More work remains, but Seattle reached an important milestone this week when its police department was found to have substantially reformed and ended unconstitutional and excessively forceful practices.
Seattle crossed an important threshold this week when a federal judge determined that its police department was greatly improved and in compliance with its 2012 consent decree.
This offers Seattle a fresh start, just as its new mayor begins the process of hiring a new police chief. With the cloud of federal oversight clearing, Mayor Jenny Durkan, who played a role in pushing the reforms as a U.S. attorney, remains strongly committed to reforms. She now will have a better chance of attracting the best candidates.
Most important, Seattle’s progress proves that reforms and training to reduce police use of force are effective and don’t compromise public safety.
Seattle is the latest and largest city to reach compliance with Obama-era consent decrees in 15 cities across the country. The positive outcome sends a strong message to a Trump administration that appears less inclined to confront troubled police departments.
Seattle police aren’t completely in the clear. Federal oversight will continue for two years to ensure reforms are sustained and that a list of remaining concerns is addressed.
Those concerns are significant. They include assurance that tragic incidents such as the shooting death of Charleena Lyles aren’t indicative of any systemic problems with use-of-force during crisis intervention.
The city and police officers’ union must also agree to a contract that incorporates the reforms, without the public having to pay extra for constitutional policing.
These are surmountable problems, especially now that core issues are largely addressed and a strong foundation of training is in place.
Statistics cited by U.S. District Judge James Robart, in his finding of initial compliance, quantify the improvement.