Nashville NPR Talks to PARC's Matthew Barge About Civilian Oversight

Nashville Public Radio talked with PARC's Matthew Barge about civilian oversight.  Following the February shooting of a man at the hands of a Nashville police officer, community demands are mounting to create a civilian review board. It would oversee and arbitrate complaints leveled against the Nashville police. A coalition of grassroots activists is beginning to draft a plan, and council members are weighing their support.

Read and listen to the full story here.

With Police Reform's Future in Jeopardy, Seattle Proves Its Positive Impact on Use-of-Force

Governing (Apr. 7, 2017)

Five years after the U.S. Justice Department found Seattle police officers too often resorted to excessive force, the federal monitor overseeing court-ordered reforms issued a glowing report Thursday concluding the department has carried out a dramatic turnaround.

As a result, Bobb found the department to be in substantial compliance -- formally known as initial compliance -- with core provisions of a 2012 consent decree that required the city to adopt new policies and training to address excessive force.Crediting Mayor Ed Murray, Police Chief Kathleen O'Toole and, most of all, the Seattle Police Department's men and women, the monitor, Merrick Bobb, found overall use of force is down and, when officers do use it, it is largely handled in a reasonable way consistent with department policies.

"The significance and importance of this finding cannot be understated, as this report makes clear," Bobb wrote in the 102-page assessment. "It represents a singular and foundational milestone on SPD's road to full and effective compliance -- and represents Seattle crystallizing into a model of policing for the 21st century."

Moreover, use of force has dropped even as officer injuries have not gone up and crime, by most measures, has not increased, Bobb and his monitoring team write in the report.

O'Toole shared the results in a departmentwide email Monday afternoon, saying, "In short, the Monitor's assessment confirms the data that SPD reported on earlier this year: of the hundreds of thousands of unique incidents to which SPD officers respond every year, only a small fraction of one percent result in any use of force."

The report, which has been in the works for some time, comes days after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered Justice Department officials to conduct a review of reform agreements with more than a dozen police agencies nationwide to determine whether they, among other things, undermine officer safety and crime fighting.

While the order could undercut newer agreements reached under the civil-rights emphasis during the Obama administration, officials have said it is unlikely to affect Seattle's pact because it is under the firm control of a federal judge.

The judge, James Robart, has shown an unwavering commitment to Seattle's consent decree, even declaring "black lives matter" during a court hearing, and earlier this year halted the Trump administration's first travel ban.

In a statement Tuesday, Murray said, "Our progress under the Consent Decree cannot be undone by empty bureaucratic threats. Our police department is well into the process of reform and will continue this work. We are too far along for President Trump to pull us away from justice."

O'Toole, in her email, said the monitor's "remarkable results are not the result of de-policing, as some have charged, nor do they correlate to an increase in crime, as some predicted would occur."

Rather, dispatch data show the productivity of officers on 911 calls or active patrols is increasing and that crime is down by 10 percent over last year, her email said.

At the same time, the rate of injuries to officers has not increased, the chief added.

"In other words, this reduction in the use of force cannot be attributed to anything other than what can now be statistically shown: officers in the field are de-escalating volatile situations with regularity and skill, putting in practice the training that has established Seattle as a national leader in policing reform," O'Toole wrote.

Bobb's report is the most significant so far in a series of ongoing assessments he has been conducting on the department's progress.

"This positive assessment is a credit to the men and women of SPD, from line officers to command staff. They have embraced reform, made it their own, and fundamentally changed what is happening on the streets of Seattle," Annette L. Hayes, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington, said in a statement.

The report, for the first time, examines how officers are using force under new policies and training. Previously, Bobb has found the department to be in initial compliance with other parts of the consent decree, including procedures for crisis intervention, identifying problem officers and investigating and reviewing use of force.

Robart has suggested the department could be found in full compliance with the consent decree next year, but Bobb must complete key reviews regarding discriminatory policing and how people are stopped and detained.

Bobb's report notes that just a few years ago, force often went unreported or, when documented, it was "on paper stuffed, unreviewed, in file cabinets." If investigated, inquiries were typically incomplete or inadequate, the report says.

But with the department now reporting and examining use of force "as never before," it can be analyzed by quantity and quality, Bobb concludes.

Citing data and case samples over a 28-month period, the monitor found overall use of force dropped both across time under the consent decree and when compared to the period that led to the Justice Department's findings in 2011.

In contrast to the 2011 numbers, there has been what appears to be a net decrease of 743 incidents -- a 60 percent drop -- in the use of moderate and high-level use of force. Of 2,385 incidents, 39, or 1.6 percent, stemmed from the most serious type of force, including 15 officer-involved shootings.

The report also notes the use of batons has dramatically declined, as has the use of Tasers.

While the lowest levels of force generally grew over time, the monitoring team surmised that is at least partly due to better reporting that didn't occur before the consent decree and less use of higher-level force.

"Even with expanded or increased reporting, the use of force is an unusual event," the report says.

Of officers who used force, about one-third were involved in one incident and the vast majority of the remaining officers in one to three incidents, Bobb found.

The monitor found some racial disparity in the use of force, but no statistically significant difference in the type or severity. Officers are more likely to point their gun at minorities but are more likely to go "hands-on" with whites, according to the report. The firearm issue deserves more study by the department and others, the report says.

Bobb attributes the overall statistical decrease in the frequency and type of force to the fundamental changes in the use of de-escalation and crisis-intervention techniques, in contrast to the 2011 Justice Department finding that officers would escalate even minor offenses, particularly with people in crisis.

Injuries to officers were flat or went down slightly, prompting the monitoring team to conclude the "decreased use of force has not placed officers at any higher risk or made officers less able or willing to use force to defend themselves from threats or harm."

During the most recent half of the study period, officers used force consistent with policy 99.27 percent of the time, the report found.

Many issues identified in the Justice Department investigation have been eliminated or substantially so, it says, with none touching on prohibitions on using force against people who solely engage in verbal confrontations with officers.

In every case where the monitoring team believed officers acted outside policy, the department's Force Review Board independently reached the same conclusion, Bobb found.

"As this report ... makes clear, police officers in Seattle are frequently tasked with addressing individuals and situations that the rest of the social service fabric has failed, left out, or left behind," Bobb writes. "Their ability to innovate, change approaches, and change the course of the Department while addressing these fundamental duties is commended."

Seattle City Councilmember M. Lorena González, who chairs the council committee that oversees police matters, said in a statement: "Today's report proves the efficacy and importance of consent decrees."

Councilmember Tim Burgess, a leader on police reform who hailed the report as "great news," said in a statement: "Changing culture is slow-going and hard work, but our city's efforts are bearing real, positive results. The officers who are on the street every day deserve all the credit."

Seattle PD Reaches Initial Compliance With Use of Force Reforms

In a comprehensive assessment of use of force within the Seattle Police Department filed with the Hon. James Robart of the Western District of Washington today, 

PARC's Seattle Monitoring Team finds that overall use of force by the SPD is down – both across time under the Consent Decree and compared to the time period studied by the original DOJ investigation. Overall, use of force has gone down even as officer injuries have not gone up and crime, by most measures, has not increased. At the same time, the force that SPD officers do use is reasonable, necessary, proportional, and consistent with the Department’s use of force policy more than 99 percent of the time.

Because officers are using less force overall, without negatively impacting officer safety or public safety, and are using force consistent with law and SPD policy in those increasingly infrequent instances when force is deployed, Monitor Merrick Bobb finds that SPD is in initial compliance with Paragraphs 69 to 90 of the Consent Decree.

Read the full report here.

Seattle Times: Seattle Police Department Crisis Intervention Training Saves Lives

The quiet resolution of a tense standoff during Seattle rush hour is a tribute to the progress of Seattle police reforms. Training saves lives.

Editorial Board, Seattle Times (Apr. 2, 2017)

WHEN a 22-year-old man holding a knife begged Seattle police to shoot him on Third Avenue during rush hour, bystanders thought he might get his wish. That would probably be the result in many other cities, and maybe even a few years ago in Seattle.

But Tuesday’s incident ended after two hours without violence as the man’s mother looked on, and her son was taken to the hospital for a psychiatric evaluation — not gunshot wounds. Most officers on the scene had specialized training for defusing crises with people in psychosis.

What’s most noteworthy is that this was not an isolated incident.

Since signing the 2012 consent decree with the Department of Justice, the Seattle Police Department has built an impressive record of de-escalating potentially incendiary incidents involving people in psychiatric crisis. Out of 9,300 crisis response incidents in 2015, just 149 involved any use of force, and just 36 with the equivalent of tackling someone to the ground. Fewer than 8 percent of the subjects were arrested. Last year’s data is expected soon.

Those impressive statistics can be attributed to a dramatic expansion in the number of front-line officers given Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training, an in-depth course about mental illness and de-escalation techniques. In 2016, some Seattle precincts had 70 percent of officers who were CIT-certified. As the incident on Third Avenue showed, that training saves lives.

Seattle police have long embraced a model, pioneered in Memphis, Tenn., of de-escalating people in mental health crises by embedding CIT officers on patrol. But the 2011 DOJ analysis of Seattle police use-of-force incidents still found that 70 percent of those incidents involved people in psychiatric or drug-induced crisis, in part because the training wasn’t broad enough.

Now, basic Crisis Intervention Training is mandated for all officers, along with much stronger de-escalation techniques which encourage officers to use time as a friend. “We know that the longer an incident goes, the more likely it will end without force,” said Seattle police Sgt. Sean Whitcomb.

“It was a wonderful example of our police officers de-escalating, waiting patiently, and saving a life,” said Seattle Councilmember Tim Burgess.

The state police academy now gives all new recruits eight hours of CIT training, and is working to train all veteran officers by 2021. That mandate, passed by the Legislature in 2015, is named after Doug Ostling, a man with mental illness who was unnecessarily shot by two Bainbridge Island officers utterly lacking skills for dealing with people in psychosis.

That training could have saved Ostling’s life. It probably did save a life on Tuesday, in the middle of Seattle rush hour.

Seattle Saw Drop in Crime From 2016, Report Says

Seattle's KING-5 TV highlighted a new report shows that crime is down across nearly all reported categories in Seattle, where PARC continues to oversee a Consent Decree addressing use of force and discriminatory policing concerns.

"The report shows that crime fell in all categories but two: domestic violence and arson. Across the board, crime in the observed categories was reduced by 14 percent since the same period of time last year, going from 8,878 total crimes to 7,643."

Read the full report here.

Cleveland Police Will Test Use of Body Cameras at Off-Duty Security Gigs

By Eric Heisig, Cleveland Plain Dealer (Mar. 14, 2017)

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The city of Cleveland plans to test out the use of body-worn cameras for police officers who work off-duty security details.

The pilot program, the details of which are still being fleshed out, comes after the team monitoring the city's progress under a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department pointed out what it saw as flaws with the city's body camera policy. Namely, that the city does not require officers to wear them while working uniformed security details at places like the Quicken Loans Arena or local bars.

While the city's settlement, known as a consent decree, does not require Cleveland to buy body cameras, it does require the city to develop protocols that outline training guidelines and policies for how the recordings would be stored and used in subsequent investigations.

The city has used body cameras for the past few years and has attributed them to a drop in complaints against officers. 

Head monitor Matthew Barge said the police department claims there aren't many instances where officers used force while working secondary employment. He said, though, that the police department's claim is a "working hunch," since the city did not have the data to back up the claim.

Barge said the use might boil down to two things: making sure the officers charge the camera's battery before going to an off-duty shift and uploading and cataloguing any relevant footage from the off-duty shift to the city's databases.

Barge said while logistics are being explored, uploading video from a security detail might require an officer to do so the next time he or she works a city shift. He said he does not believe either charging or uploading would take a lot of time.

Greg White, the city's consent decree coordinator, said there are "a lot of unanswered questions that a pilot program would answer."

A plan for the off-duty pilot program must be turned into the judge overseeing the police reform by April 28.

Even though officers are not required to wear body cameras while working security details, they wear their full uniforms and carry their standard-issued equipment, including a firearm. Barge pointed out that the public does not know the difference between an officer on duty or working an off-duty shift when they see an officer in public.

He said the police department, law department and other city divisions "all have an interest in knowing what an officer is doing during secondary employment."

The deadline to create pilot program for body cameras was part of a plan the monitor filed Tuesday on city's second-year goals for police report.

As previously reported, many of the projects the city will need to finish -- training on new use-of-force and crisis-intervention policies, creating equipment and staffing plans and hiring a head of the Internal Affairs division -- were supposed to be finished in the first year.

The plan also calls for continued work on investigating and adjudicating citizen complaints.

The city will also focus on creating policies for community-oriented policing, bias-free policing, They will also draft policies on search and seizure and work more on officer training.

PARC's Matthew Barge Interviewed About Nashville Police Training Materials

PARC's Matthew Barge was interviewed by Nashville NPR Radio regarding a training textbook utilized by the Metro Nashville Police Department:

On the first day of training, every new recruit in the Nashville Police Academy is issued a stack of reading materials. Right on the top is Tactical Edge, a textbook dedicated to high risk patrol.

The dedication page reads: “For those officers who want to win.” The book, written by former journalist Charles Remsberg, was published in 1986. With gritty black and white photographs and tabloid-esque writing, it depicts a world of constant and increased threat. And it prescribes an aggressive approach to policing at a time when Nashville's department, and many around the country, are trying to move the other way.

The Metro Nashville Police Department says the most contentious material in the book is not taught. But some policing experts say the entire book, with its 31-year-old statistics and racially charged undertones, has no place in today’s law enforcement training. 

“It’s important for people know going through the academy that this is a dangerous job they’re getting into, but the first images in the book are of dead police officers,” says Matthew Barge, the co-director of the Police Assessment Resource Center, which helps departments across the country on reform initiatives. He’s referencing the black-and-white photo of five dead officers on page one of the introduction. It’s followed by pictures of black men in prison and a teenager jumping on a police car. 

Barge scrolls through the book’s introduction where, in all caps, it lays out the “cold hard bottom line: The gap between the training you get spoon-fed and what you need to survive on the street is left up for you to fill.”

On day one of training, every new recruit in the Nashville Police Academy is issued a stack of reading materials. Right on the top is Tactical Edge, a textbook dedicated to high risk patrol.

“That’s, like, red flags all over the place for me,” Barge says, after reading the line aloud. Barge is also the court-appointed monitor overseeing the federal consent decree between the Department of Justice and the city of Cleveland.

The book tells officers to be wary of an increasing population of minorities, which it says are “disproportionately associated with criminal violence.” It claims that public schools are churning out kids with criminal tendencies and that preschoolers left in day care are 15 times more aggressive than other children. It also says that most police training will always fall short of what’s really needed.

It sums the chapter up with these words: “On the street you will meet the human beings, the weapons, the mentalities behind the dismal facts above. They are waiting for you. Either you or they will have the edge.”

The type of mindset and culture Tactical Edge espouses, Barge says, “can be very damaging” and “create the kinds of problems that troubled police departments throughout the country have gotten into” — problems like racial profiling and the abuse of police authority. 

Read and listen to the whole story here.

Judge Approves Policies on How Cleveland Police Deal With the Mentally Ill

By Eric Heisig, Cleveland Plain Dealer (March 6, 2017)

The federal judge overseeing Cleveland's police reform approved a set of policies on Monday designed to guide officers on how to deal with people suffering a mental health crisis.

The goal with the new policies is to steer people with mental health issues away from the jails and toward treatment. Officials also seek to minimize the use of force during officers' encounters with the mentally ill.

Chief U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver Jr.'s one-page order says the new crisis intervention policies make clear "that specially-trained officers will 'have appropriate discretion to direct individuals with mental health and substance abuse issues to the health care system' and must be dispatched, when available, to all incidents that appear to involve an individual in crisis."

Read the remainder of the article here.

Seattle PD To Expand Body Camera Program

"The Seattle City Council voted Monday to expand the Seattle Police Department's body-worn camera program agency-wide . . . .

A City Council report indicated that a survey performed by a police monitoring team overseeing SPD's compliance with the federal Department of Justice Consent Decree revealed 89 percent of the public favored body cams in Seattle in 2015 and 92 percent supported them in 2016 . . . .

SPD reported that between 87 and 98 percent of people whose conversations were recorded on body cameras felt comfortable being filmed and did not change their behavior because of the cameras."