Seattle’s efforts to combat gun violence while simultaneously curbing excessive policing tactics is drawing a lot of attention — and even more cash — from the federal government.
On Thursday, Attorney General Loretta Lynch visited the Central Area as part of a national community policing tour where she highlighted, among other things, the progress the Seattle Police Department has made in meeting federal mandates to address excessive use of force by officers.
On the same day Lynch was in town, the Department of Justice monitor tasked with overseeing SPD’s use of force consent decree filed a report about how the department was progressing with internally tracking use of force incidents.
The monitor found that SPD was doing a good job in three out of four categories, including investigating the most severe use of force incidents. However, the monitor’s report said SPD sergeants “still had a ways to go” in adequately investigating mid-level use of force incidents by officers, like those involving tasers and pepper spray.
Lynch praised SPD and City officials for making progress towards coming into full compliance with the consent decree:
Thanks to the consent decree and the commitment to change it represented, the Seattle Police Department has adopted policies and instituted trainings to address bias, curtail the use of force and implement new mechanisms of accountability. Those reforms have not only led to positive results in Seattle, but have become a model for similarly situated departments throughout the country.
SPD Chief Kathleen O’Toole was hired last year as the mayor searched for the right person to guide the department through its consent decree process.
Even as reforms are implemented, tensions continue to surface in the process. While many city officials and community leaders have praised the firing of officer Cynthia Whitlatch for her “sustained policy violations involving bias, abuse of police discretion, and escalation of a contact” in a July 2014 arrest on Capitol Hill, the Seattle Police Officers Guild and some East Precinct officers see the chief’s decision to sustain the findings of the Office of Professional Accountability as a betrayal of a veteran officer.
When asked about articles in the police union newspaper that have mocked the consent decree, Lynch said in a Thursday media briefing that her interactions with officers during the day had been positive. “I think that change is hard. It can be hard to be introspective,” she said.
Lynch had a packed schedule of community meetings Thursday, which included visiting with teens at El Centro de la Raza and a meeting at the Northwest African American Museum where Central District and community activists discussed their experiences with SPD. Participants included Rev. Harriet Walden of Mothers for Police Accountability and Shaun Knittel of Social Outreach Seattle, as well as City officials. The roundtable discussion was closed to the media.
Previous stops on Lynch’s tour included Birmingham, Alabama, East Haven, Connecticut, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Lynch wraps up her tour on Friday in Richmond, California. Lynch’s exit from the 23rd and Massachusetts museum Thursday afternoon caused a minor traffic backup with her large FBI security detail in tow.
Lynch’s Seattle stop also underscored a flood of DOJ cash coming into the City. On Monday, the Justice Department announced a $600,000 grant that will be used for expanding body worn cameras for SPD officers.
Body-worn cameras are widely supported by SPD and the City. However, the Seattle Community Police Commission has repeatedly called for a moratorium on the used of the cameras until public disclosure laws can be amended to protect people’s identity. Storage and privacy were the biggest issues identified following an early look at SPD’s use of body cameras.
Seattle was also awarded a $260,000 DOJ grant this week to hire three “crime prevention coordinators” — people who act as conduits between neighborhoods and precincts. The grant was the largest part of $3.2 million in crime prevention grants coming to Washington state. Earlier in the day, Council District 3 candidate Pamela Banks announced her plan to hire at least a dozen former gang members to help quell violence in the city.
Last week, the DOJ awarded nearly $500,000 to the Puget Sound Regional Crime Gun Task Force, which focuses on tracing shell casings and firearms used in crimes in order to identify shooters. The grant will also help pay for a special prosecutor specifically focused on gun crimes, as well as funds for Harborview Medical Center to provide outreach to victims of gun violence.
A Labor Day shootout at Powell Barnett Park was the latest in a string of gun violence incidents around Seattle this summer. On Sunday, August 30th, a man suffered serious injuries when he was shot in a reported gunfight outside the Douglass-Truth library near 24th and Yesler. East Precinct and City Hall representatives met with community members in August at a neighborhood crime meeting to discuss recent gun violence. There has been a 23% increase in reports of shots fired this year in Seattle.
District 3 candidate Banks chose the park for the Thursday morning announcement of her “Jobs Stop Bullets” public safety campaign.
During her visit, Lynch also announced $44 million in nationwide grant funding to be used to combat human trafficking. Seattle was one of 16 sites selected, and will receive $1.5 million over the next three years to support law enforcement efforts and victim services.