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Federal Judge Approves Seattle Police Reform Plan

A federal judge gave the green light yesterday to a wide-ranging reform plan for the Seattle Police Department. The plan is meant to address a 2011 finding by the US Justice Department that Seattle police had engaged in an unconstitutional pattern and practice of excessive use of force.

It lays out a blueprint for the first year of police reform, setting deadlines for the adoption of new policies and training regimes for officers, among other things.

Merrick Bobb, the court-appointed monitor who is overseeing the reforms, presented the plan on Tuesday to US District Judge James Robart. Judge Robart approved the plan, paving the way for the promised reforms to begin.

Attorneys from all sides praised the agreement, which Bobb said was the result of serious and substantial negotiations between the federal monitoring team overseeing reform and the city of Seattle.

City Attorney Pete Holmes called it a good day for police reform in the city. “We have a judge that is on top of it, and we have a monitor that has an approved plan for the first year, and so this is all about rolling up our sleeves and getting to work,” Holmes said.

The plan has been the subject of bitter public disputes between Holmes and Mayor Mike McGinn over who represents the city in the reform process. Last week, an attorney for McGinn wrote in a letter to Holmes that the city charter gives the mayor authority, because this is a settlement agreement rather than litigation. But in court yesterday, Judge James Robart insisted the city is, in fact, still in litigation. The chief litigator for the city is not the mayor, it’s the city attorney, Pete Holmes.

After the hearing, Holmes said these sorts of tensions are not unusual in cities that are subject to federal monitoring. He said he and Mayor McGinn will "redouble our efforts to speak with each other promptly" if issues arise.

Federal Monitor Merrick Bobb characterized last week's public feud as rough seas, but he said "the ship has arrived safely to shore." 

Judge Robart also appeared dismissive of a lawsuit brought this week by police unions in King County Superior Court. The suit claims the monitoring plan violates their state collective bargaining rights. Robart, a federal judge, said he knows of no jurisprudence that allows a state court to tell him what to do in his court.

This is just the beginning of what will likely be a multi-year process. Both parties have said it could take the city five years to reach compliance. But other cities have taken longer. Los Angeles, for example, took more than nine years to fully implement the terms of its settlement agreement.

Year started with KUOW: 2005