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."

Honolulu Civil Beat Talks To PARC's Matthew Barge About Honolulu Police Commission

The Honolulu Civil Beat talked with PARC's Matthew Barge about civilian oversight and the Honolulu Police Commission:

Matthew Barge, of the Police Assessment Resource Center, compared the Honolulu Police Commission to the one in Los Angeles, which is made up of five political appointees chosen by the mayor who also have authority over the chief’s job status.

While well-connected business types have served on the Los Angeles Police Commission, Barge said the agency also included a college law professor who was an advocate for the LGBTQ community.

Barge said it’s also a good idea to include members who have deep connections to the communities most affected by policing.

“In order to have credibility, the commission, like a city council, needs to be seen as representing the community,” Barge said. “The commission’s recommendations on police policy and practices will then be more influential when it’s not seen as a gang of activists or a gang of business leaders pressing their pet agenda.”

Read the full article here.

PARC's Merrick Bobb Talks About Buffalo, New York Police Oversight

PARC's Merrick Bobb spoke with Buffalo's Investigative Post about oversight of police:

“[The] job [of police] is to protect and serve the public,”said Merrick Bobb, co-director of a consulting firm on accountable policing and currently a federal court-appointed monitor to the Seattle Police Department. “That means the public are the ones who need to have the information to decide whether a given officer is or is not professionally serving the public.”

Read the full article here.

New Policies Could Change How Cleveland Police Deal with the Mentally Ill

By Eric Heisig, Cleveland Plain Dealer (Jan. 20, 2017)

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The Cleveland police monitor is asking a federal judge to approve a proposed set of crisis intervention policies officers will have to follow in encounters with the mentally ill.

The final draft of the new policies were filed late Thursday in federal court in Cleveland. The goal with the new policies is to reduce the number of people in jail with mental health issues and to steer them toward the help they need. Officials also seek to minimize the use of force during officers' encounters with the mentally ill.

The proposed policies include several changes that have already taken place but were never memorialized in writing, officials said. While giving police a lot of latitude, the policies also lay out clear steps officers would have to take when dealing with a person who suffers from mental illness.

Police monitor Matthew Barge praised the work the city, its Mental Health Response Advisory Committee and others did in crafting the new policies, He wrote that the policies and the collaboration that went into them "represent critical milestones," the motion says.

"Consequently, it is fair to conclude that not only were the specific substantive requirements of the Consent Decree (met) but also that the City moved closer to upholding its commitments to 'provide for civilian participation in and oversight of the police' and 'increase transparency," the motion states.

The new policies are mandated in a settlement the city reached with the Justice Department to address constitutional policing. The Justice Department said Cleveland police officers were ill equipped to deal with the mentally ill.

While not included in the Justice Department's review, the most recent controversial incident involved Tanisha Anderson, who died with her hands cuffed behind her back while she was being placed in the back of a police car in November 2014. The two officers involved are the subject of a criminal investigation that, more than two years after Anderson died, has not yet been concluded.

The new policies mandate the creation of a new Crisis Intervention Team that is made up of specially-trained officers. It also tweaks how dispatchers call out officers to deal with the mentally ill and gives guidance on involuntary hospitalization and how to transport people.

Finally, the new policies would emphasize using techniques to de-escalate as much as possible.

Drafts were publicly unveiled in November and were the subject of two public meetings in December.

Barge wrote that additions were made with suggestions that came out of the public meetings. They included adding more details on how to transport people in crisis who are not being violent, sections on how to deal with juveniles and having officers specially trained to handle crises to be clearly marked.

The policies also now emphasize respect and dignity and building relationships between police and the community, Barge wrote.

Asheville PD Chief Says Seattle Force Policy Is Best Practice

In an article about Asheville, North Carolina's new use of force policy - which emphasizes de-escalation - Police Chief Tammy Hooper indicated that the Asheville PD consulted Seattle's use of force policy, which "reflect[s] similar best practices."  PARC has been overseeing implementation of a Consent Decree between the City of Seattle and United States in which the use of force policies of the Seattle PD were substantially revised to incorporate an express duty of officers to de-escalate situations when safe and feasible to do so.

PARC's Hassan Aden participated with Vera in facilitating the process that developed Asheville's new policy.

Read the fully story here.