Police from Across Country Turn to SPD for Body Camera Guidance

On June 23, SPD hosted a meeting for nationwide law enforcement agencies, privacy advocates, body camera vendors, employees of the White House Police Data Initiative and others titled, “Police Body Cameras - Public Access to Footage: Balancing Transparency and Privacy.”  

Orlando, Louisville and Dallas police departments all sent representatives to Tuesday’s forum because their agencies will soon be using body cameras too.  A Dallas Assistant Chief called Seattle's approach to using body cameras, and making video public, "ahead of the game."

Read more about the meeting herehere, and here.

Monitor Releases Fifth Semiannual Report

Seattle Police Monitor, and PARC Executive Director, Merrick Bobb and his Monitoring Team today filed their Fifth Semiannual Report with the Honorable James Robart of the Western District of Washington. 

The 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."  

The Monitor calls specifically 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, and collaboration 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 Monitor's semiannual reports, mandated by the Consent Decree, inform the Seattle community and the Court about the progress of the Seattle Police Department and City of Seattle in implementing the provisions of the Court-ordered Consent Decree between the United States Department of Justice and City of Seattle.   

Read the full report here.

Judge Approves Revised Early Intervention System Policy

On May 11, Judge Robart approved revisions to the Department's Early Intervention System ("EIS").

As the Monitor's Fourth Semiannual Report observed, "[a]n EIS tracks a broad range of officer performance data and provides a basis for affirmative, non-disciplinary supervisor intervention to assist officers in performance and career development."  Id. at 73.  The changes to the policy reflect discussions among SPD, the Parties, and the Monitor over the past 14 months as the Department has worked toward turning policy into practice. 

Read the Monitor's memorandum summarizing and recommending approval of the changes, as well as the updated policy, here.

Year 3 of SPD Oversight: Are New Policies Making a Difference?

Coming in the third year of federal oversight of the Seattle Police Department: assessments of new policies’ effectiveness and a new community-perception poll.

By Mike Carter, Seattle Times (Mar. 17, 2015)

The Seattle Police Department has entered its third year under federal oversight, and the court-appointed monitor says it is time to assess whether policy reforms and officer training are translating into better policing and improved public perception.

Documents filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court provide a road map to the next year of reform efforts within the SPD as it attempts to comply with a 2012 consent decreereached with the Department of Justice (DOJ) after an investigation that found officers routinely used excessive force. The DOJ also found disturbing, if inconclusive, evidence of biased policing.

To address these issues, Seattle police and the DOJ entered into a settlement agreement, which over the past two years has resulted in sweeping policy and procedural reforms in areas of use of force; crisis intervention; and stops and detentions. 

The monitor, Merrick Bobb, wrote in the report that a “great deal has been accomplished” in the first two years and that he expects progress to continue. Part of the coming year, he wrote, will be spent measuring just how effective the reforms have been, to allow for midcourse corrections and to ensure “the requirements of the Consent Decree are being carried out in practice — not merely on paper.”

Over the next several months, Bobb and the monitoring team will conduct 15 separate assessments of how the department has carried out the reforms on the streets, with the results to be filed publicly with the court later.

In addition, Bobb said, he and the DOJ will conduct another scientific poll of Seattle residents to determine the community perceptions of the SPD two years into the reform process. It will be similar to an earlier pollundertaken by the monitor in September 2013 that found nearly half of Seattle’s residents believed police routinely engaged in biased policing and used excessive force.

Police will also begin collecting data on every stop or detention and will closely review whether the department’s Force Review Board is being critical enough.

One key review will be the operation of the newly implemented Force Investigation Team, which responds to serious incidents of force and police shootings. It is run out of the Professional Standards division and there is debate as to whether it “has or has not performed satisfactorily” there.

The outcome of a review could result in asking the court to move the team under the control of the civilian-run Office of Professional Accountability.

The proposed plan, which requires approval by U.S. District Judge James Robart, “is a pragmatic plan that endeavors to set aggressive but realistic dates for compliance,” Bobb concluded. While there has been progress, he said, “significant challenges remain.”

Police Department spokesman Sean Whitcomb said, “We look forward to working closely with the honorable Judge James Robart, court monitor Merrick Bobb and the monitoring team, and the Department of Justice in their assessments as we move full speed ahead implementing and institutionalizing reform.”


Read the Third-Year Monitoring Plan here.

SPD, DOJ, and Monitoring Team Participate in University of Washington Diversity Week "Policing Communities of Color" Event

By Mohammed Kloub, The Daily (University of Washington) (Feb. 26, 2015)

Early Wednesday afternoon, as the participants in the University of Washington Walk Out in support of #BlackLivesMatter could be heard outside, a panel gathered in William H. Gates Hall to discuss the policing of communities of color in Seattle and beyond.

The discussion, part of the UW School of Law’s Diversity Week, was originally scheduled to feature Seattle Police Department (SPD) Chief Kathleen O’Toole. However, in the wake of the #BlackLivesMatter Walk Out, O’Toole opted not to appear because she thought it would create discord. Instead, the SPD was represented by its supervising attorney Brian Maxey.

Maxey’s fellow panelists included Michael Diaz, an Assistant United States Attorney from Seattle, Matthew Barge, Deputy Director of the Seattle Police Monitoring Team, and Dustin Washington, Director of the Community Justice program with the American Friends Service Committee.

Law professor William Covington, who mediated the discussion, said he believes the United States is seeing the beginning of a new civil rights movement, one ignited by police violence in communities of color across the nation and here in Seattle. 

“We have our unique challenges and issues here in our department,” Maxey said. “I still believe that the SPD is no better or worse than other departments in other metropolitan cities in the country.”

Despite this, the SPD is currently under a consent decree from the Department of Justice for excessive use of force and racial discrimination. 

Diaz, who has been the lead line attorney on the United States v. City of Seattle case since 2010, confirmed that there has indeed been a pattern of excessive force in the SPD. 

“When a police department builds walls that prevent it from engaging and asking the community what it wants, a lot of things break down,” Diaz said. 

He cited a lack of critical self-analysis on the part of police departments as contributing to this breakdown of communication.

Washington, who is also an associate professor in the School of Public Health, focused on entrenched discrimination in the justice system and other institutions as the main contributor to racial disparity in the United States.

“We have not gutted out the white supremacy and racism embedded in many systems and institutions in this country,” Washington said. “The roots of crime have to do with living in a racist and capitalist society.”

When asked about how to bridge the disconnect in understanding between police officers and oppressed communities, the panelists agreed that further training for police officers in recognizing implicit biases and shifting their roles from militarized warriors to service workers is crucial. 

“There needs to be accountability to respond to the community, not just talk at them,” said Matthew Barge. “Lip service does not translate to something that can be felt in the streets.”

Washington also emphasized that policies for police reform that are not developed with racism in mind are not going to be successful. Separation from the racialized society we live in will only serve to perpetuate racist systems, he reiterated. 

According to Diaz, although reform policies can be set, and in turn set expectations, policy is only as good as the training given to officers.

The School of Law’s Diversity Week events will conclude today with several events in William H. Gates Hall.