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.