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.