Court-appointed police monitor files status report

This morning Dr. Antonio Oftelie, the court-appointed police monitor for the 2012 Consent Decree, filed a status report informing Judge James Robart of what has been happening in 2021 and previewing actions expected next year. Oftelie provided an update on contract negotiations with the two unions representing SPD officers and supervisors, and provided some details on how he is assembling his much-anticipated assessment of SPD’s compliance with the consent decree.

The status report covers five topics:

  1. Evaluating the status of compliance;
  2. Improving accountability;
  3. Advising on innovation and risk management;
  4. Supporting re-imagining public safety;
  5. Assessing overall compliance.

Evaluating the status of compliance

In November Dr. Oftelie asked the court to extend his deadline for filing his annual compliance status report until March 1, 2022, so that he can engage more fully with the community and incorporate the results of those activities into his report. This morning’s status update provided important details on what he has planned. Specifically, the police monitor and the Community Police Commission are jointly organizing three “Community Engagement Sessions” to generate community input and ideas. The sessions will be one per month, and cover three topics:

  • January 11: Crisis Intervention;
  • February 8: Stops and Detentions;
  • March 8: Use of Force.

Each session will focus on three main questions:

  • What ideas on policy and practices, systems, measures, and/or general innovations and change do you have to improve policing services for the City of Seattle?
  • What new policies, research, and/or general innovations should the Seattle Community Policing Commission pursue in 2022?
  • What policy and practice areas, if any, should the Federal Monitor oversee implementation on in 2022?

According to the status report, the community feedback will help to inform the monitor’s analysis and “help determine action items in 2022 for the City and federal oversight.” Oftelie said that he intends to submit his compliance status report “directly” after the three sessions are complete, which suggests that he will be asking for another extension of the deadline given that the third session is after March 1. Asked about this, Oftelie replied via email:

“At the time of the extension filing the intent was to complete community engagement sessions over a fast cadence in January and first half of February. However once we got into planning of the sessions the parties felt we should follow a cadence of one community engagement session per month (CPC’s usual cadence).

“I’m not sure yet when the full assessments (which will include community feedback) will be filed – but I’m aspiring for end of March/early April. So an additional short extension may need to be filed as we get closer to that date and as we see how the community engagement sessions wrap-up.”


Improving accountability

Oftelie subdivides accountability into three areas: “back-end,” “front-end,” and work specifically addressing how SPD handles protests and demonstrations.

Under back-end accountability, the status report provides a quick update on the city’s ongoing negotiations with SPMA and SPOG, the two unions representing SPD supervisors and front-line officers respectively. According the the report, the city and SPMA are working with a mediator on a successor contract; several mediation sessions have been held already and the parties expect that a tentative agreement may be reached “shortly after the first of the year.” Apparently the process for handling disciplinary appeals has been a significant topic of negotiations.

As for SPOG, by far the more contentious of the two unions, according to the report the city’s Labor Relations Policy Committee, with representatives from both the legislative and executive branches, has reached agreement on operational an accountability parameters for bargaining after receiving input from the OPA, the OIG and the CPC, and the city’s bargaining team is preparing opening proposals. Negotiations are expected to begin early in 2022.

In the area of “front-end” accountability, which looks “ensuring that officer performance is aligned with community needs and expectations before anything goes wrong,”  Oftelie highlighted SPD’s enrollment in the ABLE Project: “Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement,” which prepares officers to actively intervene with peer officers “to prevent harm, stop misconduct, and avoid bad outcomes.” According to the status report, 951 SPD officers have completed ABLE training, with 46 registered, 21 not yet registered, and 66 on long-term leave.

The status report also explains that the monitor and the DOJ will be conducting “an in-depth examination of SPD’s force used at protests and demonstrations in 2020 and make findings regarding compliance with the Consent Decree requirements related to use of force, use of force reporting, investigation and review, and constitutional policing generally.” This follows work in 2021, where SPD revised its own policies on use of force and crowd management, and the three police accountability agencies have been working on their own recommendations. The City Council, of course, also weighed in on the topic and passed its own ordinance restricting the use of “less lethal” weapons during protests and demonstrations. The ordinance required SPD to revise its own policies in accordance with the Council’s directive, post them within 60 days on its website, and submit the changes for approval of the DOJ, monitor, and Judge Robart. SPD has not posted proposed revisions; according to this morning’s status report, on November 2 SPD requested “technical assistance” from both the DOJ and the monitor in reconciling the Council’s ordinance with SPD’s existing, court-approved policies, and both the DOJ and the monitor declined to provide assistance.

Oftelie gave two reasons for declining to provide assistance: first, he saw “limited meaningful opportunity” for his engagement, which in his estimation would require an “iterative process” of “discussion and resolution of practical and legal considerations, among others” — instead of simply incorporating the Council’s terms into SPD policy. Second, Oftelie said, “it is a grounding principle of the Consent Decree that policy be based upon, and evolve with, best practices.” He highlights SPD’s policy revisions in early 2021 as following that principle — and implies that the Council’s process of codifying revision in city law did not.

Again obliquely noting the dysfunction in City Hall that resulted in multiple independent efforts to revise SPD’s policies, Oftelie notes that next year his team “will be designing a process to ensure that the City uses all appropriate mechanisms as possible to engage all of Seattle’s many communities in a substantive process,” which he hopes will “bring a new chapter in the ability of core City stakeholders to connect multiple work streams and collaborate on developing optimal policy and process for crowd and protest management.”

Innovation and Risk Management

The status report highlights four efforts under “innovation and risk management”: SPD’s officer wellness initiative, updates to the Early Intervention System, a change in how SPD does performance monitoring, and the “Correlation One” program.

Officer wellness: Noting that officer wellness is key to both job performance and enabling innovation and change, Oftelie highlights several of the programs that SPD has stood up, including: a peer support team; a mentoring program; an app for peer support and mental health information; a Smart Dollar Financial program; a Vet Corp program; and an app-based health and fitness program.

Early intervention system (EIS): The idea behind an EIS is simple: through data analysis, predict and flag when an officer is trending toward negative outcomes early enough such that interventions can course-correct. In practice, however, law enforcement agencies including SPD have found it very difficult to implement an EIS that is accurate enough to have an impact yet not give too many false-positives. SPD is now working on a new version with the help of Accenture Data Science that is expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2022.

Performance monitoring: According to the status report, next month SPD will begin using a metric other than crime rate to manage police performance. The new system is named after its new metrics: Equity, Accountability and Quality.

Correlation One:  SPD has partnered with Correlation One, “an organization that provides free data and analytics training programs for underrepresented and diverse students,”  to create new projects to analyze SPD data. Nine projects were created, and SPD is looking to adopt one that does community sentiment analysis from local newspapers and periodicals.

Supporting Re-imagining Public Safety

The status report highlights several organizational changes the city made over the course of 2021: expanding the “Health One” program and the Community Service Officer division; creating a new “Triage One” program; spinning the 911 call center out into the new Community Safety and Communications Center; and creating the new “Safe and Thriving Communities” division in the Human Services Department.

Assessing Overall Compliance

Oftelie finishes his status report by laying out some of the factors that will go into his assessment of SPD’s compliance with the Consent Decree. You may recall that in early 2020 SPD was poised to conclude its two-year “sustainment period” and exit the Consent Decree for everything except police accountability; then the events over the summer of 2020 threw that plan in the dustbin as it became clear that SPD still had substantial work to do in order to achieve a standard of constitutional policing. And yet the city is well of track with regard to the step-by-step plan anticipated by the Consent Decree: while Judge Robart ruled in 2019 that the city is out of compliance with regard to accountability, he has not officially reversed his ruling that the city is in “full and effective compliance” with the rest of the consent decree, and the two-year sustainment period clock has run out. So the task before the Monitor is to take a step back and make a clear-eyed assessment of the current state of affairs of SPD’s compliance with the Consent Decree, so that Judge Robart can make a new ruling and things can get back on track.

Oftelie lists four factors he will be considering:

  • The Department and its officers’ performance during a material span of time, number of incidents or encounters, and number of officers;
  • The Department’s trends with respect to its aggregate performance over time, including comparisons of more-recent material spans of time with prior, similar spans;
  • The severity or significance of a performance or incident that deviates from policy, law, or Consent Decree requirements; and
  • The extent to which SPD and/or its accountability partners appropriately identify performance contrary to law, expectations, or Consent Decree requirements and take appropriate remedial action that is consistent with the significance and severity of the identified performance deficiency.

Oftelie reiterates that he intends to file his Compliance Status Report “in early 2022, and directly after the Community Engagement Sessions.” He also notes that he will be working with a new Mayor in 2022 “to further compliance and closure of the Consent Decree.”

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