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Fatal Police Shooting Creates Shake-Up at Seattle Department

Fatal Police Shooting Creates Shake-Up at Seattle Department

Seattle Police Deputy Chief Nick Metz was given the newly created duty of overseeing community relations. At left is Mayor Mike McGinn, at right is Police Chief John Diaz.

The Seattle Times via YellowBrix

September 16, 2010

The incidents led to calls for changes in the Police Department from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Washington and some Seattle City Council members, along with criticism over the shooting from Seattle’s Native American community.

Kimerer acknowledged public concerns over the incidents, telling reporters, “I want to say plainly that our training program is on trial right now.”

Diaz announced that the department will conduct a systematic review of its training techniques to be overseen by Capt. Steve Brown, who has been the commander of the downtown West Precinct. The review is to be completed by Jan. 1.

As part of the changes, more officers than the 300 who currently have them will be equipped with Tasers, and the department plans to launch a pilot program to equip 40 officers with personal video cameras that would record their actions, Diaz said. Birk did not have a Taser when Williams was shot.

The department also is expanding the number of officers trained in crisis intervention in order to help them deal with people suffering from mental illness and other problems.

Deputy Chief Metz said the department would look to ways to get officers out of their cars, including more foot and bike patrols. He said the department has been caught in a “response mode,” in which officers respond to 911 calls, take reports and leave.

McGinn said the shooting and other recent incidents raise “very serious questions about preparation of our officers and concerns about racial profiling within the department.”

He said the reorganization of the Police Department was not all about those incidents but incorporates the “concerns that arise from those incidents.”

Burgess, in his statement, called the reorganization a “very good step,” saying it “places a focus on building effective relationships in every neighborhood.”

The chief’s action fulfilled a promise during his confirmation that he would act to strengthen police and community ties, Burgess said.

Burgess also credited Diaz for seeking outside reviews of the shooting investigation.

“Agreeing to seek an outside and independent peer review of the investigation of the death of John Williams is an extremely strong affirmation of our detectives,” Burgess added. “It will also build credibility in the community by allowing another set of qualified and experienced eyes to examine the evidence.”

Wednesday’s briefing was attended by several community activists, who peppered McGinn, Diaz and other police officials with questions about the department’s practices.

At one point, McGinn was moderating a tense exchange between Kimerer, the deputy chief, and community activist Rod Parnelle, stepping forward to say, “Hey, one at a time, man.”

Hours later, more than 200 people attended a City Council meeting Wednesday afternoon to discuss the shooting from a civil-rights perspective.

Representatives of Native Americans and other minority groups and people from human- and civil-rights organizations demanded more training for police in everything from de-escalation to sign language.

They demanded a civilian-review panel to look at the case and said they saw the shooting not as an isolated incident but as one in a long string of incidents where people were singled out by police because of how they looked.

Denise Stiffarm, the president of the Chief Seattle Club, said she was encouraged by the announcement the mayor and police chief made Wednesday about changes in the department.

“We appreciate the immediate action,” she said, “but sustained and meaningful action will be the real statement to our community.”


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