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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Western District of Washington

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, October 31, 2018

City of Seattle Files Assessments of Work to Sustain Police Reforms and Remain in “Full and Effective Compliance” with Consent Decree

SEATTLE – Today, in accordance with the Court-approved plan for demonstrating sustained compliance for two years, the City of Seattle filed self-assessments of its ongoing work under the police reform consent decree it entered into with the Department of Justice (DOJ). The filings in U.S. District Court included a quarterly report on data and activities during the months of August-October, two audits relating to use of force investigations and internal supervision, an outcome report on its crisis intervention activities, and a review of the Seattle Police Department’s (SPD’s) stops and detentions policy. 

For each of the areas assessed by the City under the consent decree, both the DOJ and the Court’s independent monitor, Merrick Bobb, concluded that the City has sustained compliance with the Consent Decree.

“These Phase II assessments are important opportunities for SPD to demonstrate critical self-analysis with continued oversight from the Court, Monitor, DOJ and the community,” said Annette L. Hayes, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington.  “This two-year period of sustained compliance is designed to be thorough, transparent and ensure all concerned that the work of police reform continues in all areas covered by the consent decree. DOJ continues to work with the City, Monitor and community to develop methodologies, examine data, and validate results so that everyone can have confidence that hard-won reforms will not slip. Today’s filings demonstrate that thus far, the City of Seattle remains on the right track.”

In January 2018, the Court found the City of Seattle in “full and effective compliance” with reforms required by the consent decree signed in 2012.  This finding triggered Phase II of police reform in Seattle – a two-year “sustainment period” during which the City and SPD must maintain compliance with the consent decree. 

During this sustainment period, the City must demonstrate its ongoing compliance through seven quarterly reports and three types of self-assessments: audits of its practices, reviews of SPD’s policies, and outcome reports that summarize policing data for the public.  Quarterly reports must include recent data on use-of-force and crisis intervention practices, an update on the activities of SPD’s Force Review Board and Unit, and a discussion of relevant activities of the accountability organizations — the Office of Police Accountability (OPA), the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), and the Community Police Commission (CPC).  The first quarterly report was filed on July 31, 2018.

Quarterly Report. During the third quarter of 2018, the report filed today showed that 513 (84.79%) of the reported applications of force involved no greater than low-level, Type I force, 87 (14.38%) involved Type II force, and five (less than 1%) involved Type III force. There were no officer-involved shootings.  In the context of overall encounters, force is rarely used. Between January and July 2018, there were 103,553 unique events to which officers were called by a dispatcher or observed or were alerted to while on patrol. Three hundred eighty-three (383) – or slightly more than one third of one percent of all of these events – involved one or more reportable uses of force. Fifty-three (five one-hundredths of one percent) of all events ultimately involved a more serious use of force (Type II or Type III). These rates generally are consistent with previous reporting periods, like, for example, when the City’s use of force report for 2017 showed that Type I uses of force constituted nearly 77% of all uses of force.  Contacts with those experiencing crisis are discussed more fully below. 

The internal mechanisms established to examine the most serious uses of force – the Force Review Unit and Force Review Board – continue to evaluate incidents, make disciplinary referrals, and recommend policy changes in accordance with their mandates.  And, as demonstrated by the audit of the investigation and review of Type I (low-level force that may involve transitory pain) and Type II (causes or is reasonably expected to cause physical injury greater than transitory pain, but not substantial bodily harm) levels of force, SPD continues to comply with its reporting and investigation obligations under the consent decree.  

Use of Force Investigations and Reporting Audit. According to the City’s audit – and validated by both DOJ and the Monitor – SPD officers continue to comply with reporting, review, and investigation obligations set forth by the consent decree for Types I and II uses of force. In particular, the audit revealed that officers consistently wrote complete and thorough reports of their uses of force and their chain of command consistently conducted high quality reviews, including thorough documentation of relevant evidence. Further, the audit found that supervisors addressed shortcomings in a timely and appropriate manner, ensuring that the quality of reporting and investigation will continue to improve. 

Supervision Audit.  Although aspects of supervision are covered by a number of other audits in Phase II, this “general” supervision audit specifically examined the adequacy of the numbers of supervisors to perform requirements under the consent decree, “unity of command,” and training for long-term acting sergeants.  The audit found – and DOJ and the Monitor concur – that SPD has demonstrated compliance with its ongoing requirements, including that:

  • SPD deploys an adequate number of qualified first-line supervisors/sergeants to ensure the provisions of the consent decree are implemented, including responding to the scene when force is used, investigating uses of force, documenting uses of force, and providing direction to officers who use force as needed;
  • Operational field officers are assigned to a single, consistent, clearly identified first line supervisor who works the same days and hours as the officers they supervise; and
  • Personnel assigned to a planned assignment of acting sergeant for longer than 60 days receive training as an acting sergeant in a timely manner.

Crisis Intervention Outcome Report. In the 18-month period between January 1, 2017 and June 30, 2018, SPD made 15,995 contacts with persons believed experiencing a behavioral crisis (of which 92% were responses to calls from the public reporting an incident).  This analysis of crisis contacts shows that in the first six months of 2018, dispatched crisis contacts increased by 26% compared to the same period last year and on-viewed crisis contact (i.e., those initiated by an officer) were up almost 30% compared to the first six months of 2017.  Despite the increase in crisis contacts, use of force against persons in behavioral crisis remains low and resolutions that result in a connection to services remains high.  Of the 15,995 crisis contacts reported, 277 - fewer than 2% - involved any use of reportable force and in three-quarters of cases no greater than the lowest level of force (Type I) was used and just five (0.9%) were Type III uses of force. 

All officers receive at least eight hours of annual crisis intervention training (CIT) and an additional 118 officers became “CIT certified” officers in 2017 by receiving 40 hours of training. In nearly 80% of crisis calls, a CIT-certified officer was on-scene.

Voluntary Contacts, Terry Stops, and Detentions Policy Review.  Following a systematic and inclusive review process that included multiple parts of SPD, the Monitor, DOJ, OPA, OIG and the CPC, the City has submitted revisions to SPD’s Voluntary Contacts, Terry Stops, and Detentions Policy. Agreed-to changes include clarifying provisions that SPD and other stakeholders identified as “confusing, ambiguous, or legalistic in a way that limited practical usefulness.”  For example, the revised policy is more explicit that frisks must be based on articulable and reasonable safety concerns that a person is armed and presently dangerous and also now reflects officers cannot act based on pretext under Washington state law, even if an objectively reasonable basis for the stop exists.  The goal in ongoing policy reviews is to assess current applications of the policies and to identify best police practices and incorporate those findings into SPD policies.

The next round of filings, including the quarterly report and crisis intervention audit, will be filed in December 2018.

Topic(s): 
Civil Rights
Community Outreach
Contact: 
Press inquiries regarding the DOJ/SPD consent decree should be directed to Crissy Leininger at (206) 553-7970 or christine.leininger@usdoj.gov. Ms. Leininger will identify the appropriate person to respond.
Updated October 31, 2018