Monitoring Team Presents SPD Progress Report at Seattle University School of Law Diversity Week Panel

Members of the SPD Monitoring Team updated members of the Seattle University on the SPD's progress in complying with the consent decree at a Diversity Week panel at the School of Law today.

Deputy Director Matthew Barge, Assistant Monitor Ron Ward, and Monitoring Team members Ian Warner and Marnie McDiarmid discussed the current status of consent decree implementation and outstanding challenges to Seattle University students and faculty.  After making general presentations on key areas of reform, they engaged in a robust question-and-answer period.

The Team thanks the Seattle University School of Law community for their warm welcome and engagement in the reform process.

SPD Seeking Bids for Computer System Key to Reforms

Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole, who inherited problems in launching bid specifications for the project when she took the job in June, had pledged to meet a March 1 court-imposed deadline for seeking a vendor....

Stevie Miletich, Seattle Times (Feb. 19, 2015)

In a major step toward meeting federally mandated reforms, the Seattle Police Department on Thursday announced it has opened bidding on the development of a sophisticated computer system to track use of force, biased policing and crime fighting.

Building the long-delayed “Data Analytics Platform” has been considered a linchpin of the 2½-year-old reform effort.

Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole, who inherited problems in launching bid specifications when she took the job in June, had pledged to meet a March 1 court-imposed deadline for seeking a vendor.

The city began inviting bids from vendors Wednesday night, with proposals due by April 13.

A contract is expected to be awarded during the summer, according to the department, which has been relying on a stopgap computer system to track use-of-force incidents.

The federal monitor handling reforms, Merrick Bobb, has made clear that the construction of a new business-intelligence computer system, which is expected to cost more than $10 million, is crucial to the city’s ability to comply with a July 2012 consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department to address excessive force and biased policing.

With the new platform, the Police Department will, for the first time, aim to collect disparate information, then analyze it in a central clearinghouse.

One benefit will be an early-warning system to flag potential problem officers with pooled information now separately housed in older systems, Mike Wagers, the department’s chief operating officer, said Thursday. 

The platform will consolidate and manage data provided by a variety of systems related to police calls and incidents, citizen interactions, administrative processes, training and workforce management that will provide “enhanced analytical capabilities and reporting” connected to the consent decree, the department said in a statement.

It will eventually expand to include crime analysis.

The announcement comes six months after the federal judge overseeing the consent decree chastised Seattle police for seeking a delay in developing the platform before granting a March 1 extension, saying there was no other choice in order to get the job done right.

In rebuking the department during an Aug. 19 court hearing, U.S. District Judge James Robart invoked the violent unrest unfolding in Ferguson, Mo., after the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man by a white police officer.

“We have an unfortunate situation in Missouri” that has sparked national concern about police actions and damaged law-enforcement officers throughout the country, Robart said.

He said the same deficiencies that led to the consent decree in Seattle — surrounding use of force, training, stops and detentions, bias-free policing and supervision of officers — were at issue in Ferguson.

In Seattle, people will be deprived of constitutional policing until the computer system is “up and running,” Robart said, adding, “We don’t need armored personnel carriers. We need the public to support us.”

O’Toole, who appeared at the hearing, assured Robart she was fully committed to completing the computer work. 

Citing her past experience as the monitor of federally mandated police reforms in East Haven, Conn., she told Robart she had her “ducks in order,” including the appointment of Wagers, a civilian brought in to focus in part on upgrading technology.

Bobb, the federal monitor, attributed Seattle’s delay in developing a permanent fix to intransigence in the Police Department during the first year of the consent decree, marked by efforts to defeat the agreement.

Since the August court hearing, O’Toole has appointed Virginia Gleason, her chief strategic adviser, to the lead the Seattle police team. Gleason worked with the city, the Justice Department and Bobb’s monitoring team to develop the request for proposals.

They drew upon previous work conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers in 2013, which provided a high-level assessment of the department’s technology needs. 

Wagers said the department also enlisted another contractor to conduct a deeper examination of its data sources and data integrity. That kept the request for bids from going out in December or January but helped gather better information to include in the request for vendor proposals, he said.

The department hopes to have phase one of the platform operating in late 2016 or by 2017, focused on requirements in the consent decree, Wagers said.

Another phase will follow with an emphasis on crime analysis, he said.

In its statement Thursday, the department said the new platform will allow it to consolidate crime and performance data, extending its data-driven approach to crime reduction and management.

During development of the new platform, the department, the Justice Department and the monitoring team will move forward with audits and data analysis to assess the department’s progress in complying with the consent decree, the statement said.

SPD Sergeants, Beat Cops to Have Same Work Schedules

A policy of having Seattle beat cops work different schedules than their sergeants, creating what critics considered a lack of oversight, quietly ended last month.

By Jennifer Sullivan, Seattle Times

A 7-year-old policy of having beat cops in Seattle’s five police precincts regularly work different schedules than their sergeants, creating what critics considered a severe lack of supervision, quietly came to an end late last month.

The change probably won’t be visible to anyone outside the department, said Seattle Police Officers’ Guild President Ron Smith. However, he said, it has been felt immediately by street officers. 

The previous policy calling for a rotating schedule, part of a neighborhood-policing plan created by former Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske, was abandoned under the July 2012 consent decree between the city and the Department of Justice (DOJ).

“People only saw their sergeant two days a week; it was a mess,” said Smith. “It was a function of the neighborhood-policing plan. It set us up for failure.”

Smith said there was “no continuum of supervision” under the old staffing plan. When the neighborhood-policing went into effect, city officials and department brass said it shifted officers’ work schedules around the times that 911 call loads were the heaviest.

But on Jan. 28, patrol schedules in the city’s 51 police beats were changed to comply with the DOJ consent decree in an effort to improve supervision of patrol officers. Each patrol squad will now work alongside a sergeant, a schedule more in line with what the department did before 2008, said Smith. 

The department has gone from 66 to 72 patrol squads and increased the number of patrol sergeants by rotating them out of other divisions, Smith said. 

To balance out call loads for the new patrol squads and handle days off and vacation schedules, the department also adjusted its precinct boundaries. 

Seattle Police Department attorney Brian Maxey, in a letter sent last month to Merrick Bobb, the federal monitor overseeing the consent decree, said the precinct redraw will “enhance the department’s ability to ensure consistent and adequately trained supervision.” 

The precinct boundary changes are slight. The Eastlake neighborhood goes from being split between the East and West precincts to being served solely by the West Precinct. The First Hill neighborhood, previously split between West and East precincts, will now be part of the East Precinct. 

“We’ve redistricted parts of the city to improve efficiency and service,” said department spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb. “If you look at the volume of work in different areas and compare metrics, we made sure it’s balanced.”

Under the consent decree, supervision at the sergeant level is a key element in curtailing excessive use of force, one of the findings following a DOJ investigation.

The department is required to ensure that field officers are assigned to a single, consistent sergeant; to limit the use of acting sergeants; and to deploy enough sergeants to properly supervise officers, particularly to investigate and document use of force. 

Last May, Bobb warned the department in a tersely worded letter of the importance of making the supervision change. 

In a Jan. 15 letter to Bobb, Maxey announced “the Seattle Police Department has achieved a significant milestone.”

“For the first time, the Seattle Police Department is now able to document that it has sufficient, qualified first-line supervisors to assure that the provisions of the Settlement Agreement are implemented for all aspects of the agreement currently in effect,” Maxey wrote. 

In a news release issued Jan. 27, the department said the precinct change “will enable supervisors to work more closely with officers, providing guidance in investigations, reviewing use of force, and ensuring quality of public service.”

Smith said he hasn’t heard much from patrol officers since the change went into effect, but he isn’t surprised. 

“The fact is they now have the appropriate number of sergeants to support their people. I think it’s nothing but a good thing,” Smith said. “The officers have the same sergeant all the time, and the sergeant is supervising the same people all the time.”

Monitor Attends NACOLE Symposium at Seattle University

On February 6, the Monitor attended a symposium at Seattle University School of Law sponsored by NACOLE, the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement.  Entitled "Moving Beyond Discipline: The Role of Civilians in Police Accountability," the day of panels and discussion featured members of the Seattle community, SPD personnel, and national police experts.

The Monitor appreciated the insightful discussion of the role of civilian oversight in accountability issues.  Read more about the event here.

Monitor Releases Fourth Semiannual Report

Seattle Police Monitor Merrick Bobb and his team today filed their Fourth Semiannual Report with the Honorable James Robart of the Western District of Washington.

The Report finds that the Seattle Police Department "is approaching midpassage in its voyage to fully and effectively comply with many of the provisions" of the Court-ordered Consent Decree intended to address a pattern and practice of excessive force and serious concerns about discriminatory policing practices.  It commends Chief Kathleen O'Toole for making reform of the SPD her highest priority and inventories progress with respect to force investigations and review, officer training, and data systems.  It notes that the Monitor can say, for the first time, that SPD is likely to get the job done if it continues on the path it is now.

However, the report notes that the Monitor cannot make any representations about how long it will take to reach "full and effective compliance" with the Decree.  Work on critical issues remains unfinished, and some essential projects are still in their infancy.  The report details how SPD will look and function when the process is finished, noting that "the bedrock of the Consent Decree is a substantially improved relationship between the communities of Seattle and members of the SPD" in which "the community, in collaboration with the SPD, will participate int he decision about how it is to be policed and what the priorities are."

The Report informs 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.

To read the report, visit the Resources page of the Monitor's official website or click here.

Monitoring Team Holds Forum at "Career Bridge" Program of Urban League

On November 18, Monitoring Team members Ron Ward, Matthew Barge, and Ian Warner engaged in a community forum with members of the Urban League's "Career Bridge" program and many other community members at the Lem's Life Enrichment Bookstore in Columbia City.

The Monitoring Team updated attendees on the current state of progress with respect to the Consent Decree.  The Team fielded questions from numerous audience members about their concerns and experiences.  The conversation was direct and valuable, and the Team thanks participants for their engagement.  

The "Career Bridge" program, the Urban League, and the Monitoring Team pledged at the conclusion of the event that the Monitor would return in the near future to continue the important conversations that were engaged on November 18.


Monitoring Team Holds Community Forum at Columbia Legal Services

On November 5, Assistant Monitor Ron Ward and Deputy Director Matthew Barge participated in a community forum at Columbia Legal Services.  They spoke about the current status of the Consent Decree and engaged in a question-and-answer session with assembled attendees, which included a diverse set of legal practitioners, social service providers, and advocates.  Monitor Merrick Bobb delivered remarks by video.

The even was also simulcast and streamed on-line to allow the participation of individuals from across Washington.

The Monitoring Team thanks Columbia Legal Services for their warm hospitality and engagement.

Monitor Attends SPD SeaStat Meeting

On Wednesday, October 29, Monitor Merrick Bobb attended a meeting of SPD's ongoing SeaStat discussions.  Chief Kathleen O'Toole, Chief Operating Officer Mike Wagers, and numerous representatives of the Department's command staff attended, along with Deputy Monitor Peter Ehrlichman and Deputy Director Matthew Barge.

SeaStat is intended to be a sophisticated data tracking and analysis tool that will guide SPD’s efforts to address crime trends quickly and deploy resources effectively.  According to the Department, SeaStat is "aimed at quickly addressing crime hotspots based on analysis of crime data and community reports of incidents."  Issues related to ongoing compliance efforts are also addressed within SeaStat meetings.

The Monitoring Team is regularly attending SeaStat and looks forward to assisting SPD in ensuring that the requirements of the Consent Decree promote and reinforce public and officer safety.