After findings of bias and improper use of force, Seattle Police move into final phase of federal reform

The first phase in the five-year Department of Justice-mandated overhaul of the Seattle Police Department is complete. Wednesday, U.S. District Judge James Robart granted the City of Seattle’s motion that its police department is in “full and effective compliance” with reforms ordered after findings of biased policing and improper use of force.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan who led the U.S. Attorney’s office in Seattle at the time of the consent decree said Wednesday that SPD still has more work to do. “It has been a long process, and I want to make very clear that the work needs to continue,” she said.

The mayor’s statement on the judge’s ruling included some of the data collected during the reform process:

The monitor took two years and studied all of the uses of force in the Seattle Police Department to determine whether there was full and effective compliance. In that two-year period, as the court indicated, there were 760,000 incidents to which Seattle police officers were dispatched – 760,000 incidents in a two-year period. Really important: less than one percent ended up in any force at all being used: .5%. And of those, 80% of them were the lowest level of force, what’s called type 1, which means there may be transient pain but no serious injury. Importantly, we did not even keep track of when that type of force was used before there was a consent decree. That was one of the requirements of the consent decree. Only 39 incidences were using the most—more serious levels of force.

An eight-month DOJ investigation of Seattle policing released in winter 2011 revealed troubling findings about the department’s use of force. Justice filed a consent decree and negotiated a plan with SPD to overhaul the department. SPD’s overhaul included a DOJ-approved use of force policy.

The next phase under the consent decree agreement calls for a two-year review period after which Seattle’s police department could be free from federal monitoring.

Durkan, meanwhile, is beginning her search for a new police chief after Kathleen O’Toole stepped down to start the new year. Carmen Best, the city’s first black woman to fill the post, currently serves as interim police chief.

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