Seattle, DOJ deal addresses biased policing

SEATTLE — The city of Seattle and the U.S. Department of Justice entered into far-reaching agreement Friday that requires the Police Department to overhaul its policies to ensure that when officers use force, they do it with adequate training, clear rules and vigilant oversight.

The 76-page agreement, which is subject to approval by a federal judge, also requires the police department to take steps to deal with biased policing of minorities, even though the city at one point resisted incorporating that into a settlement.

As part of the reforms, a special commission appointed by Mayor Mike McGinn to evaluate the Seattle Police Department, including internal-investigation procedures, emerged as a centerpiece of the reform plan announced by McGinn and federal officials Friday afternoon. McGinn personally suggested creation of the commission, said a source familiar with the matter.

Called the Community Policing Commission, the panel will also address the issue of biased policing, one of the key concerns of community groups who pressed the Department of Justice to investigate the Police Department.

The Justice Department, in a December report, found that Seattle officers too often resorted to excessive force, and it cited troubling evidence of biased policing.

The new commission will work with an independent, court-appointed monitor, who will make sure the Police Department is complying with the reform plan. The monitor, who will issue reports every six months, has yet to be selected, but must be chosen within 60 days and paid by the city.

Creation of the commission is spelled out in a separate memorandum of understanding, operating as a companion to the broader, highly detailed reforms addressed in the settlement. The agreement would be in place for five years, possibly shorter if both parties agree the city and Seattle police have been in compliance for at least two years.

McGinn's appointments to the commission will be subject to confirmation by the City Council.

Although the agreement represents a significant turning point in the city's policing, in it the city says it "does not admit or agree" with the DOJ's findings but enters into the agreement "because it wishes to ensure that its police department is functioning at an exceptional level and that it has positive relationships with all its communities."

Details of the reform plan were announced at a news conference at City Hall by McGinn, City Attorney Pete Holmes, Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, and U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan in Seattle.

The consent decree provides clear definitions for officers on what constitutes use of force, listing four levels ranging from minimal physical contact to deadly force and the degree of scrutiny that must be given to each.

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