You are here

Justice News

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

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Monitor Finds Seattle Police in Initial Compliance with Requirements Relating to Reporting, Investigating and Analyzing Uses of Force

WASHINGTON – The Department of Justice announced today that formal assessments of Seattle Police Department (SPD) reforms relating to documenting, investigating and analyzing uses of force by officers have found SPD to be in initial compliance with specific provisions of the court-ordered agreement with the Department of Justice.  Federal monitor Merrick Bobb filed the first four of 15 systemic assessments with the U.S. District Court and concluded that, in three of the four areas reviewed thus far—out of 15 total assessments—SPD is in initial compliance with specific requirements of the consent decree.

This first round of assessments, following the July 2012 consent decree and overseen by an independent and jointly selected monitor, analyzed how effectively SPD is tracking uses of force by officers at all levels of reportable force.  Specifically, the monitoring team and the Department of Justice and its policing experts, reviewed use of force reports and investigations from incidents occurring from July 1, 2014, through Dec. 31, 2014, to conduct four separate assessments relating to:

  • Reporting of low-level uses of force (Type I reporting);
  • Reporting of intermediate and high-level uses of force (Type II and III reporting);
  • Chain of command investigations for Type I and II incidents; and
  • Force Investigation Team (FIT) investigations for Type III incidents.

Of the first four assessments, the monitor and Department of Justice found that SPD is in initial compliance with Type I reporting, Type II and III reporting and FIT investigations for Type III uses of force.  

 “I commend Seattle’s leaders for their commitment to enhancing law enforcement through transparency and accountability,” said Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch.  “Today’s assessments show that real progress is possible when we engage with one another, when we summon our goodwill and good faith, and when we work collaboratively as partners with a mutual and shared interest in ensuring the safety and security of the communities we call home.  I look forward to seeing even more progress in the days and months ahead.”

 “The Seattle Police Department has made tremendous strides in implementing reforms, and we congratulate them on this progress,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division.  “This achievement is possible because of the collaborative work of the many stakeholders in this process.  Although work remains, these assessments show the change that is possible, here and across the country.”

“I commend the Seattle Police Department for this important first step towards full consent decree compliance,” said U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes of the Western District of Washington.  “Effective force reporting and review is essential to addressing the problems that the Department of Justice found in 2011.  What this proves is that with strong leadership from the Chief of Police and City leaders, and continued engagement by rank and file officers, Seattle is heading down the road to becoming true leaders in modern police practices.”

As the monitor indicated in the court filing today, SPD officers are “documenting force whenever it is used, sergeants have responded to the scene in such a way that permits a thorough investigation and the FIT investigations are consistently excellent.”  However, while chain of command investigations of Type I uses of force were adequate, those for Type II were not found to be in initial compliance.  More work will need to be done in that area, and the Department of Justice and the monitor have begun discussions with the city on how to reach compliance in that area as well.

A key requirement of the consent decree is that uses of force by SPD officers are uniformly and accurately reported by officers and thoroughly reviewed by their supervisors, including the chain of command for lower-level uses of force and the FIT for more serious uses of force.  The Justice Department’s investigation found that in areas relating to use of force reporting and supervision, there was cursory reporting, inadequate on-scene supervisory investigation of force, insufficient analysis of use of force incidents and too little meaningful oversight and review of force investigations.           

The new use of force policy – including a tiered reporting system that requires increased supervision and review of more significant uses of force and new and clearer lines of responsibility for supervisory oversight (including the creation of FIT) – went into effect on Jan. 1, 2014.

Additional assessments, including the quality of Office of Professional Accountability investigations, SPD supervision, stops and detentions, crisis intervention and officer use of force generally will be filed over the next six months.  Collectively, these assessments cover every area of the consent decree and will evaluate “whether [SPD] has the systems, policies, structures and culture in place” that the consent decree requires.


Civil Rights
Updated February 22, 2016