City of Seattle Files Audit of Crisis Intervention Efforts that Demonstrate Sustained Compliance with Consent Decree
Independent Analysis by Department of Justice and Federal Monitor Validates Conclusion
SEATTLE – On Monday, in accordance with the Court-approved plan for demonstrating sustained compliance for two years, the City of Seattle filed an audit of crisis intervention reforms required by the consent decree it entered into with the Department of Justice (DOJ). The filing in U.S. District Court demonstrated that Seattle Police Department (SPD) has sustained compliance with its ongoing crisis intervention requirements, including continuing crisis training, engagement with the Crisis Intervention Committee, and by engaging with individuals in crisis consistent with its crisis intervention and force policies.
Both the DOJ and the Court’s independent monitor, Merrick Bobb, concluded that the City has sustained compliance with the consent decree and demonstrated a willingness and ability to critically self-assess their own progress in these areas.
“This audit demonstrates that SPD continues to be in compliance with one of the most important aspects of the consent decree – how officers approach incidents involving people in crisis and the internal reporting and accountability of those efforts,” said Annette L. Hayes, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington. “Getting this right is critical to effective and constitutional policing, and it is encouraging that encounters with people experiencing crisis are resulting in very low uses of force and high rates of diversion to services. SPD continues to critically self-analyze and evaluate reform efforts with continued oversight from its accountability system, the Court, Monitor, and DOJ.”
The audit relies in part on data and information from the 18-month period between January 1, 2017 and June 30, 2018, when SPD made 15,995 contacts with persons believed to be experiencing a behavioral crisis. 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 – or 1.74 percent – 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. Referrals to designated crisis service providers increased by 103% during 2017.
The audit also demonstrates that there are high rates of CIT certification among patrol officers (73%), rendering the vast majority of patrol officers well-equipped for encounters with people in crisis. SPD officers have kept up with demand despite a 12% increase in dispatched crisis contacts. Approximately 80% of crisis contacts involved a CIT certified officer. The high number of CIT-certified officers responding to crisis incidents may also, in turn, account for some of the outcomes Seattle has experienced with respect to people in crisis.
Further, the audit and review by the DOJ and the Monitoring Team found that when issues related to the use of force against a person in crisis did exist, the chain of command made appropriate referrals. For example, in a matter involving an officer’s failure to de-escalate and potential use of excessive force, the chain referred the matter to the Office of Police Accountability, ultimately resulting in a referral for criminal prosecution (the officer was charged with assault). Likewise, where a supervisor identified that an officer’s statements could have contributed to the eventual need to use force in an incident, the supervisor referred the officer for additional training.
The audit also highlights that SPD must focus more of its training in crisis, de-escalation, and team tactics on the designation of a tactical leader and the formation of a contact team and its positioning. Further, this training should specify that when an incident involves a person in crisis and one or more CIT-certified officers on scene, a CIT-certified officer should be designated as the tactical leader.
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 the Phase II 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. 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 were filed on October 31, 2018.