Seattle officials and the US Department of Justice (DOJ) on Tuesday asked a judge to end the majority of federal oversight of the city’s police department due to its decade-long reform efforts which were held up as a model for other cities.
In 2011, DOJ investigators concluded officers were too quick to use force and too often escalated encounters to the point where force was necessary. In response, Seattle has overhauled almost all aspects of the department.
According to city officials, the use of serious force is down 60 percent and the department has new methods for dealing with people in crisis, responding to complaints of biased policing, supervising officers and identifying any those members of the force who get physical with suspects too often.
President of the Seattle Police Officer's Guild (SPOG) Mike Solan said Tuesday in a statement to The Post Millennial that the agreement shows the "significant steps that SPOG members have taken to make the Seattle Police Department the model of public safety reform and the most transparent police agency in the country."
“Despite losing almost 600 officers since 2020, we’ve done the hard work required and now it’s time for Mayor Harrell and the City Council to do their part and deliver a fair and competitive contract to our officers. This will ensure the retention of our current officers, and the ability to recruit the finest candidates for future policing careers in Seattle.”
Hundreds of officers have fled the department since the city council began defunding the police in response to the violent riots that rocked Seattle in the wake of George Floyd. The council proceeded with the defunding despite then-Mayor Jenny Durkan holding up the department as a model of police reform the week before the riots.
Other officers were terminated due to the city’s vaccine mandate.
Both the department and the DOJ asked U.S. District Judge James Robart to terminate the 2012 settlement agreement, known as a consent decree, which gave the court oversight of the police reform efforts.
Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the DOJ's Civil Rights Division, said in a news conference Tuesday, “Seattle stands as a model for the kind of change and reform that can be achieved when communities, police departments and cities come together to repair and address systemic misconduct.”
"The joint motion filed today acknowledges the significant progress of the City of Seattle and its Police Department," First Assistant US Attorney Tessa M. Gorman for the Western District of Washington said, "and very clearly lays out what must happen before all requirements of the consent decree may be terminated. 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."
The city has spent approximately $200 million on the reforms which included developing and instituting new policies, training, and database systems.
Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell said during the presser that the money has been well spent. "We look at it as an investment in our city — keeping everyone safe, keeping our businesses safe," he said. "It was an emotional investment for many of us as well... We made these investments, and it's paying off."
Many viewed Tuesday's announcement as a path forward for city, county and state law enforcement agencies around the country that have come under the DOJ’s scrutiny.
The two agencies agreed that more work remains to be done in police accountability and crowd control, and Judge Robart would continue to oversee reform work related to those areas under a new agreement.
The proposed agreement, which must be approved by the US District Court for the Western District of Washington, and would replace the consent decree, but would require that the city continue to measure whether the reforms required by the consent decree remain effective.
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