Back in mid-December, when the Department of Justice found Seattle Police use-of-force practices unconstitutional, the feds' operative word was "broken." As Tom Perez, a U.S. Asst. Attorney General, put it, "The Seattle Police Department is broken." Ruffled Police Chief John Diaz, backed by Mayor Mike McGinn, responded with "The Seattle Police Department is not broken." The headline duel began, a community debate unfolded, and the "is, is not" broken game has been playing out since. Now, though little seems to have changed, it must be over.
In the words of Seattle's U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan, during a Friday night interview with Enrique Cerna on KCTS9-TV:
I don't think that the department as a whole is broken.
The feds' concession comes just four months after the department was declared to need repair, just a week after McGinn submitted the city's reform plan (that the Times declared "short on details"), and months before the two sides get around to a court-ordered consent decree on how to fix things.
Then again, what's to fix if the department isn't broken anymore? Durkan appears to have at least softened the U.S. government's once-hard line (the mayor and chief's actions have been "incredibly positive" she notes, and "we're pretty much all on the same page"). She also termed the federal court's oversight to enforce city compliance as more of a yardstick for progress:
You know, I think that the phrase itself - consent decree - people don't need to get hung up on.
Its purpose, she says, is "just that we have the accountability to make sure there's a court-ordered order that has some standards by which we can measure 'is it working, is it not working, is it making the police officer's job easier, harder, is it helping the community?'"
McGinn, conversely, seems to have assumed higher ground in the face-off. As he told Cerna:
So we're gonna negotiate in good faith with the Department of Justice on what's a mutually acceptable agreement. But my goal is to make sure we have a police force that treats everybody with dignity and that's very effective at fighting crime, and also we have a city budget that's under stress and strain. So we have to make sure that we do so in a way that's an effective use of our dollars.
Ultimately, he adds, "I'm accountable to the people of Seattle...We understand the Department of Justice will be putting pressure on us. But the pressure I care about is the pressure from the people of the city, who I serve."