By Laura L. Myers
SEATTLE (Reuters) - Seattle officials and the Department of Justice reached a sweeping agreement on Friday to refine the use of force by police officers under a plan to be overseen by an independent, court-appointed monitor.
The settlement, which grew out of a federal investigation of the city's police department, will allow the city to avoid a civil rights lawsuit that U.S. officials threatened to bring over complaints of excessive force by officers.
Such a lawsuit would have put Seattle, considered one of the most liberal cities in the nation, among only a handful of municipalities singled out for police misconduct lawsuits by the federal government.
Instead, Seattle police will operate under a far-reaching plan that covers use of force, police stops and work bias.
The city's police were criticized in 2010 for the shooting death of an American-Indian woodcarver who appeared to pose no threat. A Department Of Justice report in December 2011 said Seattle police in the previous two years had displayed a pattern of using excessive force.
The agreement, which followed months of negotiations between city officials and the U.S. government, calls for both sides to jointly select a monitor within 60 days to oversee implementation of the plan.
"Today the real work begins, the agreement we have reached belongs to everyone in Seattle," said U.S. Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, head of the Justice Department's civil rights division.
"I come here with a very deep reservoir of optimism."
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn said he was pleased with the deal. "This city is committed to eliminating bias," he said. "We do have a lot of work ahead of us."
The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington state in 2010 asked the Justice Department to probe Seattle police, citing a half-dozen incidents of excessive force, particularly against minorities. In one case, video showed a Latino man lying prone on the sidewalk when he was kicked, the group said.
The agreement is expected to last five years, but the city may ask the federal court to terminate it before that date if Seattle's police department have been complying with it for two years, McGinn's office said.
Under the plan, the department will revise its use of force policies and enhance training, reporting and supervision, Justice Department officials said. It will also develop a team that will roll out to probe serious uses of force.
Officials will also create a civilian oversight board called the Community Police Commission. And the police department will provide guidance to officers to prohibit stops of people when officers lack reasonable suspicion.
Talks on a settlement had bogged down over the anticipated costs of implementing a Justice Department proposal, which a city memorandum estimated would run roughly $41 million for the first year alone.
The memorandum had described those expenses, including $18 million to develop and implement training programs and $11 million for new city positions, as "prohibitive."
McGinn declined on Friday to give an exact cost for implementation of the plan, but said he estimates it could be $5 million a year.
The settlement followed voluntary police reform pacts in recent years with several other big cities, including Los Angeles, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. Several other large municipal police forces remain under federal review.
On Tuesday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder placed the New Orleans Police Department, accused of widespread abuses, under the scrutiny of a federal monitor for at least four years.
(Reporting by Laura L. Myers; Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Paul Simao)