In response to a joint motion filed in March by the Justice Department and the City of Seattle, a federal judge terminated most provisions of a consent decree that led to significant policing reform. The court’s order recognizes the city’s consistent compliance with the core requirements of a 2012 consent decree regarding the Seattle Police Department (SPD). The order details the additional obligations that the city must take to continue the reform process.
According to the order, “SPD has made tremendous improvements in its policies, methods of operation and leadership with respect to the areas of use of force, stops and detentions and crisis intervention.” The court found that “the city has achieved sustained full and effective compliance, for at least two years, with the commitments set forth in the consent decree regarding crisis intervention, stops and detentions, bias-free policing, supervision and the Office of Police Accountability and terminate[d] the parties’ obligations” under those areas of the consent decree. For example:
- After making changes to SPD’s policies and training on the use of force, SPD has reduced the use of serious force by 60%, and force is now used in less than one-quarter of one percent of all events to which officers respond.
- To better respond to people experiencing behavioral health crises, SPD developed an advanced crisis intervention program in which civilian mental health professionals and non-police mobile crisis teams respond to behavioral health crisis incidents.
- SPD developed policies and training to secure people’s rights during police investigative stops. The court monitor found that officers complied with legal and policy requirements in almost all instances it assessed.
“This ruling acknowledges the significant reforms implemented by the City of Seattle and the Seattle Police Department to ensure effective and nondiscriminatory policing for the community,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The court’s order gives the city and police department the ability to focus on the areas that need additional attention. We commend the city, police department and the community for continuing to collaborate on constitutional and non-discriminatory policing which benefits all residents in the City of Seattle.”
“I commend the personnel of the Seattle Police Department whose dedication has transformed policing in Seattle,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Tessa Gorman for the Western District of Washington. “Hard work remains in how our police confront crowd control and disciplinary action for misconduct. We look forward to working with the department, the city accountability partners, the Community Police Commission and the citizens of Seattle to achieve these remaining reforms required by the consent decree.
The court order requires continued work related to use of force in the crowd management context, accountability and racial disparities. For example:
- SPD must develop new crowd management policies, which must be approved by the court and independent monitor.
- An independent monitor must review of the city’s accountability systems and provide a plan to identify and mitigate racial disparities in stops, detentions and the use of force.
- The city must continue to measure whether the reforms required by the consent decree remain effective.
The Special Litigation Section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s for the Western District of Washington’s Civil Division handled this matter.
The Civil Rights Division continues to prioritize constitutional policing and currently has pending investigations into police departments across the country, including in Memphis, Phoenix, New York City and Louisiana.
The consent decree, proposed agreement, as well as additional information about the Civil Rights Division, are available on its website at www.justice.gov/crt/special-litigation-section.