Seattle mayor, police leadership unveil 20-part reform plan

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by KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on March 29, 2012 at 11:35 AM

Updated Thursday, Mar 29 at 5:27 PM

SEATTLE -- Mayor Mike McGinn and the leaders of Seattle's police department on Thursday outlined a long list of reforms aimed at addressing problems outlined in a highly critical Justice Department report released in December.

The 20 initiatives inluded in the "SPD 20/20" plan are based on input collected from the public, city elected officials and SPD officers, McGinn said at a City Hall press conference.

The reforms are "intended to be lasting and sustainable," McGinn said, and include changes that go "far beyond" the Justice Department's recommended reforms. The goal is to implement all 20 in the next 20 months, McGinn said.

The mayor and SPD Chief John Diaz announced that Deputy Chief Mike Sanford will be charged with implementing the reforms.  As the head of SPD's patrol force, Sanford supervises the officers who will be most affected by the changes, they said.

Sanford said the 20 initatives fall under five broad categories: protecting the rights of citizens, improving training and education for SPD officers that reflect Seattle's values, earning public trust, embracing data-driven practices, and partnering with the public.

In December, McGinn ordered Diaz to begin implementing reforms outlined in the Justice Department report. That report concluded that inadequate supervision and training led SPD officers to too quickly resort to the use of weapons like batons and flashlights, and to escalate confrontations even when arresting people for minor offenses.

The Justice Department investigation was launched following the fatal shooting of a homeless Native American woodcarver in 2010 and other reported uses of force against minority suspects. The probe was aimed at determining whether Seattle police have a "pattern or practice" of violating civil rights or discriminatory policing, and if so, what they should do to improve.

City leaders are scheduled to meet Friday with Justice Department officials to discuss the city's implementation of the proposed SPD changes.

Given the Justice Department's focus on SPD officers' use of force, Sanford said the SPD 20/20 plan will result in officers receiving extensive training on crisis intervention techniques and when to use force. SPD officers will also be equipped with a non-lethal device -- in addition to the standard firearm -- to be used to defuse situations.

SPD will also receive additional training on how to deal with public demonstrations. Addressing criticism that SPD had used pepper spray inappropriately in dealing with Occupy Seattle protesters last fall, Sanford said SPD will only use the spray for self defense or when a crowd must be dispersed.  In addition, he said, SPD will videotape demonstrations to have a record of what occurred.

On Thursday, McGinn said he would hold SPD leadership accountable for implementing the reforms. Diaz, as well, said he considered himself personally responsible for making the changes.

For advocates of police reform, one area not covered by the city's comprehensive plan is whether court oversight of the police department will be used to see the changes through.

"Seattle cannot solve the longstanding problems of SPD culture and accountability without that assistance. A consent decree is critical to ensure that reforms are thoroughly implemented and are sustained for the long term," said Kathleen Taylor, executive director The American Civil Liberties Union's Washington state office.

McGinn and Diaz mostly sidestepped questions about court oversight, saying that the city will negotiate in "good faith" with the DOJ. Diaz said he's more "concerned about my community monitoring the work we're doing here."

Estela Ortega -- executive director of El Centro De La Raza and a past vocal critic of the police department -- said she was encouraged that the city included many recommendaitons made by minority groups.

"The issue will be implementation," she said.

McGinn said some of his proposals would probably be met by the Seattle Police Guild, but did not elaborate. Guild president Rich O'Neill did not immediately return a phone call.

McGinn said he did not have a cost estimate for the proposed police reforms.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press.

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