Report: SPD accomplished much under the consent decree; improvements still needed

SEATTLE — Over the past decade, Seattle Police Department’s monitor said it has “accomplished a great deal” under the Department of Justice’s Consent Decree.

As Seattle communities voiced that they wanted change in policing, the department “has changed its practice and performance across several critical functions,” according to a recent assessment.

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A report from the monitor said the department and its officers have “embraced a new mission and values; worked to create a service-oriented culture; expanded knowledge and skills on crisis intervention, de-escalation, and less-lethal tactics; and committed to new policies and practices.”

When the Consent Decree first began in 2012, the monitor said communities could not access any “reliable” SPD data or outcomes, such as the use of force.

“Officers had inferior training and supervision on how to de-escalate volatile interactions and resolve incidents with people experiencing a mental health crisis,” the report stated.

Since that time, new policies and practices have been implemented, focusing on the “sanctity of life.”

Use-of-force incidents are reviewed as a routine practice, and because of that, there has been a 48% drop in officers’ use of force, according to the report.

“When officers stop or detain a person, they must now articulate the reason for a stop and provide justification for searches.”

As the city and the police department enter the final phase of the Consent Decree, there is still more work to be done.

The department will need to restore the trust that was lost in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis and the officers’ response amid subsequent protests in Seattle.

According to the report, SPD will have to repair some wounds, including changing how it manages crowds through policy and practice.

Another important issue officers will have to tackle is the disparity in policing towards minorities.

According to the report, Black and Native Americans in Seattle are disproportionately stopped or subjected to force by officers.

“SPD must catalyze the city of Seattle to identify systematically the types of activity that lead to disproportionate impacts and explore potential alternative responses that might reduce or eliminate such disparities,” the report stated.

The department must address a staffing shortage.

While the department had already come into full compliance with the Consent Decree in January 2018, monitoring continued and on May 7, 2020, the city and the Department of Justice filed a motion to terminate most substantive provisions, except specific provisions that were deemed non-compliant by the city.

It was Seattle officers’ “significant use of force” and historic levels of misconduct complaints and community outcry that led to the city withdrawing the motion “to terminate most of the Consent Decree” on June 3.

During the protests, the department failed to meet its use-of-force requirements and struggled to meet its force review obligations, which caused an impact.

The department recognized change was needed and improvements were made during the ongoing protests, but the change was too slow.

Since then, additional reviews, policy changes and compliance measures have been undertaken in 2021 and 2022, leading to the department sustaining changes that were “full and effective.”

However, further work is needed in the areas of policy and training around the use of force, force reporting and review in crowd events.

As for what’s next, the city and SPD will have to seek full compliance with the consent decree, with actions set forth in the 2022 monitoring plan. To read more about the specifics, go here.