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Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Problems with the Mayor's Initiative to Fix the Police Department

Posted by on Thu, Mar 29, 2012 at 4:21 PM

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1. On the whole, Mayor Mike McGinn's 20-point initiative to reform the Seattle Police Department, released late this morning, contains some important, albeit overdue, promises for the rest of his term in office. Perhaps most concrete is a commitment to integrate the 40-hour Crisis Intervention Training into the regimen of all patrol officers. Also commendable is a commitment to restrict the use of OC pepper spray to "a self-defense tool, or as a last resort option when all other legal, effective force options have been exhausted." More specifics: tracking race data related to traffic stops and a two-week curriculum for new sergeants. However, the vast majority of McGinn's 21-page "Vision for the Future" is just that, a commitment to, sometime in the future, develop programs, clarify procedures, revise guidelines, and otherwise (without specifying how it will be done) address problems raised by the US Department of Justice's critical report in December.

2. The two most important sections lacked any concrete detail. McGinn frustrated reporters this morning—at least me—by dodging questions about granular responses to the DOJ report. He repeatedly insisted that his manifesto goes "far beyond" the DOJ's critiques and instead lays out a very broad new approach to just, effective policing. "Don’t let a good crisis go to waste," he said of the initiative's yawning scope. But the reason cameramen and reporters stuffed his seventh-floor office today was not because we want a landscape of the future. Specifically, we met today because, as I first reported Tuesday, federal prosecutors will be issuing a draft federal court settlement tomorrow. The primary concerns raised by the Dept. of Justice were a pattern of excessive use of force used in 20 percent of all the use-of-force cases, and a persistent failure to deescalate low-level conflicts. On these fronts, McGinn's tome of reforms merely leans on a promise to "develop" plans.

On the ultimate question about use of force, the initiative says the city will be "revising the Department's definition of force to reflect community expectations and best practices." Pressed for specifics, McGinn and Chief John Diaz said the city will pluck the best definitions of force from other cities—everything from simply handcuffing a suspect "to a much higher level," said Diaz—but provided no more details than to re-pledge their goals. Given that the DOJ cites the crossing of force boundaries as literally the number-one problem in the city, it seems bizarre to leave out specifics the day before meeting with federal prosecutors. If he's going to present solutions, let's hear them. McGinn could appear to own this problem by listing his ideas for changing force policy, not by unleashing a torrent of superfluous aspirations. Likewise, the section on "protocols to prevent low-level offenses from escalating" leads with a bullet point to, again, "develop protocols to guide officers..."

That's another missed opportunity to squarely show the city is ready to meet the DOJ's decree with a carefully crafted plan.

3. The right people weren't in the room.

While the mayor was flanked by police brass and El Centro de la Raza's Estela Ortega, suspiciously absent were Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes or any member of the Seattle City Council. Holmes is the city's lawyer and the city is about to get sued in federal court for a pattern of unconstitutional civil rights violations; Holmes is also a longstanding police-accountability watchdog who served on the city's Office of Professional Accountability Review Board.

He should have been there.

McGinn said he didn't invite council members, who must ultimately appropriate the budgets needed to implement these reforms, to join him at the 11:00 a.m. press conference. "The document was given to me just five minutes before 11," Council Member Tim Burgess told me afterwards. He doesn't begrudge the mayor. "His style or how he packages things is not our concern—it's the substance." To McGinn's credit, Ortega said the mayor had incorporated many suggestions from community members, adding, "Never have we had a mayor's office and police department as committed to working with the community." If only McGinn were as committed to working with his own colleagues.

4. This press conference shouldn't have happened at all. Let's back up really quick. The goal that city elected officials have shared since they convened in December was to: (a) prepare their response to the DOJ's recommendations; and (b) thereby try to avoid wasting resources on expensive oversight mechanisms—particularly a massive monitoring office that costs the city millions of dollars per year—that could instead fund the reforms themselves (such as the crisis intervention training, data tracking, complaint management, new positions, etc.). The way to avoid that cost, sources tell me, was for the city to get its proposals out of the gate early. If the city showed that its departments could harmonize in their strategy to satisfy the DOJ's 51 recommendations, then, hey, maybe feds would take a more hands-off approach. That would require—not unleashing our ideas, many irrelevant, at a press conference the day before prosecutors essentially give us our marching orders—but sending use-of-force reforms to US Attorney Jenny Durkan last week or sooner. That could allow the DOJ to incorporate the city's ideas into its draft court settlement.

That didn't happen.

Instead, the city has one set of last-minute, scattershot proposals and the DOJ has its own set of recommendations (we don't yet know what they are). Rather than fusing the ideas before they are public, now the two proposals will probably clash. I can't fathom that Durkan is pleased to hear the city's ideas, not in a letter, but by watching the Seattle Channel along with everyone else. (You can only imagine the tantrum City Hall and SPD officials would have if the DOJ unveiled its consent decree via the press.) But the city had plenty of time to send its proposals.

As I reported this week, five elected leaders (McGinn, Holmes, Burgess, and Council Members Sally Clark and Bruce Harrell) started meeting several months ago. Those talks dissolved in an impasse, when the mayor's office sought advice from the Minority Executive Directors Coalition while the council made its own proposals that seemed to go nowhere. No wonder the council formalized its ideas in a letter this week while lamenting the city's internal breakdown.

For his part, McGinn insisted today that he's culled from the council's, city attorney's, and community leaders' best ideas. But synthesizing the ideas comes too late. The reason we had this press conference today, according to sources, is because the mayor was blindsided by the DOJ's fast pace in calling this meeting. Now he's delivering his ideas—without key partners by his side, without advance warning to the US Department of Justice, and without specific responses to the the leading issues facing the department—through the conduit of the media. If it's an attempt to convince federal prosecutors that Seattle is equipped to make reform work on our own, this was a terrible way to do it.

I can't imagine that US Attorney Durkan looks at this fractured mess of politics and thinks that these people, led by McGinn, can fix this problem without expensive monitoring and onerous scrutiny. Which is exactly what the city was trying to avoid, but is, apparently, exactly what the police department will need.

 

Comments (9) RSS

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Kinison 1
Its almost as if the Mayor is afraid of firing someone who royally screws up.
Posted by Kinison http://www.holgatehawks.com on March 29, 2012 at 4:25 PM · Report this
2
Nicely done. It's a gorgeously produced document, but its main tangible achievement is PR. Take the mayor's photo front and center: lit by the glow of a setting sun, PCC organic earth tone collared shirt, warm smile. As for the ideas, I fear he may as well have printed out one of his word clouds.
Posted by gloomy gus on March 29, 2012 at 4:35 PM · Report this
3
@1: You mean to suggest that Mayor McGinn is a feckless failure of a leader who refuses to stand for anything that could be called definitive and instead stands for what he's against and what he thinks someone else might some day be able to do, if, that is, the matter has been appropriately discussed and watered-down to death? Sounds like a good Seattle liberal to me.
Posted by pheeeew!crack!boom! on March 29, 2012 at 4:44 PM · Report this
4
A good day for criminals in Seattle.
Posted by Hug-a-thug on March 29, 2012 at 4:48 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 5
Rights are not Priveleges.

Citizens are not Serfs.

And the Cops should not work for the non-resident Billionaires and Millionaires, but for we who Live in Seattle

Period.
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on March 29, 2012 at 4:51 PM · Report this
6 Comment Pulled (Trolling) Comment Policy
7

Reform #2: Two doughnuts per officer except when a dozen box is ordered among a full squad car, then you can then each have three doughnuts.

...

Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on March 29, 2012 at 5:04 PM · Report this
8
Dominic's analysis coincides with my vision of Hizzoner: "bush league."
Posted by howie in seattle on March 29, 2012 at 5:36 PM · Report this
9
I'm curious how allowing police to film political demonstrators without any indication of wrongdoing (page 4) is intended to improve the situation, and why McGinn thinks of his constituents as customers of our police officers (page 20).
Posted by Phil M http://twitter.com/pmocek on March 29, 2012 at 6:41 PM · Report this

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