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.