Monitor: Seattle police have 'only begun' to implement reforms

SEATTLE - The city's police force is making some progress in implementing reforms, but much more remains to be done as it strives to meet goals under its court-ordered agreement with the U.S. Justice Department, says the official in charge of monitoring the agreement.

"The monitor found that there has been considerable progress - but cautioned that compliance has only begun and that full and effective compliance remains for the future," the monitor, Merrick Bobb, said in a prepared statement.

Bobb made his observations in his first report on how much progress the Seattle Police Department has made in reaching the goals outlined in the reform agreement six months after it was approved. The report was released Friday.

Overcoming skepticism will be the toughest challenge facing Seattle's new interim police chief as he continues to try and implement the reforms, Bobb said.

"The hardest task facing interim Chief (Jim) Pugel will be to overcome and surmount the cynicism and skepticism of those who cannot yet believe that change is possible," he said. "We think it is possible."

The agreement was reached with the U.S. Justice Department after an investigation, which found officers were too quick to reach for weapons, such as flashlights and batons, even when arresting people for minor offenses.

The investigation was prompted after the fatal shooting of a homeless, Native American woodcarver and other incidents involving force used against minority suspects.

The agreement requires the Seattle Police Department to revise use of force policies and enhance training, reporting, investigation and supervision for situations involving use force.

Police also would have to change policies and training concerning "bias-free" policing and stops, and create a Community Police Commission, which would be a civilian oversight body.

In his new report, the monitor commended the city of Seattle and its police department for "considerable progress," but cautioned that compliance has only begun and that full and effective compliance remains for the future.

"As the interim chief settles into the new job, there will be a window of opportunity for the entire department to make peace with the settlement agreement and move toward full and effective compliance," Bobb said. "The focus must be on the future and the implementation of the settlement agreement, as the court has ordered."

Among the specific observations in the monitor's report:

Internal fighting up and down the command staff level has been a concern. "The SPD does not appear settled on a unified vision of what it is to become. We are hopeful that interim Chief Pugel will articulate that vision by embracing the settlement agreement," the report states.

A part of the SPD - mostly but not exclusively within the union ranks - remains "dug in" and continues to resist the force and implications of the
settlement agreement. Part of the cause of this resistance may be because the agreement has not been adequately explained to captains, lieutenants, sergeants and rank-and-file officers, the report says.

Regular meetings reviewing use-of-force incidents are being held and have become a valuable tool in assessing whether the force was necessary or whether a different approach may have avoided the necessity of using force.

Proceedings of the Firearms Review Board have not been as productive as use-of-force meetings in reaching the goals of the settlement agreement. Open discussion is sometimes "chilled," and there have been instances that raise the "potential or appearance of skewing testimony by those seeking to protect an officer," the report states.

The Firearms Review Board also looks too narrowly at shooting incidents. "It is necessary to look beyond that to consider the tactics, strategy, and
performance of the involved officers from the time they were dispatched or initiated activity and the time the shooting took place," according to the report.

SPD record-keeping, data storage and data retrieval are "in need of profound overhaul and rethinking." "There is insufficient data on officer performance to permit robust risk management at the precinct level and department-wide. Failure to correct these problems will substantially, if not fatally, prevent the SPD from reaching full and effective compliance," the report states.