SEATTLE (CN) – A scathing Department of Justice report released Friday blames inadequate policy, training and supervision of Seattle police for the department’s “pattern or practice” of using unnecessary and excessive force.
Prosecutors said Friday they will file a court order that will include an independent monitor and a timetable to enforce changes.
When Seattle police officers use force, they do so in an “unconstitutional manner” nearly 20 percent of the time, according to the report. Data shows that police use impact weapons such as batons and flashlights “too quickly” and unnecessarily escalate situations. When officers used batons, it was “either unnecessary or excessive” 57 percent of the time, the report says.
U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan announced the findings in a press conference on Friday, along with Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, who heads the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
Both officials were surprisingly upbeat given the tone of the report and a departmentwide email sent earlier Friday morning by Seattle Police Chief John Diaz, who questioned the “validity and soundness” of the Justice Department’s findings.
Durkan said, “We are very optimistic about SPD and its relationship with the City of Seattle.”
Perez, who flew into Seattle to announce the findings, said that he and Durkan had “candid” and “constructive” talks with Diaz and Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn.
Seattle has solid “building blocks of reform” in place, he said. “Fixing this does not involve re-inventing the wheel.”
The Los Angeles police force had “far more wide-ranging” problems 12 years ago than Seattle has today, but it has dramatically improved, Perez said.
During the press conference, Durkan pointed to a graph showing that the “overwhelming majority” of officers never use force during the year. Only 44 officers used force more that five times during 2010, she said, adding that the force was “being undercut by a subset.”
Out of 1,230 “internal use of force” reports that were reviewed, only five were referred to supervisors for “further review,” making the review process “little more than a formality,” according to the report.
More than half of the cases of unnecessary force involved minorities, but Durkan said the investigation did not find a policy of discriminatory policing.
“Although we do not reach a finding of discriminatory policing, our investigation raises serious concerns about practices that could have a disparate impact on minority communities,” the report states. “These practices undermine SPD’s ability to build trust among segments of Seattle’s diverse communities.”
Durkan noted that the report does not call for Diaz’s replacement and that police officials had fully cooperated with the investigation.
“We will leave the political decisions to other people,” she said.
Friday’s report concludes an 11-month investigation that began after a number of highly publicized events, including the shooting death of a Native American woodcarver, which was later found to be unjustified. No charges were brought against the officer in that incident, but he resigned.
In another incident caught on tape by a local television station, an officer stomped on a prone Latino man and said he was going to beat the “Mexican piss” out of him. The officer apologized and was suspended for 30 days.
Durkan and Perez said that they would meet again with city officials after the new year, and that they would work together on an agreement to file with the court.