This Washington

Legislator Tries to Block DOJ Takeover of SPD

By Jonah Spangenthal-Lee January 20, 2012

A Seattle cop who serves in the state legislature is attempting to derail a possible Department of Justice takeover of the Seattle Police Department.

Last month, the DOJ released a report that found that Seattle police frequently used excessive force during arrests, and described the department's "system of accountability" as "broken." As a result of the probe, the SPD could be forced to enter into an agreement with DOJ, which would mandate changes within the department under threat of a federal civil rights lawsuit.

SPD has taken issue with the DOJ's findings and asked the DOJ to back up their report by sharing more data, but some members of the city council have endorsed moving forward with an agreement with the feds.

Now, Seattle police officer and State Rep. Mike Hope (R-44) has proposed legislation that would prevent SPD or any other law enforcement agency in the state—like the Spokane PD, also facing a DOJ probe—from adopting DOJ directives.

Hope is the sole sponsor of the legislation.
Hope's bill would prohibit police departments across the state from adopting any use of force policies dictated by the DOJ, unless they're explicitly required by an act of Congress, and would task the state attorney general with handling any civil rights lawsuits brought against police departments by the federal government.

Hope has also proposed another bill that would create a task force of legislators, cops, and attorneys to review the methodologies used during the DOJ's investigation into the SPD.

Hope's legislation hinges on the Tenth Amendment of the US Constitution (states' rights), asserting that the feds can't dictate use of force policies for local law enforcement. Hope's bill also notes that any DOJ-mandated changes at SPD could potentially impact other law enforcement agencies in the state. "[If changes made in Seattle are going to affect police departments in Lake Stevens, Yakima, or Spokane, then lawmakers need to see the data and decide what steps should be taken," Hope said in a statement.

We've contacted council member Bruce Harrell and Mayor Mike McGinn to see what they think of Hope's bill. We also have a call out to Hope's office.

A spokesman for the Department of Justice declined to comment on the proposed legislation.

UPDATE: Council member Harrell's office emailed PubliCola to say he plans to contact Hope "in the next few days" to discuss the bill. The email also says Harrell "will only support legislation that strengthens accountability" within the department.

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