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Seattle Mayor Durkan: SPD ‘has transformed itself’ in reducing use of force

Seattle Police officers line the street in front of City Hall in 2018. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

The City of Seattle touted recent improvements to the police department’s use of force in a recently-filed report, after a judge had previously found the city out of compliance with a court-ordered consent decree.

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“The Seattle Police Department has transformed itself,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said in a news release. “The original investigation of SPD showed force was being used unconstitutionally far too often, and frequently involved people in crisis or under the influence. Nearly a decade later, as we submit the final report under the sustainment plan, Seattle police officers have become a national leader in policing and de-escalation with a commitment to true and lasting reform.”

The city cites data stating that out of 850,910 times officers were dispatched, force was used in just 0.15 percent of instances. In instances where “Type III” force was used (force reasonably expected to cause serious injury or death), that number dropped to less than 0.0023 percent.

This comes almost a month after an independent report commissioned by the city was filed with Judge James Robart, assessing SPD’s approach to accountability. That report found that while there was no need for a complete overhaul of the system, it could use some fine tuning in several areas, many of them the same issues the Community Police Commission and others had with the Seattle Police Officers Guild contract approved in 2018.

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Seattle’s been operating under the consent decree since 2012 — led by then-U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan — after a DOJ investigation “found a pattern or practice of excessive force that violates the U.S. Constitution and federal law.”

Robart ruled in May 2019 that the city had fallen partially out of compliance with the decree, specifically in the realm of police accountability. He cited concerns over one recent incident, where Seattle Officer Adley Shepherd was fired after punching a handcuffed woman in the back of his patrol car. Officer Shepherd was later reinstated by an arbitrator.

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