The U.S. Justice Department and Seattle asked a federal judge on Tuesday to lift parts of a decade-long order mandating court oversight of the city’s police department, saying the city has taken steps to address a prior pattern of police misconduct.
The Seattle Police Department should be relieved of some requirements of a federal consent decree after multiple years of compliance, Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke told a news conference where she highlighted “significant progress” in the department’s efforts to reduce its use of force.
The department must continue work to implement police accountability and crowd management policies under a new decree proposed in a joint filing by federal attorneys and the city in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.
“Policing in Seattle looks dramatically different today than it did 10 years ago,” Clarke said. “The progress that we’ve accomplished in Seattle truly provides a model for what we can accomplish in other communities as we vigorously pursue such reforms.”
The request comes as federal attorneys investigate police practices in several major cities including Minneapolis, Phoenix and New York, according to Clarke. The probes focus in part on police response to large protests, particularly the wave of demonstrations against police brutality that followed the murder of George Floyd in 2020.
In 2012, the Seattle Police Department was placed under an independent, court-appointed monitor and ordered to reform after a 2011 review by the Justice Department found it regularly violated residents’ civil rights and that officers were too quick to use their batons and other weapons.
The 2011 review found that in encounters that required force, police used excessive force 20% of the time. When officers used their batons, more than half the time it was unnecessary or excessive.
Among the changes made by Seattle were the creation of a Community Police Commission, which is charged with police oversight. The city also established a team to investigate all incidents involving “serious uses of force,” Clarke said.
Since new policies and training were implemented, the force has reduced the use of serious force by 60%.
While the department has lost more than 500 officers in the past three years, Police Chief Adrian Diaz said the force has made more arrests and generated fewer complaints.
“We still have a little bit of road ahead” Diaz said. “This is not a ceiling, this is a floor for us to really continuously improve and innovate.”
The department employs about 1,200 officers, according to its website.