SEATTLE - Seattle officials have agreed to an independent monitor and court oversight of the city's police department as part of an agreement with the Justice Department following a damning report that found officers routinely used excessive force.
Central to the wide-ranging deal is a community police commission made up of people from throughout the city, said U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkin.
"We all think we got it right," Durkin said, adding that the plan will act as blueprint for the next generation and would increase public safety and confidence in the police department.
City and federal negotiators were involved in tense talks over the scope of a deal for months, and Justice Department lawyers had threatened to sue the city if a deal was not reached by July 31.
"It's no secret there were a few bumps in the road to get here," Mayor Mike McGinn said. "We do have a lot of work in front of us."
The Justice Department launched its civil rights investigation early last year after the fatal shooting of a homeless, Native American woodcarver and other incidents involving force used against minority suspects.
In December, a DOJ report found officers were too quick to reach for weapons, such as flashlights and batons, even when arresting people for minor offenses.
The agreement was announced at City Hall by McGinn, Durkan and Thomas Perez, the Justice Department's chief civil rights enforcer.
The deal also calls for a special commission to concentrate on use of force issues.
Talks between Seattle officials and the Justice Department had been hung up after city officials initially balked at some federal proposals for reform.
The settlement, which must be approved by a federal judge, requires the Seattle Police Department to revise use of force policies and enhance training, reporting, investigation and supervision for situations involving use force. Police also would have to change policies and training concerning "bias-free" policing and stops, and create a Community Police Commission, which would be a civilian oversight body.
Court oversight would continue for five years, but the city could ask to end the scrutiny earlier if it has complied with the agreements for two years.
"This city is committed to eliminating bias," McGinn said.
Perez said the agreement could serve as a way to help reduce crime and increase public confidence in the city's police officers.
"We must continue to be well aware of the very raw feelings that many Seattle residents continue to have toward the Seattle Police Department," Perez said.
Surveillance cameras and police-cruiser videos had 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.
The earlier Justice Department report found that force was used unconstitutionally one of every five times an officer resorted to it. The department failed to adequately review the use of force and lacked policies and training related to the use of force, it said.
The ACLU and other community groups called for scrutiny of the department after a Seattle officer shot and killed the woodcarver, John T. Williams, in 2010.
Video from Officer Ian Birk's patrol car showed Williams crossing the street holding a piece of wood and a small knife, and Birk exiting the vehicle to pursue him. Off-camera, Birk quickly shouted three times for Williams to drop the knife then fired five shots. The knife was found folded at the scene, but Birk later maintained Williams had threatened him. Birk resigned from the force and was not charged. A review board found the shooting unjustified.
On Tuesday an agreement was announced between federal officials and the New Orleans Police Department to make sweeping reforms. The agreement detailed strict requirements for overhauling the police department's policies and procedures for use of force, training, interrogations, searches and arrests, recruitment and supervision.
Attorney General Eric Holder described the New Orleans agreement as the most wide-ranging in the Justice Department's history. It was aimed at resolving allegations that New Orleans police officers had engaged in a pattern of discriminatory and unconstitutional activity.
The allegations against the Seattle Police Department were not as extensive or broad, but federal investigators determined Seattle officers engaged in excessive force that violated federal law and the Constitution.
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