With a goal of addressing police bias and police misuse of force, the Department of Justice announced an agreement with Mayor Mike McGinn and the Seattle Police Department this afternoon. The deal came just in time, beating the looming deadline the DOJ had set (July 31) for a police accountability plan in the wake of the DOJ's damning report earlier this year.

The new agreement, ultimately overseen by a federal judge, dubbed the Community Police Commission requires a full internal investigation any time cops use force in a situation, which includes pointing a gun at someone, but not using it.

The difference from local plans in the past—reached in the context of intractable negotiations with the police guild to set up boards with underwhelming authority, like the Office of Professional Accountability Review Board, or the Review Board itself which answers to the police chief—is this: The plan not only has a panel of community members appointed by the mayor and approved by the city council to monitor police bias, but, a permanent outside court-appointed monitor who will report to the federal judge overseeing the agreement.

"The agreement makes real benchmarks,” U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington Jenny Durkan, who negotiated with the city on behalf the DOJ, said this afternoon.

Here are some of the basics from the agreement:

  • Use of Force — Officers will be trained on which weapons to use in what situations and the SPD will develop a team of investigators who will delve into the cases using force.

  • Supervison — Supervisors, along with the outside monitor, will review any investigatory stops and detentions to ensure there was reasonable suspicion before the stops were made.

  • Bias-free Policing — The SPD will further clarify its unbiased policing policy and will have specific training catered to teaching officers to be unbiased in their investigations.

  • Accountability — the SPD will revise policies to establish what constitutes prohibited retaliation and will identify officers who will be in charge of handling those matters in their own precincts

Mayor Mike McGinn applauded the plan saying: "It doesn't matter what neighborhood you're in, you want to feel safe, so this commission will hopefully do that."

He didn’t seem as convinced as Durkan, however. He referred to the fact that, "My wife is Japanese, so I would never want my children who are half-Japanese to be discriminated against," he seemed skeptical about how cuts would be made in the budget to allow for a tentative $5 million per year to implement the program.[pullquote]“Bias is not something you can solve with a law."—Mayor Mike McGinn[/pullquote]

He also pointed out that bias is hard to quantify. “Bias is not something you can solve with a law,” he said and went on to mention that if that were the case, the Civil Rights Act would have eliminated that problem 48 years ago.

Assistant Attorney General for the DOJ's Civil Rights Division, Thomas Perez, seemed satisfied with the agreement and said from his experience with changes made in the once-ridiculed L.A. Police Department, he was hopeful for Seattle.

In 2002, there was widespread distrust in the L.A. police department, so the police department and the DOJ implemented a program to make huge changes, some of which, Seattle's plan follows. One big change was the outside monitor, along with giving the commanding officers more authority to respond when officers act unfairly.

Now, Perez says, although it's not perfect, satisfaction with the police department is way higher than before.

"Effective policing and constitutional policing go hand in hand. Today the real work begins," Perez said.
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