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Monday, June 10, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

End near for federal oversight of Seattle Police Department

Despite "remarkable progress” since the feds began monitoring the Seattle Police Department in 2012, a federal judge will continue to watch how the department handles crowd control given its propensity toward force during the George Floyd protests in 2020.

(CN) — The U.S. Justice Department and the city of Seattle jointly filed a proposed agreement Tuesday to end 11 years of federal oversight of the city's police department.

The proposed agreement would effectively replace the consent decree established after the Justice Department found officers of the Seattle Police Department engaged in a pattern of excessive force. The department’s memorandum in support specifically cites the police department’s past use of batons and flashlights, use of force on people who were restrained, instances of multiple officers using force on one person, the escalation of violence for minor offenses and biased policing.

According to the agreement, the police department has “implemented reforms and achieved remarkable progress,” suggesting a different order of resolution that focuses on “ensuring sustainable accountability and improving policy and practices for using force in crowd settings.”

The department acknowledges that while the consent decree does not specifically address the use of force by officers in situations like the protests in 2020 after the police killing of George Floyd, it does acknowledge that there were “several significant deficiencies” in its response relating to de-escalation, decision-making ahead of use of force, officer force reporting and supervisory review of force.

“On the whole, the monitor concluded that SPD’s actions during the protests ‘too often served to escalate rather than deescalate these situations, further emphasizing the very topic protesters were marching against and making future protest management all the more difficult,’” according to the agreement.

According to the department, the city’s response to the use of force in 2020 has been “robust” and inspired new policies, including the adoption of “a detailed decision-making matrix to calibrate SPD’s level of response and tactics to the circumstances of the protest.” The police department’s overall use of force also dropped 60% since 2011, with 80% of all force representing the lowest level.

Additionally, Seattle police and the city are committed to the ongoing reform process beyond the areas specific to the consent decree or proposed agreement.

“In particular, the city and SPD will continue their ongoing work in identifying, studying and taking steps to mitigate racial disparities in policing, along with other efforts to improve policing for the people of Seattle,” the agreement says.

U.S. District Judge James Robart for the Western District of Washington has had jurisdiction throughout the oversight period and must first approve the proposed agreement. So far, complying with the consent decree has cost Seattle more than $200 million.  

“The joint motion filed today acknowledges the significant progress of the city of Seattle and its police department, and very clearly lays out what must happen before all requirements of the consent decree may be terminated,” said First Assistant U.S Attorney Tessa M. Gorman for the Western District of Washington in a statement. “This proposed agreement allows the city of Seattle to focus on these remaining critical areas so that reforms in those areas become ingrained in the ways the Seattle Police Department engages with the community.”

Under the agreement, Robart will retain jurisdiction and continue oversight in the areas of use of force in crowd control settings while Seattle continues its assessment of the police department's handling of the 2020 protests. Robart will also make sure the city holds officers accountable when they violate Seattle Police Department policies or the law.

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Categories / Civil Rights, Government, Regional

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