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Originally published December 11, 2013 at 6:55 PM | Page modified December 11, 2013 at 8:18 PM

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Durkan tells citizens panel that its police-reform role is limited

U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan tells the Community Police Commission to focus on its own duties as the Department of Justice and the city of Seattle move to adopt court-ordered police reforms.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Two weeks after a federal judge denied a citizens commission’s request to intervene in Seattle’s court-ordered police reforms, U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan apologized to its members if they have felt steamrollered and said reform efforts cannot succeed without their work.

But Durkan, in a no-nonsense exchange with Community Police Commission (CPC) co-chairs Lisa Daugaard and Diane Narasaki, reminded them Wednesday that they are not a party to the civil-rights settlement between the city and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) over findings of police abuses, and that the process will move forward.

She suggested the commission focus on its own duties under the consent decree.

“What you say matters,” Durkan told the commission. “But it’s important to know where and when to push. We will take the pushing and shoving, but as the Department of Justice we will fight to maintain a two-party agreement.”

Durkan urged the commission to refocus on its mission of community engagement and reviewing the Seattle Police Department’s accountability system as outlined in the memorandum of understanding between the DOJ and the city that established the CPC.

Daugaard and Narasaki have both complained that that role is too limiting and have adopted a broader view of CPC’s job to include providing suggestions and input in areas where the DOJ does not believe it should have a voice.

The CPC, for example, has urged the court to push back a number of deadlines so it could have additional say in policies addressing police use of force and biased policing — the issues that led to the DOJ’s investigation into the Police Department in the first place.

The DOJ opposed that effort, and last month U.S. District Judge James Robart denied the CPC’s motion to formally intervene in the case, citing concerns that it might slow the process of reforms. He invited them to participate, however, as a “friend of the court.”

Durkan — who was accompanied by two attorneys from the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division in Washington, D.C. — said implementing the court-ordered reforms does not lend itself to the often soul-searching process embraced by Seattle officials.

Daugaard argued that the CPC’s role is “crucial” to ensuring community “buy-in” to the reforms. She said that, without CPC involvement, the communities aren’t being adequately heard.

That brought a sharp response from Durkan: “You don’t own the community,” she said. “And you are not the only people getting community input.”

Daugaard pointed out that the DOJ, the city and the court-appointed monitor were meeting Wednesday to discuss biased-policing and in-car video policies — both of vital importance to the CPC — and that the CPC was not invited.

The monitor, Merrick Bobb, has commissioned a survey of public perceptions of the Police Department.

Narisaki reminded Durkan that the commission was late being set up and that many of the deadlines in the settlement agreement were established before the CPC ever met. After decades of complaints over police abuses, she said, the communities “are hungry” for reforms.

“But there is cynicism, too,” that is being fed by a perception that the communities aren’t being given an opportunity to be heard.

“We are going to demand some recognition and respect,” Narisaki told Durkan, and that should include the courtesy of extending some deadlines.

“We were told to be independent, and maybe we’ve taken that to heart more than some people are comfortable with,” Narasaki said.

Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or Twitter: @stimesmcarter.

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