Justice Department Announces Significant Milestone in Policing Reform Efforts for the City Of Seattle and Seattle Police Department
The Justice Department announced today that it has jointly filed a proposed agreement with the City of Seattle that recognizes the city’s consistent compliance with the core requirements of a 2012 consent decree regarding the Seattle Police Department (SPD). The agreement includes important obligations that the city must take to continue the reform process.
The proposed agreement, which must be approved by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, describes the city’s and the SPD’s achievements in implementing the consent decree. For five years, the city has consistently complied with significant portions of the consent decree, including requirements regarding use of force (outside of the crowd management context), crisis intervention, stops and detentions, supervision and the city’s Office of Police Accountability.
The proposed agreement would replace the consent decree, but would require that the city continue to measure whether the reforms required by the consent decree remain effective. The city must also complete work in two remaining areas, use of force in crowd management and accountability.
“For over a decade, the Justice Department has worked to ensure that the City of Seattle and the Seattle Police Department undertake reforms necessary to bring about constitutional policing,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Our consent decree has provided the strong medicine needed to help cure problems and improve the way policing is carried out across the City of Seattle. Today we recognize the progress that has been made, the significant reforms instituted and the central role that the community has played and will continue to play in ensuring fair, non-discriminatory and effective policing moving forward.”
“The joint motion filed today acknowledges the significant progress of the City of Seattle and its Police Department, and very clearly lays out what must happen before all requirements of the consent decree may be terminated,” said First Assistant U.S Attorney Tessa M. Gorman for the Western District of Washington. “This proposed agreement allows the City of Seattle to focus on these remaining critical areas so that reforms in those areas become ingrained in the ways the Seattle Police Department engages with the community.”
The city has made notable progress in the areas where it has consistently complied with the consent decree for more than five years, and has adopted reforms that go beyond the explicit requirements of the consent decree. For example:
- Reduced Use of Force: SPD changed its policies and training regarding use of force, including how use of force is reported, reviewed and investigated. As a result, force is used in less than one-quarter of one percent of all events to which officers respond. SPD has reduced the use of serious force by 60%.
- Improved Response to Behavioral Health Crises: SPD reduced the use of force in crisis incidents to less than two percent of such incidents, and the majority of force used (65%) is low-level. SPD changed its response to people having behavioral health crises, including developing an advanced crisis intervention program, adopting a model where police and civilian mental health practitioners respond jointly and coordinating with King County to dispatch non-police mobile crisis teams to behavioral health incidents.
- Improved Response to Investigative Stops: SPD changed its policy, training and practices for investigative stops. The court monitor’s review has found that officers complied with legal and policy requirements in nearly all instances it assessed.
- New Bias-free Policing Policy and Training: SPD adopted a bias-free policing policy and, in consultation with the Community Police Commission, developed bias-free policing training. It also changed its procedures for addressing bias-related complaints.
- New Supervision Model: SPD changed its supervision practices, providing new training and adopting a new staffing model to ensure that all patrol officers have a consistent, highly-trained supervisor.
The proposed agreement, which must be approved by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, calls for continued work in the following areas:
- Use of Force/Crowd Management: SPD will develop new crowd management policies and provide them to the court and independent Court Monitor for approval. These policies include ways to report and review uses of force during crowd management.
- Accountability: Under the proposed agreement, the independent Court Monitor will review the city’s accountability system and propose any improvements.
This matter is handled by the Special Litigation Section of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Civil Division.
The Civil Rights Division continues to prioritize constitutional policing and currently has pending investigations into police departments across the country, including in Minneapolis, Phoenix, New York City and Louisiana. The consent decree, proposed agreement, as well as additional information about the Civil Rights Division, are available on its website at https://www.justice.gov/crt/special-litigation-section.