DOJ, SPD, Court-appointed monitor assess Year 1 of consent decree sustainment period

In January 2018, Judge James Robart declared the City of Seattle to be in “full and effective compliance” with the Consent Decree the city and the DOJ signed with regard to biased policing. That declaration kicked off a two-year “sustainment period” in which the city is required to remain in compliance, and show it is doing so through a scheduled series of audits and other reports.

This afternoon, the city, the DOJ, and the court-appointed police monitor each submitted to the court a report on how the first year went.

The scheduled activities for the city in 2018 involved four self-audits (reviewed and validated by the monitor and the DOJ) and four “outcome reports” on specific issues:

Self audits:

  • “Type I” use of force reporting and investigation (Type I is the least serious);
  • “Type II” use of force reporting and investigation;
  • General supervision of officers;
  • Crisis intervention.

Outcome reports:

  • Community engagement;
  • Stops and detentions;
  • Crisis intervention;
  • Force outcomes.

Both the monitor and the DOJ were overall very complimentary of the city’s work, noting that it delivered all the audits and reports on schedule and that SPD overall performed well and has acted in good faith.   The DOJ stated its belief that the city has maintained its compliance; the monitor would not state an opinion on that question given the pending issues before the court related to the SPOG contract, the Adley Shepherd reinstatement, and the police accountability legislation, but still praised SPD’s work. The DOJ said that it is confident that the city can demonstrate fulfillment of all of the consent decree requirements by next January.

Some of the more notable comments from their reports:

  • They noted that the more serious uses of force (Type II and III) were down substantially; Type I uses of force were up, but no one is quite sure why. The best hypothesis is that SPD officers are over-reporting claims of discomfort from being handcuffed. But recently SPD switched to new handcuffs that have beveled edges and should be more comfortable; they also changed the reporting rules so that handcuff discomfort is reported separately and not as a Type I use of force. So the next round of “use of force” statistics may validate the hypothesis.
  • SPD introduced a new Data Analytics Platform in 2018, which the Monitor praised as a major step forward (you may recall there was some fuss last summer when there were logistical glitches in getting the monitor access to the DAP). The DOJ and Monitor have made suggestions to SPD on how it can improve its use of the DAP, and particularly in ensuring that not only to immediate supervisors have access to data reports, but lieutenants and captains do too.
  • On the Use of Force audit, the DOJ noted that the city chose to audit all Type I and Type II use of force investigations in the audit time period, and not just a sample. The DOJ and Monitor looked at 10% of the Type I incidents, and 20% of the more serious Type II incidents. They wrote, “the overall quality of SPD’s review and investigation was high and the care that the officers and their chain of command took in writing reports, reviewing information, ensuring complete reporting, probing issues of concern, and addressing shortcomings was impressive.” They did suggest some improvements, however, including clarifying the rules around delegating review authority and “articulating the sufficiency (or lack thereof) of the Lieutenant-level review.”
  • The Supervision audit looked at adequacy of supervision, unity of command (i.e. does everyone in a squad report to the same supervisor), and adequacy of training for “acting sergeants.” They found that supervisors were meeting their responsibilities to investigate and report on uses of force, and were also meeting their obligation to respond to the scene of a Type II use of force. Also, since the issue of “unity of command” was first raised, SPD has changed its patrol staffing approach to ensure that all officers in a patrols squad now have the same supervisor. and the DOJ and monitor found that all acting sergeants who served more than 60 days in the role received sergeant training within the first 90 days.
  •  The Crisis Intervention audit looked at requirements related to CIT training, staffing and deployment of CIT-certified officers, disposition and outcome of crisis calls, consultation with a Crisis Intervention Committee consisting of mental health and social work professionals, analysis of crisis data, and a qualitative evaluation of uses of force involving persons in crisis. They confirmed that as of June 2018, all SPD officers had received at least 8 hours of crisis intervention training, and 73% of officers had completed a full 40-hour CIT certification program. They said that between January 2017 and June 2018, SPD had 15,000 contacts involving someone in crisis; of those, 80% involved a CIT-certified officer. Of those, 1.7% resulted in use of force of any type. The DOJ and Monitor made some further recommendations, including focusing training on designating a tactical leader and tactical positioning, ensuring that use-of-force reporting records the officers’ degree of training in crisis intervention, and training the Hostage Negotiation Team in a manner consistent with the CIT certification training “to assist in their encounters with people in crisis.

The city’s report is mainly a recounting of all the work that it has done It did elaborate on the Community Engagement report a bit, however. It noted that SPD does not use “stop and frisk” as some other jurisdictions in the United States do. It also stated that 85% of SPD’s stops are from 911 dispatches, and less than 10% are from patrol officers walking or on foot without receiving a dispatch call.

As part of its work in the last year, the Monitor did its own community survey in January 2019 to judge Seattle residents’ views and experiences of SPD. They reported that SPD actually has high approval ratings: 74% of Seattle residents approve, compared to 72% in their 2016 survey, 64% in 2015, and 60% in 2013. They note that approval among African Americans rose from 62% in 2016 to 72% this year. They further note that 74% agree that SPD does a good job keeping people safe, and 70% agree that SPD does a god job serving their neighborhood.

But it’s not all good news, and some racial disparities still remain. 55% of African-American and LatinX residents believe that SPD uses excessive force often (compared to 40% for whites and 31% for Asians), 40% believe that SPD uses verbally abusive language, and 34% believe racial slurs are often used toward minorities. 69% of African Americans believe SPD often engages in racial profiling. 47% of Seattle residents disagree with the notion that SPD treats “all races and ethnicities equally”; 54% of African Americans disagree, and 61% of African-American women disagree. However, the survey also found a significant difference in those statistics between those who have contact with the police and those who don’t:

Importantly, the respondents who report having personal contact with SPD employees report high levels of confidence and trust for an urban environment, while the more generalized opinions about Seattle Police among those who have not had contact raise questions of legitimacy and procedural justice. These two levels of legitimacy — perceptions driven by personal experience and those informed by generalizations — do typically not track together. The latter typically lags further behind fueled by the larger societal narrative This context is important, and serves to underscore the Monitor’s previous statements about the challenges and obstacles that the City and SPD face in order to earn generalized public perception of legitimacy for the Department.”

But  the report goes on to list self-reported statistics on survey respondents’ negative interactions with the police. While 12% of white residents reported having been stopped by SPD in a car, 26% of African-Americans and 30% of Latinos reported having been stopped.

Overall, this is good news for the city, in that the DOJ and monitor have heaped praise on SPD’s work over the last year to stay in compliance. But the issues with the SPOG contract are still looming; the DOJ and the CPC have weighed in on that, and early next week the City will file its response. Then it’s up to Judge Robart to decide whether the city continues to remain in full and effective compliance. If he says no, then after the city resolves the issue he raises, the two-year clock rewinds back to the beginning and the period of sustained compliance begins anew.