Ursula: More work needs to be done to transform Seattle Police Department

Sep 8, 2023, 6:54 PM

Seattle police tombstone...

Seattle Police Chief, Adrian Diaz, appeared before a civilian police oversight body Wednesday to answer questions about a fake tombstone of a man killed by officers that was put on display in the East Precinct. (Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

(Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

After 11 long years, U.S. District Judge James L. Robart is ending most of the federal oversight of the Seattle Police Department (SPD).

In a hearing this week, the judge praised SPD for making considerable progress in its use of force, crisis intervention, supervision and stops and seizures.

Judge Robart’s order is a big milestone for the city and the police department, which has been under extra scrutiny since 2012, after the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) found officers used excessive force and biased policing.

More from Ursula Reutin: Stop giving criminals a free pass

It’s important to recognize where the improvements have been made and there is evidence rank-and-file officers have put in hard work to address these issues. I think that’s commendable and should be celebrated!

But let’s keep it real. It’s hard to throw a party when it’s also clear that much more work needs to be done.

Things still are off at SPD

Culturally, something is not right within SPD and its leadership.

The Seattle Police Department is still woefully understaffed. Over the last few years, about 500 officers have left. Staffing is at its lowest level in 30 years. Even with big financial incentives to join the department, efforts to recruit new officers are nowhere close to the goal of hiring more than 100 cops each year. At the same time, we’re seeing an increase in violent crimes in the city.

Seemingly, each day, we hear of more disgruntled officers, some of them veterans, just counting the days until they can retire or jump ship. A Seattle lieutenant recently resigned and, on her way out, she released a scathing 15-page letter addressed to Chief Adrian Diaz. In it, Lt. Jessica Taylor blamed his failed leadership for the chaos and toxicity that are driving good officers out of the department. Even before her letter, I would hear regularly from SPD sources who told me that Chief Diaz did not have a lot of support, especially among officers who have been with the department for many years.

Jason Rantz interview: Seattle cop says ‘criminals are running this city’ in brutal resignation letter

There are also unconfirmed rumors involving Diaz that have been swirling around for months. I’m not going to mention them specifically but at least one news organization (KUOW) has written about the allegations because they have taken up so much energy and added to the distrust and discontent with Diaz.

All of this does not bode well for a department that is finally coming out of more than 11 years of federal oversight. This should be a time of celebration but this important milestone is being overshadowed by the turmoil and questions about SPD leadership and the inability to bring new blood into a department that is tired and depleted.

Earlier coverage: SPD should apologize for protest violence, panel says

Now that most of the requirements of the consent decree have been met, the focus must be on improving the climate within the department to make it a desirable place to work. It doesn’t help that rank and file union officers haven’t had a contract in over two years. Until these issues are addressed, it’s hard to convince anyone that SPD is truly a transformed organization.

Listen to Ursula Reutin with her co-host on Gee Scott on the Gee & Ursula Show, weekday mornings from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Ursula: More work needs to be done to transform Seattle Police Department