Monitor Files Assessment Regarding Stops, Search, and Seizure

The Seattle Police Monitor's Tenth Systemic Assessment evaluated SPD's progress in the areas of stops, search, and seizure.  

The assessment finds that SPD and its officers are complying with the legal and policy requirements related to stops, searches, and seizures. The number of stops and detentions of individuals that are not supported by sufficient legal justification is exceedingly small. Importantly, an individual’s odds of being a subject of a “bad” stop do not depend on that individual’s race. This means that, regardless of who a subject is, the Department is complying with the requirements of law and SPD policy in a vast majority of instances.

Similarly, officers by and large are conducting frisks of a stopped subject when they have the appropriate legal justification – not as a matter of course. A subject’s race does not materially change the odds of being subjected to a “bad” frisk, i.e. a frisk that was conducted without the necessary and appropriate legal foundation. Thus, at least with respect to the application of the Fourth Amendment by officers across numerous, individual incidents, SPD is complying with the requirements of law, policy, and the Consent Decree in a relatively race-neutral manner. Put differently, the legality of SPD’s stops and frisks do not vary by race.

The report finds that, because SPD’s officers have the appropriate legal and policy justification for stops and frisks in a vast majority of instances, the Department is in initial compliance with Consent Decree paragraphs 138 through 144 addressing stops and detentions.

Likewise, informed both by prior monitoring of bias-free policing training and the fact that most SPD stops appear to not be subjecting people of some races to more legally impermissible stops, at least with respect to the Fourth Amendment, the Monitor finds that SPD is initial compliance with paragraphs 145 through 152 addressing the creation of the bias-free policing policy, officer training, and supervisory responsibilities.

Nevertheless, the Monitoring Team discovered that the racial disparity with respect to who is stopped and who is frisked in Seattle cannot be easily explained in terms of underlying societal or social disparities in crime, demographics, or socioeconomic factors manifesting in neighborhood or geographic trends. Even after incorporating those factors, an individual’s race alone helps to predict the likelihood of being stopped and the likelihood of being frisked by an SPD officer. Additional study by the Department and others to determine the underlying causes of the disparity and how such disparities might best be addressed will be necessary.

Read the full report here.

Seattle PD Reaches Initial Compliance With Use of Force Reforms

In a comprehensive assessment of use of force within the Seattle Police Department filed with the Hon. James Robart of the Western District of Washington today, 

PARC's Seattle Monitoring Team finds that overall use of force by the SPD is down – both across time under the Consent Decree and compared to the time period studied by the original DOJ investigation. Overall, use of force has gone down even as officer injuries have not gone up and crime, by most measures, has not increased. At the same time, the force that SPD officers do use is reasonable, necessary, proportional, and consistent with the Department’s use of force policy more than 99 percent of the time.

Because officers are using less force overall, without negatively impacting officer safety or public safety, and are using force consistent with law and SPD policy in those increasingly infrequent instances when force is deployed, Monitor Merrick Bobb finds that SPD is in initial compliance with Paragraphs 69 to 90 of the Consent Decree.

Read the full report here.

Seattle Gets High Marks on Force Review

Federal monitor praises SPD board that reviews use of force

As a result, the department is in “initial compliance” with key provisions of a 2012 consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department to address excessive force, the monitor, Merrick Bobb, wrote in the report.

By Steve Miletich, Seattle Times

The Seattle Police Department’s Force Review Board, one of the linchpins of court-ordered reforms, is meeting its responsibility as the department’s “hub of internal accountability,” the federal monitor overseeing the reform effort concluded in a report issued Tuesday.

As a result, the department is in “initial compliance” with key provisions of a 2012 consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department to address excessive force, Merrick Bobb wrote in the report.

The high-level board, which reviews and analyzes the most serious and intermediate use of force, is not only doing a good job of determining whether force fell within policy, but is also considering whether incidents can teach the department about “training, tactics, procedure, and policy,” the report said.

In assessing cases between June 2 and Aug. 25, the report found 85 percent were handled adequately or better than required under the consent decree, and that in 87 percent deliberations were based solely on facts and not speculation.

In 56 percent, the board found an officer may have violated some type of SPD policy, including nearly 13 percent involving force that were referred to the department’s Office of Professional Accountability for further review. 

The court-appointed monitor found that a major step, given that between 2009 and 2011 only 0.04 percent of force cases received any significant scrutiny in the chain of command.

In its 2011 findings, the Justice Department concluded that during a multiyear period, only five of 1,230 use-of-force files were referred at any level up the chain of command.

With the progress in scrutiny, Bobb and his team complimented the department for reaching a “significant stepping stone along the path toward full and effective compliance and notable improvement from the beginning of the consent decree, when review of force, when it occurred, was superficial at best.”

While the team will continue to closely watch the board’s work, Bobb said he was confident that under the leadership of Assistant Chief Lesley Cordner and Capt. Gregg Caylor the work will move forward. 

Among the ongoing issues, Bobb wrote, is that lower-level supervisors had found use of force outside of policy in only two percent of the cases compared to the board’s 56 percent.

In addition, the department “needs to address and resolve the low quality of underlying investigations by supervisors and for the chains’ erroneous findings as to policy,” he said.

Bobb’s comment was consistent with a previous assessment in September, during a visit to Seattle by U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, that sergeants, lieutenants and captains had done an inadequate job of reviewing midrange use of force: incidents that could cause physical injury but are not life-threatening. That includes the use of stun guns, pepper spray and batons.

To improve, the department plans to put administrative lieutenants in each precinct to focus on force reviews and ensure their quality. 

Bobb did find in the September report that officers are doing a good job of reporting force, with sergeants providing adequate initial responses. He also said the department’s Force Investigation Team was conducting thorough investigations of the most serious use of force, including officer involved shootings.

Overall, the monitor’s September assessment found SPD in initial compliance in three of four key reforms, now joined by the Force Review Board finding. 

Bobb, a Los Angeles based police-accountability consultant, will conduct 10 more assessments of other key areas of the consent decree between now and March. 

In response to Tuesday’s report, Annette Hayes, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington, praised the findings in a statement, calling them a “major step forward.”

“Critical to lasting reform is having internal systems and structures in place that provide consistent oversight and accountability, and real-time feedback to help a police department continually improve,” her statement said. “That is what SPD now has with the Force Review Board.” 

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray also issued a statement, thanking Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole and saying the monitor “recognizes a renewed culture of accountability at the Seattle Police Department.”

Monitor Files Scientific Survey of Public Confidence

Pursuant to the Third-Year Monitoring Plan, the Monitoring Team in partnership with the Parties, and the assistance of the nationally recognized survey research firm Anzalone Lizst Grove, agreed upon an approach for a scientific survey of community perceptions about the Seattle Police Department.  This follows up a similar survey conducted by the Anzalone firm in 2013.  The Anzalone firm was commissioned to conduct the survey and presented the results to the Parties and Monitor.

A summary of the survey results can be found here.  The full results can be found here and here.

The Monitor is continuing to conduct a rigorous qualitative assessment of the extent to which SPD’s ‘police services are delivered to the people of Seattle in a manner that promotes public confidence in the Seattle Police Department and its officers.’”  The results of this important second part of the Monitor’s public confidence assessment will be filed with the Court by December 3, 2015.

U.S. Attorney General Lynch Lauds Seattle Police for Reform Efforts

By Mike Carter & Steve Miletich, Seattle Times (Sept. 25, 2015)

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch came to Seattle Thursday to praise the progress of police reforms, meet with community organizers and announce a $1.5 million grant to help fight human trafficking.

It was Lynch’s first visit to Seattle since being named the country’s top law-enforcement officer, and it coincided with the release of the latest report by a federal monitor overseeing Department of Justice-mandated (DOJ) reforms of the city’s police department. The report found the SPD had reached initial compliance with three out of four key reforms involving the use of force by officers. 

However, the report by federal court-appointed monitor Merrick Bobb said the department still has a lot of work before it reaches full compliance with a 2012 consent decree between the city and the DOJ to curb the use of excessive force and avoid biased policing. Thursday’s report dealt with the first four of 15 initial assessments the monitor will conduct over the next several months.

Lynch’s visit was part of a six-city tour to promote Community Oriented Policing, a concept at the core of the efforts to reform the SPD. The department came under investigation after community groups complained about harsh methods and lack of accountability that had resulted in a loss of confidence.

Her previous stops have involved cities with similar issues: New Haven, Conn.; Birmingham, Ala.; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Pittsburgh, Pa. Friday, she travels to Richmond, Calif.

Lynch’s day included meetings with law-enforcement and community groups dedicated to fighting human trafficking, where she announced a three-year, $1.5 million grant to fight it. At noon, she met with high-school students and, afterward, attended a forum of stakeholders in the SPD reform efforts. 

Public remarks at the human-trafficking and policing forum were followed by closed-door meetings. 

“From Ferguson to Baltimore and from Cleveland to New York City, we have witnessed the pain and the unrest that can ensue when trust between law-enforcement officers and the communities they serve is damaged, broken, or lost,” Lynch said at a forum at the Northwest African American Museum. “In many cases, these tensions have their roots in a long and difficult history of inequality, oppression and violence, and they speak to issues that have tested our country’s unity since its inception. 

“They will not be overcome with easy solutions or simple strategies. … But as Seattle’s recent experience can attest, real progress is possible.”

Lynch was joined by Mayor Ed Murray and Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole. Lynch said Seattle is at the forefront of police reform and is becoming a model for law-enforcement agencies around the country in light of deadly police encounters in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore, Md.

The monitor’s report outlined some of that progress and found that the SPD has shown real improvement as it attempts to track the use of force by officers and ensure those incidents are investigated.

The monitor found that officers are doing a good job of reporting force, with sergeants providing adequate initial responses, the report said.

In addition, the department’s Force Investigation Team is conducting thorough investigations of the most serious use of force, including officer-involved shootings, the report said. 

But the report found fault with one significant area. Sergeants, lieutenants and captains have done an inadequate job of reviewing midrange use of force: incidents that could cause physical injury but are not life-threatening. That includes the use of stun guns, pepper spray and batons.

In its 2011 investigative findings, which led to the court-monitored consent decree, the DOJ found police routinely used unconstitutional levels of force and failed to adequately investigate it or hold officers responsible. 

Thursday’s report was the first of 15 formal assessments to be carried out by Bobb’s team of different areas of the consent decree, aimed at determining if policies and procedures now on paper have taken hold.

It looked at reported use-of-force incidents between July 1 and Dec. 31, 2014, covering 369 low-level cases, 63 midrange and 13 of the most serious level of force, which is defined as force that could reasonably be expected to cause great bodily harm. 

In his last semiannual report on the consent decree, Bobb lauded the department for steps it has taken to comply with the agreement, commending O’Toole and her newly formed command staff, as well as the city and Justice Department for their “unflagging commitment” to reform.

Seattle Police Department’s Reform Efforts to be Recognized by White House

By Amy Clancy, KIRO-TV (July 21, 2015)

The Seattle Police Department will be recognized at the White House this week for its reform efforts and for using technology to build community trust. 

The honor comes just three years after the department was put under a federal microscope for well-documented excessive use-of-force incidents and other problems that eroded faith in the department.

“I wouldn’t have thought three years ago that we would be having this conversation,” Detective Ron Smith said on Tuesday. Smith, president of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, will travel to Washington, D.C. to participate in the White House Community Policing Forum on Thursday. Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole will also be attending. 

“The SPD is going to be recognized for being on the cutting edge of police reform, and to be held as a model of police reform, as other agencies across the country are facing challenges,” Smith told KIRO 7. “I think it’s very clear we’ve made huge strides.”

Three years ago, the U.S. Department of Justice determined the Seattle Police Department "engaged in a pattern of excessive use of force.” The shooting death of woodcarver John T. Williams in 2010 by a rookie SPD officer underscored the problem. 

Since 2012, the SPD has been under a Consent Decree.

Last month, Seattle Police Monitor and PARC Executive Director Merrick Bobb filed a report that revealed the department "has moved closer in the last six months to where it needs to be." ;According to the Fifth Semiannual Report, while "significant work" on the Consent Decree remains, "the SPD is positioned to be a leader in the national reform effort."

The leadership representing the department in D.C. this week --- Smith and Chief O’Toole --- will show an unprecedented unified front on reform efforts, according to Sgt. Sean Whitcomb. “You’ve got a police chief and a union president who are representing the Seattle Police Department at the White House to talk about the SPD’s leadership when it comes to transparency, accountability and reform. That’s pretty remarkable right there,” he said.

The SPD will be recognized for using technology to build community trust, according to a White House release.  

Chief O’Toole and Mayor Ed Murray have said they want to eventually equip all officers with body cameras and make the video available to the public as soon as possible.

Last week, dash-cam video of an officer-involved fatal shooting was released to the public within hours. SPOG President Smith and Sgt. Sean Whitcomb both said that’s proof --- even if there's local skepticism about whether the SPD has really reformed -- the White House is taking notice.

“The very entity that investigated the Seattle Police Department, the federal government through the Department of Justice, that very same federal government is who reached out to the city and invited the SPD to participate in this forum on Thursday,” Smith said. It’s the federal government “who is saying, we are an example of how to do things right,” according to Smith.

Joining Chief O’Toole and Det. Smith in Washington, D.C. will be Scott Lindsay from Mayor Ed Murray’s Office on Police Reform and Public Safety, and the Reverend Aaron Williams, senior pastor at Mt. Zion Baptist Church, according to Whitcomb.

N.Y. Times Focuses on Seattle De-Escalation Training

A June 27 article in the New York Times focuses on Seattle's focus on de-escalation in its officer training.  That training has been development under the consent decree:

In Seattle, the new training was developed as part of the consent decree, which came after the Justice Department found in 2012 that the police here had engaged in a pattern of excessive force. The finding was underscored by the 2010 fatal shooting of a woodcarver who had been carrying a carving knife while walking down the street.
In the training, required for the department’s 1,300 officers, the officers are taught to ask open-ended questions, paraphrase what a person has just said so that he or she knows the officer is listening, and make statements that connote empathy with the person’s situation. If properly executed, these techniques will significantly decrease the need for officers to use force, police officials say . . . .
[T]here have been notable successes.
One night late last month, a police officer confronted a man who was clutching a knife while walking down the middle of a residential street in North Seattle. When the officer ordered him to stop, the man responded with a vulgar gesture and kept going.
Over the next 30 minutes, the officer learned the man’s name from his wife and used it, beginning an unconventional peripatetic monologue to try to persuade him to surrender. “Hey, Gregory,” the officer said, “let me help you, brother!”
The man, disconsolate after an argument with his spouse, eventually dropped the knife. Instead of being arrested, he was taken to a hospital for a mental health checkup.

Read the article, and watch the Times' accompanying video features, here.