Year 3 of SPD Oversight: Are New Policies Making a Difference?

Coming in the third year of federal oversight of the Seattle Police Department: assessments of new policies’ effectiveness and a new community-perception poll.

By Mike Carter, Seattle Times (Mar. 17, 2015)

The Seattle Police Department has entered its third year under federal oversight, and the court-appointed monitor says it is time to assess whether policy reforms and officer training are translating into better policing and improved public perception.

Documents filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court provide a road map to the next year of reform efforts within the SPD as it attempts to comply with a 2012 consent decreereached with the Department of Justice (DOJ) after an investigation that found officers routinely used excessive force. The DOJ also found disturbing, if inconclusive, evidence of biased policing.

To address these issues, Seattle police and the DOJ entered into a settlement agreement, which over the past two years has resulted in sweeping policy and procedural reforms in areas of use of force; crisis intervention; and stops and detentions. 

The monitor, Merrick Bobb, wrote in the report that a “great deal has been accomplished” in the first two years and that he expects progress to continue. Part of the coming year, he wrote, will be spent measuring just how effective the reforms have been, to allow for midcourse corrections and to ensure “the requirements of the Consent Decree are being carried out in practice — not merely on paper.”

Over the next several months, Bobb and the monitoring team will conduct 15 separate assessments of how the department has carried out the reforms on the streets, with the results to be filed publicly with the court later.

In addition, Bobb said, he and the DOJ will conduct another scientific poll of Seattle residents to determine the community perceptions of the SPD two years into the reform process. It will be similar to an earlier pollundertaken by the monitor in September 2013 that found nearly half of Seattle’s residents believed police routinely engaged in biased policing and used excessive force.

Police will also begin collecting data on every stop or detention and will closely review whether the department’s Force Review Board is being critical enough.

One key review will be the operation of the newly implemented Force Investigation Team, which responds to serious incidents of force and police shootings. It is run out of the Professional Standards division and there is debate as to whether it “has or has not performed satisfactorily” there.

The outcome of a review could result in asking the court to move the team under the control of the civilian-run Office of Professional Accountability.

The proposed plan, which requires approval by U.S. District Judge James Robart, “is a pragmatic plan that endeavors to set aggressive but realistic dates for compliance,” Bobb concluded. While there has been progress, he said, “significant challenges remain.”

Police Department spokesman Sean Whitcomb said, “We look forward to working closely with the honorable Judge James Robart, court monitor Merrick Bobb and the monitoring team, and the Department of Justice in their assessments as we move full speed ahead implementing and institutionalizing reform.”

http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/crime/year-3-of-spd-oversight-taking-measure-of-new-policies-effect/