A new assessment report, filed by a federal monitor today states that between July 2014 and October 2016, Seattle Police officers dramatically improved how and when they used force.
The announcement is the latest sign that the Seattle Police Department is getting closer to fulfilling the obligations of a 2012 consent decree with the Department of Justice. A pattern of unnecessary and excessive use of force was one of the biggest findings from an investigative report on the department a year prior to the consent decree
Between the two halves of the study, Federal Monitor Merrick Bobb found that SPD officers' use-of-force decreased by 10 percent, which did not correlate with a greater number of officer injuries or a rise in city crime. In his assessment, Bobb states that SPD officers' use-of-force "appeared necessary, proportional, and objectively reasonable under the circumstances."
Bobb concludes: "The significance and importance of this finding cannot be understated, as this report makes clear. It represents a singular and foundational milestone on SPD’s road to full and effective compliance—and represents Seattle crystallizing into a model of policing for the 21st century."
In a statement, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington Annette L. Hayes credited the improvement to officers and SPD leadership who have "fundamentally changed what is happening on the streets of Seattle.”
“The findings demonstrate that rigorous policies are in place, high-quality training and supervision have been implemented, proper reporting and investigation is happening, and appropriate levels of force are being used," she said. "Also important, police experts found that because SPD is collecting data on uses of force, SPD is able to critically analyze and address issues as they come up. SPD has reached a major milestone in its reform efforts. I commend city leaders for making reform meet city needs including officers and diverse communities alike.”
From The Seattle Times:
In contrast to the 2011 numbers, there has been what appears to be a net decrease of 743 incidents — a 60 percent drop — in the use of moderate and high-level use of force. Of 2,385 incidents, 39 or 1.6 percent stemmed from the most serious type of force, including 15 officer-involved shootings.
The report also notes the use of batons has dramatically declined, as has the use of Tasers.
While the lowest levels of force generally grew over time, the monitoring team surmised that is at least partly due to better reporting that didn’t occur before the consent decree and less use of higher-level force.