After 4 Years of Seattle Police Reform, Could Trump ‘Let It All Die’?

Donald Trump’s stances on law enforcement have sparked concern that the Justice Department, under his presidency, won’t pursue police-reform efforts that have been a hallmark of the Obama administration.

By Steve Miletich, Seattle Times (Nov. 21, 2016)

Donald Trump’s election as president won’t upend the consent decree requiring the Seattle Police Department to adopt reforms to address excessive force and biased policing, according to the federal monitor overseeing the agreement between the city and U.S. Justice Department.

“I don’t expect the change of administration will have a material impact on the full implementation of the consent decree,” Merrick Bobb, who was appointed by U.S. District Judge James Robart to work with the city and Justice Department in carrying out the 2012 agreement, told The Seattle Times.

Trump’s pre-election stance that there has been a war on police and his campaign’s statement that the federal government shouldn’t dictate policy to local or state law enforcement has prompted concern that the Justice Department, under his presidency, won’t pursue the reform efforts that have been a hallmark of the Obama administration.

Under this thinking, the Trump-led Justice Department not only may be resistant to new enforcement, it might scuttle the agreements in Seattle and other cities around the country.

“The consent-decree agreements already in place — they could just choose not to enforce. They can let it all die by doing nothing,” former Justice Department attorney Jonathan Smith told The Washington Post after the election.

Under Obama, Smith oversaw a ramped-up effort to hold police accountable while serving for 4½ years as chief of the Special Litigation Section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. In Seattle, he played a direct role in negotiating the hard-fought agreement with then-Mayor Mike McGinn.

Trump’s nominee for attorney general, Alabama’s U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, is expected to bring a conservative voice to the Justice Department. Sessions has previously said the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division “provides tremendous benefit to American citizens” but should not be used as “a sword to assert inappropriate claims that have the effect of promoting political agendas.”

Yet Seattle’s consent decree is under the firm control of Robart, who, time and again, has demonstrated his full commitment to the reforms, even drawing national attention with his declaration during an August court hearing that “black lives matter.”

The decree contains hurdles preventing the Justice Department from “unilateral disarmament,” said a source close to department, speaking on condition of anonymity.

In the decree, a provision states: “No change, modification, or amendment to the Settlement Agreement will have any force or effect if not set forth in writing, signed by all the Parties to the Settlement Agreement, and approved by the Court.”

Once Robart approved the consent decree, it became an order of the court, said Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, and the Justice Department can’t say “never mind.”

“It’s locked down in front of a judge,” Holmes said.

With that, Robart can enforce the decree, including using his contempt-of-court authority, Holmes said.

Beyond the legal underpinnings, the city, under Mayor Ed Murray and Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole, have made reform a top priority.

“We are on the road to reform,” O’Toole said after a postelection news conference with the mayor. “We have our road map, our consent decree. We’ll continue to work with many of the same people in the Department of Justice. So none of the political developments will deter us. We’re moving full speed ahead with the plan.”

Seattle’s consent decree stemmed from a 2011 Justice Department report that found Seattle police officers too often resorted to force and engaged in “troubling practices” of discriminatory policing that could have a disproportionate impact on minority communities.

Under Obama, the Justice Department began investigations into 23 law-enforcement agencies and entered 11 consent decrees, compared with 20 investigations and three decrees under his predecessor, President George W. Bush, according to The Marshall Project, a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization focused on the U.S. criminal-justice system.

Decrees already in place may continue despite a pullback, William Yeomans, a former senior official with the Civil Rights Division, told The Marshall Project, because “once a decree has been entered in court, the court has power to make sure it’s enforced.”

But the Justice Department could choose to either drop or drastically reduce the scope of investigations still under way in Baltimore and Chicago, Yeomans said.

Seattle can “take heart” in the fact it reached its agreement during the Obama administration, Holmes said.

Although the consent decree stemmed from an adversarial legal process, Holmes said, the relationship between the city and Justice Department has been “very much a partnership.”

The question now is whether that will change under Trump, Holmes said.

Seattle has adopted sweeping changes, including new policies and training covering use of force, biased policing, crisis intervention and de-escalating confrontations.

In September, Bobb, the federal monitor, found Seattle police had made “significant progress” in the past year in complying with many aspects of the consent decree. And for the first time, he provided a potential time frame for the city to reach full compliance: fall 2017.

“It has been a prodigious effort to come this far, and the distance traveled now exceeds the distance that remains,” Bobb wrote of the city’s efforts.

In the coming months, key assessments by Bobb’s monitoring team will shed further light on where the city is headed.

When full compliance is reached, the city and Police Department then must maintain it for two years in order to dissolve the consent decree, Bobb wrote.

Revised Use-of-Force Policies Submitted for Cleveland Police

By Mark Gillispie, Associated Press (Nov. 16, 2016)

Cleveland police officers will be required to try using de-escalation techniques such as taking cover as part of a revised use-of-force policy submitted to a federal judge Wednesday in an agreement over reforming the department.

The techniques are intended to help officers avoid having to apply lethal or nonlethal force. The policy also mandates that more stringent reporting requirements be met when force is used.

Changing how Cleveland police officers use force is a key element in an agreement between the city and the U.S. Department of Justice. The sides agreed to a court-monitored consent decree in May 2015 after a DOJ investigation found a pattern and practice of officers using excessive force and violating people's civil rights.

U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver Jr. will decide whether the new policies comply with requirements in the consent decree. If the policies are approved, officers are expected to begin training on them early next year. It's not clear when Oliver will rule.

The idea of taking cover is something that might have saved the life of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old black boy shot by a white officer within two seconds of a cruiser skidding to a stop next to him outside a Cleveland recreation center. Tamir had a replica Airsoft-type gun that shoots nonlethal plastic pellets.

Rookie Patrolman Timothy Loehmann, who shot Tamir in November 2014, and his partner, Patrolman Frank Garmback, were criticized for not stopping their cruiser sooner, which might have given them time to assess the situation. The officers were responding to a report about a man waving a gun and pointing it at people, but they weren't told the caller had said the man was likely a juvenile and the gun likely wasn't real.

The proposed rules were written by Cleveland officials after seeking input from the public, an oversight panel called the Community Police Commission, officers and the independent monitoring team working with the city to implement the numerous reforms required by the consent decree.

Under current policy, officers can employ force, including using firearms, if they determine it's "objectively reasonable" to do so, meaning it's an action an average officer would take given the situation. The proposed new policy says force must be necessary and "proportional" to the threat an officer faces.

The new policies also require officers to give first aid to people who are injured. Loehmann and Garmback were criticized for not providing first aid to Tamir after the shooting. An FBIagent and trained paramedic who arrived about four minutes later was the first person to tend to Tamir.

The DOJ investigation that led to the consent decree chronicled instances of Cleveland police officers using their handguns and other weapons to hit suspects in the head, using stun guns on people in handcuffs, shooting at people who weren't a threat to officers or the public, and shooting at moving vehicles. The DOJ noted that it previously investigated excessive force in 2002 that led to a new use-of-force policy two years later.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and Police Chief Calvin Williams, in a statement Wednesday, lauded the progress the city has made in developing new rules over use of force.

"These new policies are just one part of the reform process that I have promised to the citizens of Cleveland," Jackson said.

Williams said the policies are steps toward making Cleveland a model police department that "will provide our officers with greater clarity in difficult situations and will hopefully lead to better understanding between the division (of police) and the community."

Cleveland Consent Decree Monitor Expects No Major Impact From a Trump Presidency

President-elect Donald Trump’s“tough on crime” stance has raised questions about how far federal consent decrees for police reform can go. The head of the  Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association tells it is looking into possible adjustments to the city’s agreement with the Justice Department. WKSU’s Kevin Niedermier reports on what the Trump presidency could mean. 

Cleveland consent decree monitor Matthew Barge says these agreements can take years to implement, so their evolution may span different political administrations. He says police consent decrees began in 1994 under President Bill Clinton, and some changes came under President George W. Bush after 9/11.

“What you see just by the numbers is that there was a decrease over time in the number of new investigations of police departments that were initiated. But it wasn’t as though the consent decrees that were on the books when that administration came on board immediately stopped. They continued to run until the judges and respective jurisdictions determined that here had been sufficient compliance with the decree.”

Barge says because consent decrees are federal court orders, wholesale changes are unlikely.

Hear the story here.

PARC's Matthew Barge Discusses Consent Decree Progress at City Club of Cleveland

PARC's Matthew Barge spoke to the City Club of Cleveland on Friday, October 28 to discuss what progress as been made and what reforms still need to be enacted in regards to the Cleveland consent decree.  Barge is the monitor overseeing a Consent Decree and a 20-member PARC Team.

You can watch and listen to the remarks here.

Approval Rating of Seattle Police Reaches New High in Latest Independent Survey

“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.

New York Times Profiles Seattle Body-Worn Camera Implementation

The New York Times Magazine profiled the process of implementing body-worn cameras at the Seattle Police Department (SPD).  As the article describes, PARC's Merrick Bobb, the federal monitor overseeing the Consent Decree addressing SPD, has indicated over several semiannual reports that body-worn cameras are necessary to ensure constitutional policing and the long-term efficacy of Consent Decree reforms.

Read the full story here.

PARC's Matthew Barge Speaks at IAPro User's Conference

Matthew Barge, PARC's Co-Executive Director, spoke today at the annual IAPro User's Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada.  IAPro is a police performance database system manufactured by CI Technologies and used by 650 police agencies worldwide.

Mr. Barge spoke about the ways that agencies can use data on use of force incidents, pedestrian stops, early intervention systems, and other performance-related data to enhance accountability, promote transparency, and ensure constitutional policing.

PARC's Merrick Bobb Speaks at UC Irvine "Race & Policing" Symposium

On October 7, PARC's Merrick Bobb spoke at a major Unviersity of California, Irvine symposium entitled "Race & Policing: Defining the Problem & Developing Solutions."  Mr. Bobb spoke alongside UC Irvine Law School's Dean, Erwin Chemerinsky; UCI's Carroll Seron; and University of Nebraska at Ohama's police accountability expert Samuel Walker.

Read more about the symposium here.

Proposed Cleveland Police Policy Would Mandate Discipline for Officers Who Do Not Report Force

By Eric Heisig, Cleveland Plain Dealer (Oct. 5, 2016)

CLEVELAND, Ohio — A proposed new policy for Cleveland police says officers will face punishment if they do not properly report their own use of force or witness a fellow officer using force.

The proposed policy released Tuesday says officers must call supervisors to the scene of almost all use-of-force instances. They must also write detailed reports so that internal investigators may properly inquire whether the force was justified.

"Officers shall not use conclusory statements, 'boilerplate' or 'canned' language (e.g., furtive movement, fighting stance), without supporting details that are well articulated in the required reports," the proposed new policy says.

Officers who use or observe the use of force and do not report it would face discipline, including possible termination, regardless of whether the force was justified.

The policy proposal is another piece of a comprehensive overhaul of the police department's rules that govern how officers use force. It is required under a settlement the city reached with the U.S. Department of Justice to address how officers use force.

The majority of the proposed policies were unveiled last month, and the team monitoring the department's progress under the settlement held two community meetings to solicit feedback.

A federal judge must approve all of the policies, which are still being looked at by the city, the Justice Department and the monitoring team, before they are implemented. The city's goal is to have the new policies in place by the first of the new year.

A proposed use-of-force policy the Cleveland police monitoring team put forth on Thursday is designed to be a stepping stone on which all other departmental reforms can be built, the head monitor said.

The proposed reporting policy breaks down the seriousness of the force used into three levels.

The first two levels, which range from unholstering a weapon to using a Taser or pepper spray, would require officers who use and observe force to provide a detailed account of what happened leading up to the force. It would require an explanation about what attempts officers made to de-escalate the situation and how a subject resisted.

If a level three use of force is used, which includes deadly force, officers must make the same steps and also comply with any directives from the officer in charge of a team tasked with investigating use of force.

Certain rules are also in place for when an officer uses a Taser or whether a dog from a K-9 unit is used to subdue a suspect.

Those who want to submit feedback on the proposed reporting guidelines — or any other piece of the use-of-force policies — may do so at the monitoring team's website.

PARC's Merrick Bobb Presents to National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement

Merrick Bobb, PARC's Co-Executive Director, was a presenter today at the 22nd Annual Conference of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement (NACOLE) in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Mr. Bobb discussed his systemic reviews of use-of-force incidents in the context of monitoring a federal Consent Decree involving the Seattle Police Department. Mr. Bobb presented with Philip Eure, Inspector General for the New York Police Department (NYPD); Steven Rosenbaum, Chief of the United States Department of Justice's Special Litigation Section; and Jayson Wechter, Investigator in the San Francisco Office of Citizen Complaints.

You can read more about NACOLE and the conference here.