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Auditor, ACLU Tentatively Praise Changes At SPD

Amy Radil
12/08/2011

Both the ACLU and the Seattle Police Department's civilian auditor say they're encouraged by SPD's plans to examine policies around the use of force. The changes were outlined in a letter to the Department of Justice earlier this week. But an SPD spokesman downplayed the changes, saying they aren't as sweeping as they may sound. KUOW's Amy Radil reports.

TRANSCRIPT

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn described the planned changes at SPD in a letter to Justice Department attorneys earlier this week. He said SPD is engaged in a "complete revamp" and "top–to–bottom review" of its policies. Specifically McGinn said SPD is examining how it trains officers to use force, and how it investigates those incidents. Just last week the president of the NAACP called for McGinn and Police Chief John Diaz to resign, saying police continue to use excessive force, especially against minorities.

Jennifer Shaw of the Washington ACLU says she was encouraged by McGinn's letter, but she wants more details. The letter says SPD will create a "Force Review Board." Shaw hopes that wording in the letter means that civilians could be part of it.

Shaw: "The fact that they are having a board — which to me says there will be outside people as well as inside people looking at the way that force is used and the way it's being investigated — I think that's significant."

However, SPD Spokesman Sean Whitcomb responded that having outside members on the Force Review Board is unlikely since it would be subject to bargaining with the Seattle Police Officers' Guild. The union already opposes another priority mentioned in McGinn's letter — using in–car video to help investigate officer misconduct.

Whitcomb says the Police Department is always rewriting its policies, so these proposals aren't so dramatic. He says the changes therefore are budget neutral and don't require any new hires.

But SPD's Civilian Auditor Anne Levinson says she's pleased to see the mayor's letter. She hopes these proposals will jump–start serious reform at the department.

Levinson: "I have been critical in my past reports that not enough progress has been made quickly enough. And the department has been moving forward, it's just been at a pace that doesn't match the community expectation. So this change should help revitalize any efforts that are languishing and better prioritize this work right at the top of the department's agenda."

The Department of Justice is looking at whether there's any pattern of excessive force or discriminatory policing in Seattle. It hasn't reached any conclusions yet.

Levinson says one of the most significant developments in recent months has been a new protocol for misconduct cases. Traditionally, investigations were passed from the King County Prosecutor to the Seattle City Attorney and only then to the department's Office of Professional Accountability. Levinson says the three agencies have agreed to conduct investigations simultaneously in order to give the public, and officers, a faster decision.

I'm Amy Radil, KUOW News.

© Copyright 2011, KUOW

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