Seattle Times Editorial: The Seattle Police Department Is on the Path to Getting Policing Right

Seattle police reforms are a work in progress, but citizens finally have hope that trust is being rebuilt.

Seattle Times (December 19, 2014)

Seattle police have alternately been accused of overly aggressive policing by the U.S. Department of Justice, and under-policing property crime by seemingly everyone with a recent smartphone theft.

Both charges are true, and that fact suggests the difficult path Seattle police have to navigate to restore public trust. But the department, under new management, is at least heading in the right direction.

That’s the take-away from a new report by federally appointed monitor Merrick Bobb, who has previously blistered Seattle police for slow progress toward fulfilling its consent decree with the DOJ.

There is a “renaissance” in the department’s training unit. Internal investigations and discipline processes are better. And the technologically challenged department finally is getting data to show how often force is used.

Bobb described Seattle police as “approaching midpassage” on the consent decree, and lavished praise on Chief Kathleen O’Toole and her new staff. 

Her smart moves include a recent decision to open all five assistant chief positions to competition, both from within and outside the department. Poor leadership in the upper management of Seattle police has been a clear problem — Bobb labels it “a sluggish, passive and often simply dysfunctional bureaucracy.” 

Just months into her tenure, O’Toole appears to be cleaning house.

But, O’Toole still has much work to do. The department still doesn’t have a functional early intervention system to flag potentially troubled cops, and a vital internal review board isn’t holding officers accountable for failing to de-escalate incidents. 

Seattle citizens also have their own complaints, particularly on the department’s policing of property crime. 

Community trust in the department remains a work in progress. But there is finally reason to believe there’s a chance it can be rebuilt.