The US Department of Justice has begun a preliminary review of the Seattle Police Department, apparently responding to a request filed in December by the ACLU of Washington and 34 other organizations to investigate officers' use of force, particularly force used against racial minorities.
In a letter, the groups requested a full-scale probe to determine if the department had "engaged in a pattern or practice of violations of civil rights by using unnecessary and excessive force against the residents of Seattle in violation of federal law."
Emily Langlie, spokeswoman for US Attorney office, declined to state the depth of the current review or if a full-scale investigation would result. Instead she noted that US Attorney Jenny Durkan has met with federal officials and "informed interested parties that we will be conducting a review. We will be meeting with some of the groups that requested the review, personnel with the Department of Justice, and the city next month to determine the scope of the review."
The request for a probe stems from a rash of incidents in 2010 that appear to show Seattle police officers using excessive force. The ACLU cited cases from January to October, including: police beating an inmate, an officer repeatedly threatening to beat a Latino man, a cop punching a jaywalking suspect, a suspect allegedly being choked in the back of a patrol car, an undercover officer kicking a cooperating suspect, and the killing of Native American woodcarver John T. Williams.
"We think elevating these issues and bringing some sunshine to them is a good thing," says Mayor Mike McGinn.
The Department of Justice has been in touch with McGinn's staff and the SPD. "I spoke to US Attorney Jenny A. Durkan last week for the purpose of saying that these are important issues and we welcome their participation," McGinn says, "because we need to have an understanding about how widely held certain values are within the police department and what what we can do to address those issues."
However, Langlie says that the request wasn't necessarily the sole reason for this review. "This is not to say the letter was the starting point. Jenny is well aware of issues that have been raised in the city," she says, "and her job is to actively talk to the Department of Justice about those issues that are clearly of importance in the City of Seattle."