Background

Amidst a national outcry over police killings of African-Americans, the stars are finally aligned in Seattle to create one of the strongest systems of police accountability in the United States.
— Ansel Herz, The Stranger (Aug. 16, 2016)

Following a nine-month investigation of the Seattle Police Department ("SPD"), in December 2011, DOJ's Civil Rights Division and the United States Attorney's Office for the Western District of Washington found a pattern or practice of excessive force that violates the U.S. Constitution and federal law. The investigation also raised serious concerns that some police practices – particularly those related to pedestrian encounters with police – could result in discriminatory or biased policing.

The DOJ and Seattle entered into a settlement, which takes the form of a federal-court-enforced Consent Decree. The Consent Decree called for court to appoint a Monitor. The Monitor provides technical assistance in meeting the requirements of the Consent Decree, reports regularly on progress, and to certify in the future whether SPD has reached "full and effective compliance" with the Decree. 

Merrick Bobb, PARC's Executive Director, was appointed as Monitor in late 2012. He has assembled a highly experienced and diverse monitoring team, led by PARC's staff and consultants, including Deputy Director Matthew Barge and Senior Consultant Brian Center.

Scope of Work

The Seattle Consent Decree is 76 pages with 210 separate paragraphs. It calls for substantial and far-reaching reform of, among other things:

  • Revision of use of force policies;
  • Changes in the process for investigating and reviewing officer force;
  • New training on use of force, stops and detentions, less-lethal instruments, and bias-free policing;
  • The collection and analysis of accurate data about officer performance;
  • Substantial revisions to the Early Intervention System;
  • Updates and added focus to crisis intervention;
  • Changes in supervisory practices; and
  • Development of improved relations, trust, and support from all of Seattle's richly diverse communities.

Approach

In . . . Seattle, police have worked with communities to improve relationships, discipline bad actors, and — most importantly — reduce crime. There’s no contradiction. A city where officers and citizens can work together is one where there’s goodwill. Incidents still happen, but they’re mediated by pre-existing relationships and open lines of communication.
— Jamelle Bouie, "Criminal Neglect," Slate (June 18, 2015).

Best Practices.  In drafting new policies, establishing new procedures, or designing new training, the Monitor and his team evaluate proposals in light of best practice–as established by assessments of law enforcement agencies nationwide, model policies from national organizations, legal and academic research, and consultation by experienced professionals and law enforcement experts. The goal is policies that simultaneously promote officer and public safety, effective law enforcement, and constitutional imperatives.

Transparent Internal Investigations & Reviews.  Internal investigations of critical incidents must be rigorous, fair, objective, and timely. Reviews and assessments of those investigations must be critical, comprehensive, transparent, and willing to consider tough issues and questions–even if the officer ultimately is found to do everything consistent with Department policy and the law.

Data-Driven Performance Management.  The Monitoring Team, consistent with PARC, promotes data-driven, evidence-based policing and officer performance management. Department managers must base operational decisions on objective facts and data rather than gut intuition or instinct.

Clear Quantitative & Qualitative Benchmarks.  Rigorous, systemic assessments–both quantitative and qualitative–are being used to assess progress.  The Monitor and his team set forth clear, identifiable guideposts and tests for determining compliance with the Consent Decree.

Collaboration.  The Monitor works actively and collaboratively with SPD, the City, the Department of Justice, the major officer and management police unions, and other community stakeholders.

Progress

Formal reports are filed with the Court at least twice per year. The Fifth Semiannual Report finds that the Seattle Police Department "has moved closer in the last six months to where it needs to be."  Although "significant work" on the Consent Decree remains, "the SPD is positioned to be a leader in the national reform effort."

Seattle police have become a training model, with 50 agencies seeking out the department to learn about some of SPD’s practices and policies.
— KING 5 TV, "Seattle Police Reform Moves Forward" (Aug. 16, 2016)

The Monitor calls for body cameras to be "rolled out to all SPD officers on a permanent basis as rapidly as possible."  Citing SPD's cutting-edge work in the area, the report notes that, after "[m]ore than four years of discussion, public engagement, andcollaboration on body cameras in Seattle," "Seattle's diverse communities, SPD, and its officers" should not be "deprive[d]" of "the demonstrated benefits of body cameras with respect to accountability and transparency."

The report also offers praise for SPD's ongoing use of force and bias-free policing training; efforts to construct a high-quality technological system for tracking officer performance; and crisis intervention program that is appearing to have an impact on how SPD interacts with individuals experiencing mental health, substance abuse, and other behavioral issues.  Likewise, the report notes that "[n]ew approaches to law enforcement service delivery and reports of decreased crime are encouraging signs that SPD activity reflects a commitment to proactive policing" as critical work continues on the Consent Decree.

The Monitoring Team notes ongoing challenges in the areas of supervision; the Department's Force Review Board (which reviews all serious officer uses of force); and SPD's fledgling Early Intervention System, a "critical new way for SPD supervisors to do their jobs on a daily basis" which entails "evaluat[ing] officer performance and construct[ing] high-quality, non-disciplinary intervention plans for officers" in the hopes of changing behavior before more serious problems arise.

The Monitoring Team's official website, seattlemonitor.com, provides up-to-the-minute news on current progress and provides a detailed inventory of approved policies, training, and other resources.

 

 

PROJECT OBJECTIVE

Oversee implementation of court-ordered settlement addressing DOJ findings of a pattern or practice of excessive force and concerns about discriminatory policing within the Seattle Police Department.

OFFICIAL WEBSITE

seattlemonitor.com

KEY ISSUES ADDRESSED

Use of Force
Less-Lethal Force Instruments
Discriminatory Policing
Stops and Detentions
Early Intervention Systems
Data-Driven Management
Supervision
Crisis Intervention
Community Policing
Officer Training
Internal Investigations & Review
In-Car Video & Body Camera

KEY RESOURCES

Fifth Systemic Assessment (Feb 2016)
Fourth Systemic Assessment (Jan 2016)
Third Systemic Assessment (Jan 2016)
Second Systemic Assessment (Nov 2015)
First Systemic Assessment (Sept 2015)

Sixth Semiannual Report (Dec 2015)
Fifth Semiannual Report (June 2015)
Fourth Semiannual Report (Dec 2014)
Third Semiannual Report (June 2014)
Second Semiannual Report (Dec 2013)
First Semiannual Report (April 2013)
Consent Decree
DOJ Findings Letter

MEDIA

"Monitor: Seattle police making progress with reforms," KING5 TV (Dec 2014)
"Monitor: SPD improves on paper, but rank-and-file not all on board," Seattle Times (June 2014)
"Seattle Police Monitor Merrick Bobb on DOJ Reforms," KUOW.org (NPR) (Nov 2012)