Justice News

Assistant Attorney General Perez Speaks at the Seattle Police Department Settlement Agreement Press Conference
Seattle, WA
United States
Friday, July 27, 2012

Good afternoon, I am honored to join Mayor McGinn, City Attorney Holmes, Chief Diaz, and my good friend and colleague Jenny Durkan. Today is indeed an important day for the people of Seattle, and the dedicated men and women of the Seattle Police Department. Today is a day to discuss how we move forward into the future—together, in partnership- to ensure that Seattle Police officers have the necessary tools to succeed; to ensure that they engage in effective, constitutional policing, and to ensure that the community has a meaningful role in shaping the future direction and success of SPD. Today is a day in which we mark the end of one phase of our engagement with the Police Department and the community, and the beginning of another. In many respects, today, the real work begins.

It is fitting that we mark this important day here in City Hall. City Hall belongs to the wonderful residents of Seattle. The agreements we have reached today belong to everyone in Seattle- the residents of Seattle, the police department, and the public officials who care so much about this city and this police department. They reflect your ideas, values and aspirations for SPD.

I want to thank the many community stakeholders who offered constructive feedback on how to improve SPD. I want to thank the front line officers who provided useful insights about how we can make their difficult and important job easier and more rewarding. I have great respect for Chief Diaz. I am very confident that he can continue to lead the Department effectively to implement the changes outlined in today’s agreements. I want to thank the mediator, who played a critical role in bringing the parties together. I want to thank city Attorney Pete Holmes and his staff for their professionalism and competence throughout this process. I want to thank our team of attorneys from the Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s office. They are second to none, and I am proud to call you my colleagues, just as I am proud to call Jenny Durkan my good friend and close colleague. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I want to thank you, Mayor McGinn. Your leadership, creativity and your direct personal engagement were indispensable components of our success. The amount of time you invested in this case was impressive. The agreement embodies many of your ideas.

There is a tendency among some to focus on areas of disagreement. In the end, we are here today- together- because our areas of agreement far outweigh our disagreements, and our focus on the future- and it is a bright future indeed for the Seattle Police Department- guides our actions. Most importantly, we have a shared belief that effective policing and constitutional policing go hand in hand, and we have a shared interest in implementing sustainable reforms that achieve three key goals: (1) reducing crime; (2) ensuring respect for the Constitution, and (3) enhancing public confidence in the Seattle Police Department.

The settlement agreement is constructed around these three basic goals, and builds on last year’s extensive letter of findings. We conducted an extensive, surgical analysis of discreet challenges within the Department relating to use of force, quality of supervision, internal accountability, and discriminatory policing. The Settlement Agreement builds off of last year’s letter of findings and constructs an effective, innovative blueprint for sustainable change moving forward. 

The Settlement Agreement requires SPD to enhance (1) use of force reporting and investigation requirements; (2) improve supervision and accountability mechanisms; and (3) revise and clarify policies, training, and supervision requirements related to discriminatory policing, stops and detentions. What we are trying to accomplish in this agreement is to ensure that Seattle Police Department has the proper policies in place on use of force, stops and detention and bias free policing; that the officers are properly trained in these areas; that front line supervisors are equipped with the necessary tools to perform their critically important job of day to day supervision; and that internal mechanisms of review and accountability are in place that will work to the benefit of officers and the community alike.

There are creative approaches to assessing compliance that focus on outcomes and encourage innovation. The monitor that the parties will jointly select will play a key role in ensuring the effective implementation of the Agreements. Chief Diaz is in charge today and will continue to be in charge, and we have confidence in his ability to carry out these changes. The monitor does not supplant the chief. It is always helpful to have an independent, experienced set of eyes and ears to assist in the implementation of the Agreements.

There is significant emphasis on transparency, community engagement and sustainability. The settlement agreement and the memorandum of understanding place tools in the hands of the entire community so that long after the agreement has ended, effective, constitutional policing will endure. As the Agreement notes, effective, constitutional policing requires a partnership between the police department, its officers, community members and public officials.

The creation of the Community Police Commission is a critical innovation that will provide a permanent vehicle to ensure that all stakeholders- police officers, community members, faith leaders, and others- have a seat at the table in this process. As I noted earlier, this is your settlement agreement; this is your police department, and this Commission will provide a remarkable opportunity for all relevant stakeholders to be part of this exciting process.

We have come a long way in the past 18 months in better understanding the challenges confronting SPD, and mapping out a roadmap for change. However, as I noted earlier, in many respects, the real work of implementing these changes and ensuring that they become and remain part of the DNA of SPD is just beginning.

To the men and women of the Seattle Police Department who put their lives on the line every day, we thank you for your dedicated service and ask you to continue to be part of this process of continuous quality improvement. This agreement provides you with additional tools that will help you succeed, and a continuing seat at the table for the discussions on how to meet our three goals of reducing crime, ensuring respect for the constitution, and enhancing public confidence in SPD. These Agreements will make policing easier, not harder.

I have heard some officers express a fear that new rules on use of force and bias free policing would cause police officers to stay in their cars, and not engage the public, for fear of being disciplined. I have had the privilege of traveling the country and working with police departments-large, small and in between, urban, suburban and rural- and have learned a considerable amount about effective policing. I have studied the evidence on this issue, and I invite you to do the same. The evidence shows that effective policing and constitutional policing go hand in hand. The experience of the Los Angeles Police Department, which underwent a sweeping reform process that included judicial oversight and a consent decree with the Department of Justice, had the following results: crime went down and the quantity and quality of policing went up. I invite you to study and learn from the successful experiences elsewhere. I hope you will continue to be a vital part of this effort.

To community leaders, we will continue to seek you out and hear you out, because your voice and perspective will always be so important.

To the public officials in Seattle, including the members of the City Council, City Attorney Holmes, and Mayor McGinn, this is an historic opportunity. In Washington, DC, working together toward a shared vision of a better America has proven elusive. In Seattle, you came together around a shared vision for a better Seattle. Mr. Holmes and Mayor McGinn, you identified our shared values and goals, and helped to forge a settlement agreement that will make Seattle Police Department even better, and will make other departments stand up, take notice, and emulate. That is the essence of leadership.

I am not confused about the considerable work that lies ahead. The problems we identified are serious, and we continue to be well aware of the very raw feelings that many Seattle residents have towards the Seattle Police Department. Public safety depends in large part on the people’s confidence in the police department. Without this trust, policing is more difficult, and public safety is compromised.

Change is not easy. Change requires time, persistence, partnership, a sound plan, and effective leadership. All of those ingredients are in place here in Seattle, which is why I am very optimistic about the future of the Seattle Police Department. We have completed one phase of this effort; let’s move to the next. We look forward to expanding our partnership with the City in this next exciting phase.

Updated September 17, 2014