U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan Steps Down To Seek Next Chapter

Sep 4, 2014

U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan talks to reporters about police reform at the Federal Building in Seattle in May.
U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan talks to reporters about police reform at the Federal Building in Seattle in May.
Credit KUOW Photo/Patricia Murphy

Jenny Durkan, the U.S. Attorney for Western Washington, announced her resignation Wednesday, saying she felt the time was right to go.

Durkan spent five years as the region’s top law enforcement official, which she said was longer than she’d planned.

Wednesday she said she will take time to find the right “next challenge.” One issue she said she might stay involved in is cybercrime, which she calls the biggest threat facing the United States. Durkan said she may continue to be part of the public policy dialogue on that issue.

Locally, Durkan is probably best known for her work on police reform. Her office and the Department of Justice’s civil rights division investigated the Seattle Police Department in 2011 and found a pattern of excessive use of force by officers. In 2012 she helped negotiate a consent decree that placed SPD under federal oversight.

She said concerns are simmering in many communities like the ones that led to riots last month in Ferguson, MO.

“I don’t think Seattle is anywhere close to being a Ferguson,” Durkan said, “but I think at the outset of our investigation we saw here in Seattle a series of events that led to deep concerns among many communities. Those concerns had to be addressed.”

The DOJ findings are still contested by many officers, including a group who have filed a federal lawsuit to require changes to the new use of force policy.

Durkan said the policy is open to revision, but she disputes the criticism that the new policy places officers at risk or results in less police enforcement.

“There’s no conflict between constitutional policing and effective policing,” she said.  “So far we haven’t seen any information that shows that any of the concerns people might have are true. If they are true, we want to know it and we want to fix it.”

Durkan said now the building blocks for police reform are in place and it’s up to SPD Chief Kathleen O’Toole and elected officials to implement it.

Durkan is also also proud of her office’s work on white-collar crime, forfeitures , drug trafficking and civil rights.

She is believed to be the first openly gay U.S. Attorney, but she says a lot has changed in five years. “I believe it’s correct that I was the first presidential appointment – openly gay presidential appointment – in the Department of Justice, not just as U.S. Attorney. There have been a number since me and it is so old news that it’s really refreshing.”

As she departs, Durkan said she’s concerned about the prevalence of heroin and methamphetamine. And she reiterated that Washington’s medical marijuana business is untenable under both state and federal laws.

Durkan's resignation is effective at the end of September.  Annette Hayes, the First Assistant U.S. Attorney in Durkan's office, is expected to oversee the office until the White House appoints a replacement.