DOJ, CPC say police are in compliance with consent decree

Today the Department of Justice and the Community Police Commission both submitted briefs to Judge Robart urging him to find the Seattle Police Department in “full and effective compliance” with the consent decree.

Here is the brief filed by the DOJ, and the letter submitted by the CPC.

The city filed a motion with the court last week asking Robart to rule that it is in full and effective compliance with the terms of the consent decree. Doing so would signal the end of Phase I of the process laid out in the agreement — achieving compliance — and would start Phase II: sustaining compliance for at least two years before the consent decree can be terminated.

It’s notable that both the DOJ and CPC are supporting the city in this motion. Under the Trump administration and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the DOJ has largely shelved its police accountability work, though in a hearing this past summer Robart elicited a commitment from the DOJ attorneys on the SPD consent decree to see it all the way through to the end. Their brief notes that the ten assessments completed by the monitor, Merrick Bobb, found a handful of “outstanding elements” remain, but in a clever sleight of hand argued that those issues (such as the shooting of Charleena Lyles) technically arose outside of the specific time period that Bobb was collecting and evaluating data on that aspect of SPD’s compliance, and so should be evaluated as part of Phase II rather than prevent the completion of Phase I. To that end the DOJ disagreed with Bobb, who argued that those issues are, in fact, barriers to “full and effective compliance.” A skeptical Robart might read that as an impatient DOJ rushing to the finish line.

The CPC’s letter raises several issues that still concern its members:

  • enforcement patterns in stops;
  • detentions in certain enforcement practices;
  • allowing community members to add items to the agendas of Crisis Intervention Committee meetings;
  • critically examining SPD officers’ training on taser use and on engaging individuals armed with knives;
  • exploring alternatives to internal investigations of serious use of force by police officers;
  • secondary employment by SPD officers;
  • the appeals process for people who raise complaints and disagree with the resolution;
  • issues around how SPD polices demonstrations and protests;
  • being responsive to emergent community issues;
  • coercive interrogation techniques;
  • facilitating access to legal counsel for individuals in custody.

Nevertheless, it argued that these items either exceed the bar required for full and effective compliance, or are outside the scope of compliance altogether, so their existence should not prevent Robart from finding SPD in compliance.

The CPC also slipped into a footnote some love for the DOJ, obviously trying to preempt any suspicion by Robart that they are walking away from the case:

It is important to call out our belief that the United States’ position in this case at this juncture is fully consistent with the mandate and approach brought to bear from the outset in 2011 by the Civil Rights Division and the local U.S. Attorney’s Office. The legal team representing the United States is in the same hands that directed their approach from the inception of the consent decree. These partners have faithfully continued to shepherd this Settlement Agreement on the course that they set at the outset: requiring change and transitioning oversight of policing to the structures put in place by the City of Seattle at the appropriate juncture. That latter step is an important component in the legitimacy and value of Settlement Agreements with police departments of the sort that the Civil Rights Division has pursued across the country. We commend the United States legal team for its resolve in seeing this process through, consistent with the original goals of the Settlement Agreement. 

In the meantime, Mayor Tim Burgess took a victory lap this afternoon with a press release:

“I’m incredibly proud of the great work the women and men of the Seattle Police Department have done, day in and day out, to get us to this point. These filings support my belief that we are in ‘full and effective compliance’ with the consent decree we agreed to in 2012. The credit for reaching this milestone belongs to our officers, as well as the leadership of Chief Kathleen O’Toole and her command staff.

“I’m also grateful to the Community Police Commission, the Department of Justice, and Federal Monitor Merrick Bobb for their assistance and oversight. As we continue our work together to create a 21st century police service, I look forward to an ever-increasing relationship of trust between the people of Seattle and our officers. In recent weeks, we have been in productive conversation with the monitor regarding our progress and areas that deserve all of our attention during the next phase of the consent decree.   We all look forward to the monitor’s filing next week.”

A hearing on the motion is scheduled for October 20, at which point we’ll know more about how Robart is approaching this important milestone.