DOJ moves to end consent decree with Seattle police after more than a decade

Justice Department
AP/Andrew Harnik
The Justice Department in Washington, Friday, Nov. 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The Justice Department announced Tuesday that it filed a joint proposal with Seattle to replace the consent decree with the Seattle Police Department after more than a decade of supervising the department.

In an announcement Tuesday, the Justice Department stated that the Seattle police department has made “notable progress” in areas overseen by the consent decree. The proposal, which needs approval by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, explains that the city “consistently complied with significant portions of the consent decree,” including with use of excessive force and crisis intervention.

If approved, the joint proposal would replace the consent decree, but it requires the city to continue to measure if its reforms set by the decree “remain effective,” the Justice Department said. The city also needs to complete progress in two of the areas of the decree: use of force in crowd management and accountability, the department said.

“The joint motion filed today acknowledges the significant progress of the City of Seattle and its Police Department, and very clearly lays out what must happen before all requirements of the consent decree may be terminated,” First Assistant U.S Attorney Tessa Gorman said in a statement.

Gorman added that the proposal allows Seattle to “focus” on remaining areas that still need improvement while still noting the city’s progress so far.

The Seattle Police Department and the Justice Department entered a consent decree in 2012 to ensure the department fully complies with “the Constitution and laws of the United States, effectively ensures public and officer safety, and promotes public confidence,” according to the settlement agreement. The consent decree came after the Justice Department found that Seattle’s police department engaged in excessive and unnecessary force in more than half of arrests.

“Our consent decree has provided the strong medicine needed to help cure problems and improve the way policing is carried out across the City of Seattle,” said Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

The improved reforms include reducing the use of force by more than 60 percent, an improved response to behavioral health crises, bias-free policing policy and training and a new supervision model.

“When we advocated for a Consent Decree over a decade ago, it was with the knowledge that SPD could do better – and needed to do better – for the communities it serves,” Seattle Mayor  Bruce Harrell said in a statement. “Today’s joint filing recognizes the excellent progress our officers have made and our ongoing commitment to keep moving forward.”

“We know there remains work to be done to reduce disparities in policing, and we are committed to doing so as a learning, growing organization, with a department culture where accountability, continuous improvement, and innovation are always at the center,” he continued.

Tags Department of Justice Seattle

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