Seattle Police Accept Court Oversight

     SEATTLE (CN) – The Seattle Police Department will accept an independent monitor and court oversight under a consent decree with the Department of Justice, to resolve claims that police routinely use unnecessary and excessive force.
     The Justice Department completed an 11-month investigation in December 2011, and released a scathing reportcondemning a “pattern or practice” of excessive force and civil rights violations and “serious concern” about how minorities are treated by Seattle police.
     After the report was released, city officials began contentious negotiations with U.S. attorneys on how the oversight would proceed.
     Mayor Mike McGinn claimed the changes sought by the Department of Justice would be too expensive and were unnecessary.
     Frustrated with McGinn’s confrontational attitude, three City Council members withdrew from the negotiations.
     McGinn held a press conference this month in response to a critical letter sent to him by City Attorney Pete Holmes. Holmes complained about the delay in reaching an agreement and warned of the costs of litigation if the matter ended up in court, according to the Seattle Times, which received a copy of the confidential letter.
     “They’ve had deadlines before and those deadlines have gone in the past,” McGinn said, referring to the Justice Department at the press conference.
     Last Friday the Justice Department sued the city under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act and concurrently filed the consent decree with city officials. While the city agreed with the settlement, it denied that its police force routinely violates civil rights.
     “Although the city denies the existence of any pattern or practice of unconstitutional conduct by SPD and its officers, it enters into the settlement agreement with the goal of addressing the policies, procedures, training, and oversight that the United States alleges contributed to a pattern or practice of constitutional violations. The parties intend to ensure that police services are delivered to the Seattle community in a manner that complies with the Constitution and laws of the United States,” according to the consent decree.
     The United States’ complaint repeats claims made in the original investigative report, including: “SPD officers using impact weapons, such as batons and flashlights, when such force is not justified; SPD officers using excessive force on subjects who are already restrained; multiple SPD officers at a time using excessive force together against a single subject; SPD officers using excessive force against persons of color; and SPD officers escalating situations and using excessive force when arresting individuals for minor offenses, particularly during encounters with persons with mental illnesses and those under the influence of alcohol or drugs.”
     The complaint claims that “SPD officers engage in this pattern or practice of constitutional violations while performing law enforcement activities within the scope of their employment. The violations arise from the city’s and SPD’s systematic failure to provide adequate policies, training and supervision to officers on the proper use, reporting, and investigation of force, despite knowledge of these deficiencies. Thus, SPD and the City of Seattle are vicariously liable for officers’ patterns or practices of conduct violating the Fourth Amendment.”
     Under the settlement agreement, the city agreed to have an independent monitor oversee the court-mandated changes, and has 90 days to set up a Community Police Commission to review the monitor’s reports and recommendations.
     The Commission can also suggest changes, according to the settlement agreement. The agreement requires a revised use-of-force policy and new reporting and investigation requirements relating to use of force.
     Police also will provide revised crisis intervention training and enact a Stops and Detention policy that will “prohibit investigatory stops where the officer lacks reasonable suspicion that a person has been, is, or is about to be engaged in the commission of a crime,” under the consent decree. The settlement also orders new training and supervision procedures.
     The police department will have regular reviews and audits to ensure it’s complying with the settlement. It may terminate the agreement once it has been in “full and effective compliance” for two years.
     The consent decree states that all parties anticipate the force will reach compliance within 5 years.

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