Seattle Police reforms could cost $41 million, mayor says

Seattle Police reforms could cost $41 million, mayor says

Credit: KING

Seattle Police reforms could cost $41 million, mayor says



Posted on May 14, 2012 at 12:43 PM

Updated Monday, May 14 at 5:36 PM

SEATTLE -- Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn says federally mandated police reforms will cost the city nearly $41 million a year and could make it hard for the department from doing its job.

Speaking on KUOW Radio Monday, the mayor said he is not against signing a consent decree and agreeing to federal monitoring of reforms, but he is concerned about the substance and potential costs of reforms.

McGinn said he has concerns about how the reforms might hamstring police in the event of a large-scale emergency like the May Day protests.

“We know it's going to cost money and we are prepared to spend money. But it's got to be not in a way that actually endangers or compromises our ability to provide public safety in other functions of government,” said McGinn, according to KUOW.

The city is expected to formally respond to the Department of Justice this week. It has launched its so-called 20/20 Plan, which would bring 20 reforms in 20 months.

If McGinn doesn't agree to make changes that satisfy the DOJ and agree to the appointment of an outside monitor, he can expect a lawsuit from the U.S. attorney in Seattle as early as next month.

The DOJ disputes McGinn's contention that the reforms it wants implemented will hurt public safety and has invited the mayor to bring any concerns to the department's attention.

"Constitutional policing does not inhibit or hamstring the police," U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan said. "The city of Seattle and the police who do their jobs can't afford for us not to fix the problems. On every front, the cost is too high, for everybody."

The city's counterproposal to the DOJ would require no more than $5 million per year, according to a confidential city budget office memo obtained by The Associated Press.

Seattle is facing a projected budget deficit of $32 million over the next two years.

The Justice Department launched its formal civil rights investigation early last year, following the fatal shooting of a homeless, Native American woodcarver and other incidents of force used against minority suspects.

Surveillance cameras and police-cruiser videos captured officers beating civilians, including stomping on a prone Latino man who was mistakenly thought to be a robbery suspect, and an officer kicking a non-resisting black youth in a convenience store.

In December, a DOJ report found officers are too quick to reach for weapons, such as batons and flashlights, even when arresting people for minor offenses.

In all, the report found, one out of every five times an 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.

Five weeks ago, prosecutors sent the city a confidential settlement proposal.

Though the DOJ's proposal has not been disclosed, the budget office memo suggests some of the changes the DOJ wants.

The memo relies on assumptions made by the Police Department that to satisfy the DOJ's demands for a better sergeant-to-patrol officer ratio, the city would have to add 54 new sergeants at a cost of $7.3 million.

In addition, the memo said the Police Department estimated that the DOJ's recommendations would require four times as much training -- 160 hours per year -- as officers currently receive. Executive Assistant U.S. attorney Thomas Bates described that assumption Monday as vastly overstated: "They just got it wrong."

The memo said that the additional training could cost $18 million if it requires other officers to fill in -- on overtime -- for those receiving training. However, the mayor's "20/20" plan also includes increased training in many of the same topics the Justice Department is concerned about -- and the Police Department has represented to McGinn that it can accomplish everything in the "20/20" plan under its existing budget.

The memo notes that the budget office had not yet vetted the assumptions being made by the Police Department, and that even if the actual costs are far less than $41 million, the hit to the budget could still be significant.

In his radio interview, McGinn said "absolutely" when asked if the reforms would hamstring police and the mayor's office in responding to emergency situations. He suggested the outside monitor could effectively be a "shadow mayor."

City Councilman Tim Burgess disputed the notion.

"That is not a legitimate fear," Burgess said. "I'm disappointed in the mayor's recent statements on this topic have been more designed to divide rather than keep us on the same page headed toward good solutions."

Josh Chanin, a San Diego State University professor who has studied the DOJ's efforts to reform police departments, said such monitors are essential to the process because they demonstrated to the public that the changes are actually taking hold.

They can also ensure reforms last beyond the terms of the current mayor, police chief or U.S. attorney.

"This is the most effective, most straightforward way to get to the point where the department is operating constitutionally and regains the respect and legitimacy it needs to manage law and order," Chanin said.

The Associated Press and KING 5's Travis Pittman contributed to this report.