“The most dramatic this year was among African Americans, who today view the SPD better than whites did three years ago,” according to a survey commissioned by the federal monitor overseeing court-ordered reforms.
By Steve Miletich, Seattle Times (Oct. 24, 2016)
Public approval of the Seattle Police Department has reached a new high in the fourth year of federally mandated reforms, notably among African Americans, according to a new survey.
Overall, 72 percent of Seattle residents approve of the department’s performance in 2016, compared with 60 percent in 2013, the first full year after the city entered into a consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department to address excessive force and biased policing. In 2015, the number was 64 percent.
The random survey, filed Monday with U.S. District Judge James Robart, was the third to be commissioned by federal monitor Merrick Bobb, who is overseeing the court-ordered reforms.
Conducted by a public opinion research firm between Sept. 21 and Oct. 2, it involved 700 cellphone and landline telephone interviews of adults, along with an additional 105 African Americans and 95 Latinos. It wasn’t immediately clear how the additional interviews were conducted.
It comes on the heels of a September progress report from Bobb, who found Seattle police have made “significant progress” over the past year in complying with the consent decree and, for the first time, provided a potential time frame for the city to reach full compliance in fall 2017.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, in a statement Monday, said the survey “underscores the progress being made by the Seattle Police Department in addressing the gulf that exists between officers and the communities they serve.” He pledged to continue the work, citing the city’s recent proposal to bolster police-accountability and civilian oversight.
According to the survey, the 2016 approval rate among African Americans was 62 percent, compared to 48 percent in 2015 and 49 percent in 2013. For Latinos, the rate has grown from 54 percent in 2013, to 65 percent in 2015 and to 74 percent in 2016.
“The most dramatic this year was among African Americans, who today view the SPD better than whites did three years ago,” the survey found, adding that Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole’s approval rate also continues to rise, from 61 last year to 66 percent this year.
“Nothing is more important than community trust,” O’Toole said in a statement Monday in which she noted the “exciting progress” affirmed in the survey and called the results a testament to the department’s employees and a community “willing to partner with us moving forward.”
Disapproval of the department has gone down during the three survey periods, from 34 percent in 2013 to 25 percent in 2015 to 20 percent in 2016, with similar trends across racial and other demographic lines.
Fewer people who were stopped by the SPD reported problems, with 71 percent approving of the way their encounter was handled, compared with 65 percent in 2013 and 70 percent last year, according to the survey.
In the last year, 1 percent of residents said they personally have been victims of excessive force, including less than 1 percent of Latinos and African Americans.
Also in the past year, less than 1 percent of Seattle residents said they were victims of racial profiling, a statistic unchanged from 2015. Three percent of African Americans said they were victims of racial profiling, along with 1 percent of Latinos.
Seventy-six percent of residents reported SPD is keeping them safe, up slightly from 71 percent last year and 74 percent in 2013.
They also are more likely to perceive officers as treating them respectfully than in the past, and less likely than those surveyed in 2013 to perceive that the department uses excessive force, is verbally abusive, engages in racial profiling or uses racial slurs, according to the survey.
“That’s a change from 2015 — in 2015 we had fewer people report being victims of those incidents, but the citywide perception of their frequency hadn’t yet changed,” the researchers found.
Experiences of Latinos and African Americans support public perceptions that SPD treats them worse than others. But the gap is much smaller than in 2013, according to the survey.
The survey cited as “troubling” the number of Asian Americans who know someone who has been a victim of racial profiling. But while the number tied an all-time high, the sample was small, with a plus or minus 10 percent margin of error. Further investigation is needed, the researchers said.
U.S. Attorney Annette Hayes in Seattle lauded the overall findings while saying, “It is important to recognize the continued differences in attitudes and experience that the survey shows in communities of color here in Seattle.”
Asked about body cameras for officers, 92 percent of Seattle residents supported their use, compared with 5 percent who oppose them. The department hopes to equip officers with body cameras next year.
For the entire survey, the expected margin of error was plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.