears to give some flexibility by saying that before that, the city and Police Department should evaluate the ratio to determine whether the suggestion is appropriate.
In the first year, the Seattle police analysis said, officers would be recruited and trained to fill in for promoted sergeants. The sergeant exam must be announced a year in advance, according to civil-service laws, and by city rules, the exams are given every other year. Any shortcut to the rules can result in appeals, and typically no more than 20 percent of those taking the exam are promoted.
Once the city submits its counterproposal, McGinn said he expects "good-faith negotiations" between the city and DOJ. If no agreement is reached, the city expects to face a lawsuit from DOJ on June 1.
McGinn first announced the cost estimate of $41 million on Monday, prompting the U.S. Attorney's Office in Seattle to describe the figure as "simply wrong."
The U.S. Attorney's Office declined to comment Tuesday.
In December, a DOJ report found that one of every five times a Seattle officer used force, it was used unconstitutionally. The department failed to adequately review the use of force and lacked policies and training related to the use of force, it said.
McGinn has said he agrees with many of the DOJ's findings and has already pushed initiatives to address some of the issues raised. U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan has said those are encouraging, but too vague to satisfy the DOJ.
The DOJ's 100-page settlement proposal includes a wide array of changes, some previously reported by The Times:
• Officers must use "disengagement and de-escalation techniques" to calm agitated suspects or call in specialized units to reduce the need for force, and only use force proportional to resistance.
• Officers shall not use any weapon to strike someone in the head unless deadly force is required.
• All uses of force, including pointing a gun at someone, must be reported.
• No force can be used against someone who merely talks back to an officer.
• New reporting requirements for investigative stops of civilians, including duration of stop and perceived race of person stopped, to collect data to ensure bias-free policing.
• An expansion of the police department's crisis-intervention teams.
• Policies to protect whistle-blowers, with the presumed response for retaliation being firing.
The DOJ's proposed settlement also calls for 40 hours of annual training for officers, sergeants and commanders on topics ranging from role-playing in proper use-of-force decision-making, to use of weapons, de-escalation techniques, crisis intervention, anti-bias training and evaluating written reports. The police department believes adequate training covering all those topics would take far longer than 40 hours — perhaps 120 hours or more of training beyond the 40 hours officers already undergo every year.
That would require other officers to fill in, on overtime, for those receiving training, the department said.
The department is already operating at a bare-bones level, with 520 patrol officers and average response times hovering at just under seven minutes, the analysis said, and it would be "preposterous" to promote 54 officers to sergeant without replacing them.
Seattle Times staff reporters Steve Miletich and Lynn Thompson contributed to this report.
Information in this article, originally published May 16, 2012, was corrected May 17, 2012. A previous version of this story contained erroneous information from The Associated Press about the police department's average response time to emergency calls. The average response time is just under seven minutes, not just under six minutes.