A decade in the making, SPD monitor charts path to ending consent decree

Dec 27, 2021, 4:52 PM | Updated: Jan 11, 2022, 12:55 pm
consent decree...
Police detain a person as city crews dismantle the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)
(Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

Reformation of the Seattle Police Department exists within the context of the Department of Justice’s Consent Decree, which dates back to 2012 and has been in limbo since Seattle’s eruption into protest in the summer of 2020 over the murder of George Floyd.

The no man’s land that is the consent decree could come to a close in early 2022 when the court appointed police monitor submits their final review of SPD’s compliance under the decree.

In a memo filed Dec. 23 to U.S. District Judge James Robart, monitor Dr. Antonio Oftelie outlined the parameters of compliance for next year and summarized significant actions regarding police reform in 2021.

Most notably, Oftelie indicated that the police monitor rejected a request from SPD for “technical assistance” in early November of this year regarding the implementation of attempted city council police reform this past summer that outlawed the use of less-lethal weapons.

The memo implies that the council’s legislation is largely superfluous to the use of force policies that were adopted earlier in 2021, stating “in approving SPD’s Crowd Management and Use of Force policies earlier this year, the Monitoring Team agreed that the interim policy revisions – many of which reflected lessons learned over the course of 2020 and as informed through discussion with national and international experts – were current and consistent with best practices.”

The police monitor’s formal review of the legislation in question can commence once SPD revises its policies. A council spokesperson told MyNorthwest that “Councilmember Herbold as sponsor of the legislation has indicated she would be happy to introduce an update of the bill after the formal Consent Decree’s … changes come out of that review.”

Public safety chair Lisa Herbold previously stated that she had actually “met informally” with the monitor and the DOJ to discuss the bill as it was being drawn up, and had “made changes to the legislation in response to these conversations.” Herbold further added that it was “developed in compliance with, and respect for, the Consent Decree process.”

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“In this case, where fixed terms have been legislatively prescribed, the Monitoring Team sees little avenue to provide technical assistance in a manner that would not require changes to the terms of the Ordinance itself,” Oftelie’s memo reads.

The council’s bill, which passed in August 2021, restricts the use of weapons such as tear gas, pepper spray, and flash bang devices — particularly during protests and demonstrations — while totally banning the use of blast balls and a handful of other crowd control weapons.

The bill is technically law, although Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan declined to sign the ordinance, claiming in a letter to the council that “this ordinance undermines reform efforts and constitutional policing as it conflicts with the process for policy changes as required under the Consent Decree.”

The bill required the Seattle Police Department to redraft its use of force policies within 60 days of the bill’s passage on Aug. 16. SPD has not yet done so, with the police monitor indicating that the department had sought assistance from the DOJ to draft such policies in early November.

Another notable component of the consent decree update is the explicit mention of SPD’s use of force in protests and demonstrations in 2020, in which DOJ will “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.”

Earlier in December, an SPD officer was suspended for a week without pay for rolling a bicycle’s tires over a protester’s head in the wake of the non-conviction of the officers involved in the killing of Breonna Taylor.

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The memo mentions “designing a process to ensure that the City uses all appropriate mechanism to engage all of Seattle’s many communities in a substantive process that achieves lawful and equitable policy and practices” forthcoming in 2022. It looks toward the Office of Police Accountability’s Sentinel Event Review process as providing SPD “specific, actionable recommendations … that it might [use to] improve its approach to managing crowds and using force within crowd contexts.”

The report summarizes three “Community Engagement Sessions” in early 2022 used as framework before the police monitor submits its final compliance status report, originally scheduled for March 1, 2022, but will likely be submitted at March’s end to accommodate the scheduling of the engagement sessions.

1. Crisis Intervention: Jan. 11, 2022

The Monitoring Team will report on SPD’s capacity to respond to a person in crisis as well as statistics related to SPD’s crisis intervention response, including the frequency of crisis response and the outcomes of these events. The Team will also discuss data and trends related to officer training, the frequency of use of force in crisis situations, and misconduct allegations related to crisis intervention.

2. Stops and Detentions: Feb. 8, 2022

The assessment of stops and detentions will include statistical analysis of SPD stop trends overall, and broken out by demographics, over time. The Community Engagement Session will summarize statistics regarding the frequency of frisks and how often frisks result in the discovery of weapons. It will consider how the Department is assessing its own stop practices, and how supervises are overseeing such practices, to assess SPD’s compliance with Constitutional requirements pertaining to stops and frisks.

3. Use of Force: March 8, 2022

The Monitoring Team will update the public on statistics related to SPD’s use of force practices, both overall and specifically related to protests in 2020. It will discuss SPD’s use of force review and investigation systems and statistics on misconduct allegations related to use of force. The Monitoring Team also anticipates providing an overview of how the City and SPD have responded to issues with SPD’s handling of protests in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.

This article was updated Jan. 11 to reflect statements on behalf of Councilmember Lisa Herbold

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A decade in the making, SPD monitor charts path to ending consent decree