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Originally published September 19, 2013 at 4:22 PM | Page modified September 20, 2013 at 11:18 AM

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Editorial: Hard look at Seattle police stirs optimism

Reports to the Seattle City Council’s public-safety committee display the civic concern, interest and change coming to police policies.

Seattle Times Editorial

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Seattle is in the midst of extraordinary reforms for the Seattle Police Department’s (SPD) use-of-force policies, daily interaction with citizens, and future oversight of police conduct.

This hard look at the SPD was set in motion by the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) withering indictment of professional behavior, including the use of force against minorities, handcuffed and restrained individuals and variously impaired citizens.

The Seattle City Council’s public-safety committee provided a timely review Wednesday of the progress made over the past year, and the work that lies ahead.

One obvious source of optimism is the layers of civic attention applied to the task of confronting the doubts, fears and frustrations among the city’s minority populations over their routine experiences with police.

The committee heard from Merrick Bobb, who leads the effort to monitor the implementation of a 2012 settlement agreement between the city and DOJ.

Shaping future policy gets into the nitty-gritty of what constitutes a reportable use of force, and the daily standards of law enforcement in protecting the public.

An officer pointing a gun at a person is a reportable action. Unsnapping a holster, drawing a weapon and pointing it down at the ground are not. New imperatives exist for all SPD members to report activities that cross a stricter line.

Police demeanor — approach and language — is getting a review of its capacity to unintentionally offend and disparage members of the public.

These policies taking shape, and their future use and enforcement, are part of a broader consensus approach.

The SPD’s Office of Professional Accountability (OPA) has a new director, who is intent on maintaining some distance between the department and his role to enhance the public persona of this internal-affairs function.

Pierce Murphy is the new civilian director of the OPA, which had been found inadequate by the Department of Justice. Judge Anne Levinson, who is retired from the municipal court bench, is the well-regarded OPA auditor.

This reinvigorated OPA effort needs and deserves extra staffing and resources to meet the goal of having no complaint closed until the auditor signs off. Levinson also wants to have use-of-force reports reviewed when no complaint has been filed. Victims can be too intimidated to officially protect their rights.

Another important player in the consensus approach is the Community Police Commission, which is reviewing bias-free policing policies, use-of-force and firearm policies, and use of technology, including in-car video.

The collective effort is to incorporate new practices and procedures into SPD training regimens and expectations, and create new oversight functions to monitor their use and measure their utility and success.

In the meantime, the realities of the workload were addressed by Mayor Mike McGinn’s addition of 15 officers to his 2014 budget request, which already sought 27 more police officers.

A lot is in play with deadlines and formal reviews by the federal judge overseeing the implementation agreement signed with the DOJ.

Seattle residents can draw a measure of confidence from the talent and commitment drawn to help resolve what a co-chair of the Community Police Commission called a legacy of decades of distrust between parts of the community and police.

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