(Adds details of report, background to investigation)
WASHINGTON, Dec 16 (Reuters) - Seattle police officers
used excessive force over the last two years and were too quick
to resort to using their batons and other weapons, but were not
guilty of systematically victimizing minorities, the U.S.
Justice Department said on Friday.
The city's police have been criticized for their practices,
especially after a native American woodcarver was shot dead by
an officer without appearing to pose a threat. Police were also
caught on video stomping on and threatening to beat a prone
A review by the Justice Department found that when Seattle
police used force between 2009 and April 2011, nearly 20 percent
of the time it was excessive and when they used their batons,
more than half the time it was unnecessary or excessive.
The review did not cover the recent use by police of pepper
spray against "Occupy" protesters around the city.
"The problems within SPD (Seattle Police Department) have
been present for many years and will take time to fix," said
Thomas Perez, head of the Justice Department's civil rights
division. The Seattle police force was already implementing
reforms, the department said.
A 40-page letter detailing the Justice Department's findings
were presented to Seattle's mayor and police department on
Friday by Perez and U.S. Attorney for Western Washington Jenny
Neither the police nor the mayor's office immediately
returned calls seeking comment.
This is the second finding of systematic police misconduct
in as many days. The Justice Department issued a scathing report
on Thursday that said the sheriff's office in Phoenix, Arizona
regularly engaged in racial profiling and unlawful arrests.
In Seattle, the Justice Department said there were
deficiencies in oversight, policies and training for police
officers on how and when to use force and make use of weapons
like batons and flashlights.
It found the unnecessary use of force appeared to be
confined to a disproportionately small number of officers.
It did not find evidence that the police engaged in a
"pattern or practice" of discriminatory policing against
minorities, but noted "serious concerns" on the issue.
After Seattle's police department has had time to digest the
report, Perez and Durkan said the next step would be sit down
with police to craft a framework to make the necessary changes,
which would be enforced by a court order and independent
"These findings are undeniably serious, and we have
discussed a number of ways in which we think SPD is broken,"
Perez told reporters. "We will indeed be able to fix the problem
because the will is there at the highest level of the
Twenty police departments across the United States are under
review by the Justice Department, including Miami; Puerto Rico;
Newark, New Jersey; New Orleans; and Maricopa county, Arizona.
The Justice Department's investigation into Seattle's police
practices started after complaints from community groups
following a rash of highly publicized altercations, chiefly with
Seattle appointed a new police chief, John Diaz, in August
(Reporting by Bill Rigby in Seattle and Jeremy Pelofsky in
Washington; editing by Christopher Wilson)
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