Just short of the July 31 deadline, Seattle officials agreed to the terms offered by the Justice Department—requiring federal oversight and reforms. Had the department not agreed, the feds were threatening a lawsuit. Now, Seattle residents can hope that significant changes will be made in an effort to repair a broken relationship between the department and the people they are paid to protect.
According to the Associated Press, the SPD will be monitored by federal oversight for the next five years. They will also have to reform their use of force policies and practices, enhancing training, investigating, and reporting procedures when force is used.
The investigation into the department came after months of unconstitutional uses of force. The investigation found that for every five uses of force, one was unconstitutional.
The case that launched the investigation was the police murder of Native American woodcarver John T. Williams in 2010. An SPD patrol car camera caught the officer following Williams, who was carrying a piece of wood and a knife. Officer Ian Birk called out to Williams three times to stop before firing five times. Officer Birk claimed Williams threatened him.
Cameras proved useful in other cases as well—catching police beating and stomping a prone Latino man they thought to be a robbery suspect. He was not. Cameras also caught cops kicking a black youth in a convenience store—also unarmed and unresisting.
In addition to the oversight and policy changes, the SPD will be working on training of “bias-free” policing and stops, after facing heat for alleged racial profiling.
Finally, a Community Police Commission will be created. Commissions like this are designed to give civilians a role in overseeing police actions. The power that this particular board will have remains to be seen, but typically they will handle allegations of police misconduct and deliver their findings to SPD administration.
The agreement between the feds and the city was a long time coming. City officials resisted oversight from the very beginning of the federal investigation, saying the problem was something they could handle on their own and that much of it was being overblown. Now, however, they say they are committed to making real change.
Federal civil rights investigations like this one have been prominent over the last several years, with such agreements between city officials and the Department of Justice taking place in New Orleans. In areas including East Haven, Conn. and Maricopa County, Ariz., the DOJ has sued to get their point across.
Fair and unbiased policing should be everyone’s concern. Though the likelihood you’ll be abused by police is fairly slim, the mere fact that any chance exists should warrant close attention from all agencies involved as well as the general public.
When you are faced with arrest and criminal charges, it can seem like everyone is out to get you. If you are charged with anything from cocaine possession to assault, we may be able to help. Contact our offices today to discuss your case.