SEATTLE - The city of Seattle and the U.S. Department of Justice have reached a tentative agreement on reforms to the Seattle Police Department, City Councilman Bruce Harrell confirmed Thursday afternoon.
"A tentative agreement has been reached," he said. "I have not seen it. I think there are a few details to be worked out."
The Seattle Times initially reported the agreement Thursday morning:
Barring a collapse in the talks, discussions are now focused on the final details of a court-monitored consent decree, one of the sources said. Those could include the naming of a monitor to oversee the plan, and sticking points such as whether the decree will also encompass the Justice Department's concerns over disturbing, but inconclusive evidence of biased policing.
Mayor Mike McGinn and police officials also have questioned allowing additional oversight of the department's civilian-run Office of Professional Accountability.
Harrell added that the agreement will lead to changes in police policy, and maybe in people.
"Both the chief and the mayor may look at personnel changes as the result of the agreement," he said. "It's hard to say at this point, but we'll certainly see how it unfolds."
The Justice Department's demand for reforms came after a report by the agency that Seattle police officers engaged in a "pattern or practice of using unnecessary force" in confrontations with several suspects and citizens.
As we reported last week, the city has to reach an agreement with federal officials by the end of the month, or end up fighting a federal lawsuit in court.
McGinn had suggested last week that a deal wasn't guaranteed, but said that most disputes like these end up settled out of court. He didn't speak Thursday, but he previously stated it would be important for the police department to remain under city -- not federal -- control.
"I think the mayor was correct, that we don't want a shadow chief, and I'm confident -- again, without seeing the agreement -- that we won't have a shadow chief," Harrell said.
The Justice Department has criticized Seattle for not having enough supervising sergeants on the streets, but Harrell said he worries that fixing that will cost millions.
"I'm going to be looking for how much it's going to cost to implement, how much transparency we actually have in terms of being able to detect unreasonable force," he said.
A national expert in police accountability told KIRO 7 it's rare for disputes with the federal government to go to court because the downsides are so great.
"There’s the risk that you will lose and you will have a court-imposed settlement in which you don’t have any negotiating power, it will be expensive, and it will drag this issue out for a couple of years, probably," Samuel Walker said last week.
It isn't yet clear when the deal might be finalized.
Police, Seattle officials to review deal Thursday night
KIRO 7's Amy Clancy spoke with several sources within the police department Thursday, and most said they didn't know anything about the agreement. Those who did have information said they wouldn't make any official comments until they saw the deal.
That was reportedly scheduled to happen Thursday night. Sources said the evening meeting would inform police leaders, City Council members and others directly involved of the details.
But one source who's been involved with Justice Department matters before said there's an interesting wrinkle surrounding the agreement: police unions were not part of the negotiations. That could cause problems. State law dictates that any changes within the police department regarding something like a fireable offense are subject to the collective bargaining agreement. So even though a deal has been reached between the city and the Justice Department, some of it may still be up for negotiation with the unions, depending on what's been agreed to.