Frequently Asked Questions
The Consent Decree is a court-approved settlement agreement resolving a lawsuit that the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) brought against the Seattle Police Department (SPD) and the City of Seattle. That lawsuit alleged that SPD had engaged in a pattern or practice of constitutional violations. The Consent Decree required SPD and the City to adopt a comprehensive set of reforms designed to promote fair and constitutional policing, rebuild SPD’s relationships with Seattle’s communities, and ensure public safety. The settlement was set forth in two documents: the Consent Decree and a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The MOU dealt mainly with the creation of a Community Police Commission ("CPC") and the SPD Crisis Intervention Committee ("CIC"). The Community Police Commission, originally formed and designated as a temporary body, was subsequently established as a permanent quasi-independent Seattle City government agency.
The federal judge who approved the Consent Decree is James L. Robart, Senior United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington. Because the Consent Decree is a court order, Judge Robart has the power to enforce its provisions.
The Seattle Consent Decree, which commenced implementation in 2012, is now in Phase 3 of its existence. The document is 76 pages with 210 separate paragraphs. With regard to the Seattle Police Department, it calls for substantial and far-reaching reform of among other things:
- Revision of use of force policies;
- Changes in the process for investigating and reviewing officer force;
- New training on use of force, stops and detentions, less-lethal instruments, and bias-free policing;
- The collection and analysis of accurate data about officer performance;
- Substantial revisions to the Early Intervention System;
- Updates and added focus to crisis intervention;
- Changes in supervisory practices; and
- Development of improved relations, trust, and support from all of Seattle's richly diverse communities.
Following a petition to the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) by 33 Seattle community organizations, a nine-month investigation of the Seattle Police Department (SPD) by the DOJ Civil Rights Division and the United States Attorney's Office for the Western District of Washington, commenced in December 2011. That investigation found a pattern or practice of excessive force against citizens that violates the U.S. Constitution and federal law. The investigation also raised serious concerns that some police practices – particularly those related to pedestrian encounters with police – could result in discriminatory or biased policing. The DOJ and the City of Seattle entered into a settlement, which took the form of a federal-court-enforced Consent Decree.
The Consent Decree called for the court to appoint a Monitor. The Monitor provides technical assistance to the City and SPD in meeting the requirements of the Consent Decree, reports regularly on progress, and has the responsibility to certify in the future whether SPD has reach “full and effective compliance” with the Decree. The original Seattle Monitor--Merrick Bobb of Police Assessment Resource Center in Los Angeles, served through Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the Consent Decree from 2013 through 2020. As Bobb’s successor, on September 8, 2020, Judge Robart appointed Dr. Antonio Oftelie, Executive Director of Leadership for a Networked World (LNW) at Harvard University, and a public policy and organizational transformation specialist. Robart appointed Monisha Harrell, chair of Equal Rights Washington, as Deputy Monitor.
The SPD Monitoring Team’s purpose is to oversee the implementation of the Consent Decree between DOJ, SPD, and the City. Our job is to serve as Judge Robart’s agent, helping him gauge whether, consistent with the Consent Decree’s objectives; the Seattle Police Department is achieving meaningful reform by making tangible changes in its policies and practices. The Monitoring Team also provides technical assistance to SPD as the Department seeks to implement the reforms required by the Consent Decree, until SPD reaches “full and effective compliance”, and sustains that compliance for a period of two consecutive years.
During its existence, at various junctures the Monitoring Team has included specialists in policing and police reform, civil rights enforcement, psychology, social science, organizational change, data and technology, and community engagement. The composition and biographies of the current members of the Monitoring Team can be found here
The Monitoring Team plays several roles under the Consent Decree: arbiter, technical advisor, and facilitator.
As arbiter, the Monitoring Team oversees the day-to-day efforts of SPD and the City to comply with the reforms required by the Consent Decree. The Monitoring Team reviews, provides feedback on, and ultimately recommends Court approval or disapproval of the changes the SPD makes in its policies, training, and practices. The Monitoring Team also reports our findings to the public. We establish clear expectations so that both the SPD and Seattle residents know what the SPD must do to achieve the Consent Decree’s objectives.
As technical advisor, the Monitoring Team draws upon our decades of collective experience in policing and police reform, civil rights enforcement, social science, and organizational change to help guide the SPD toward satisfying the requirements of the Consent Decree. As the SPD seeks to achieve reform, the Monitoring Team will provide the SPD with technical assistance that will include informing the SPD about national best practices and educating the SPD about what has worked (and what has failed) for other law enforcement agencies that have confronted challenges similar to the SPD’s.
As facilitator, the Monitoring Team ensures that all stakeholders from within the SPD and across Seattle’s diverse communities have a voice in the Consent Decree process. The Monitoring Team works with the City, the SPD, DOJ, and the Court to provide a framework for implementing the Decree. Likewise, the Monitoring Team organizes and leads meetings, discussions, and educational forums throughout Seattle to ensure that Seattle residents and police officers have an opportunity to participate in the reform process.
The Monitoring Team is not a substitute for the Chief of Police, other SPD command staff, the Mayor, or the City Council. We are not authorized to do the work of any City official, and we do not represent the SPD or the City. Similarly, the Monitoring Team is not an arm of the United States Department of Justice.
We do not represent, advocate for, or do the work of the Department of Justice. Instead, the Monitoring Team is an independent agent of Judge James L. Robart. Our role is strictly limited to overseeing implementation of the Consent Decree. The goal of the Monitoring Team is the goal of the Consent Decree: effective, safe, constitutional policing consistent with the values of Seattle's diverse and renaissance array of communities.
The Monitoring Team’s authority is restricted to what the Consent Decree authorizes. The Monitoring Team does not do anything that the Consent Decree does not authorize. In other words, we do not have the authority or the ability to weigh in on all police-related matters. Rather, our authority extends only to the issues addressed in the Consent Decree.
As an example, although the Monitoring Team assesses compliance with mandated reforms in the investigation and discipline of SPD officer misconduct, the Monitoring Team cannot bring, determine whether to bring, or recommend criminal charges against police officers accused of wrongdoing in specific cases. We are not a substitute for local or federal prosecutors.
The primary focus is on systemic policy changes that meet the standard of constitutional policing.
Likewise, the Monitoring Team cannot intervene in specific employment or disciplinary matters within the SPD. We do not conduct independent investigations of allegations of misconduct by SPD officers or make employment or disciplinary recommendations or decisions affecting SPD officers. Nor can the Monitoring Team make or override the employment-related decisions of the SPD, the City, or arbitrators. What we do is assess whether SPD administers its disciplinary process—from intake to investigation to outcomes—consistent with the requirements of the Consent Decree.
Additionally, while it is the Monitoring Team’s duty to evaluate whether SPD’s actions are consistent with the requirements of the Consent Decree, it is not appropriate for the Monitoring Team to interject itself into active crime scene investigations or to assume the role of SPD command staff by intervening in the performance of SPD officers’ duties. Under the terms of the Consent Decree, the Monitoring Team’s job is to assess SPD’s conduct, not direct it. The Consent Decree provides that the Monitor will only have the duties, responsibilities, and authority conferred by the Consent Decree.
At the outset, SPD was presumed not to be in compliance with any of the provisions of the Consent Decree. The whole purpose of the Consent Decree is to establish goals that SPD must achieve over time. The requirements of the Consent Decree have been set forth in a detailed annual Monitoring Plans. The Monitoring Plan establishes compliance deadlines for meeting those requirements. If SPD fails to satisfy a Consent Decree provision by the established deadline, without leave of the Court for an extension, the Monitoring Team will report such non-compliance to the public in written submissions to the Court-either in the biannual reports we are required to issue or, if necessary, in separate reports. The Court has the power to require SPD to comply. Judge Robart can order SPD and City officials to appear in court and require them to show cause why they are not in compliance. If SPD continues not to comply, the Court has the authority to exercise its powers to enforce compliance. As an example, Judge Robart can fine SPD and the City until they achieve compliance.
“Full and effective compliance” is a term of art. Its contours have become more clearly defined with the passage of time. It has both quantitative and qualitative aspects. The bedrock of the Consent Decree is a substantially improved relationship between the diverse communities of Seattle and SPD. It will become manifest when the SPD exhibits no tolerance for excessive force or biased policing and has systems in place to detect, track, and thoroughly and objectively consider use of force incidents, stops and detentions of civilians, allegations of discrimination, and the like. Likewise, it will become manifest when SPD officers fairly address allegations of unconstitutional misconduct. The DOJ, under its independent enforcement obligations, and the City of Seattle will work with the Monitor in determining how progress and compliance can be rigorously measured and verified.
After the SPD has achieved "full and effective compliance," it must remain in compliance for at least two more years until the Consent Decree is dismissed by the court. The Monitoring Team cannot currently anticipate when that point will be reached. Under the City’s and the SPD’s current leadership, good progress toward that end is being made. It is hoped that such progress will continue. Nevertheless, substantial challenges remain, with the Monitor and his team continually ready to assist SPD in reaching compliance–and to update the community and the Court as to its progress.
SPD has made substantial progress toward compliance from the inception of the Consent Decree. The Department has increased diversity in its workforce, implemented new operational policy and training, redesigned management systems, supervision, and analysis, adopted new accountability systems and processes, and elevated transparency through leading-edge analytics and publicly accessible open data. In addition, Seattle has designed and implemented a nationally recognized three-part accountability system composed of the Office of Police Accountability, the Office of Inspector General, and the Community Police Commission. These three entities are working collaboratively with the Monitor Team and DOJ and are participating in the production of the July/August 2021 Monitor Team Semi-Annual Report to the Court.
Yet to fulfill the vision and mandate of the community for sustainable change, more work needs to be done. A plan of action is needed, and the first set of questions I usually get from community members are: What are you working on to accelerate this change? How are you doing that work? When will it successfully end?
To start answering these questions, it is important to know that the role of the Monitoring Team is to advise the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington on the progress of Seattle to meet the requirements of the federal consent decree. The Monitoring Team’s scope of work has encompassed and continues to include developing measures and metrics for progress, assessing the capacity of Seattle to achieve goals, providing technical assistance on innovation, and reporting on progress.
To implement and actualize this progress, the Monitoring Team, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Justice, Seattle’s leadership, and community partners developed a Monitoring Plan and an Assessment Methodology to guide strategy and action this year. The 2021 Plan is organized around four key areas: evaluating the status of compliance; improving accountability, including both back-end and front-end accountability; providing technical assistance to support SPD innovation and risk management; and providing technical assistance to support re-imagining public safety. At the conclusion of this year, the Monitoring Team will issue a further report documenting steps taken and determining what, if any, improvements to Seattle policing will need to be addressed going forward.
An array of work is being done by the City of Seattle to not only put in place structures, policies, systems, training, and supervision that ensure compliance with the consent decree, but also drive innovation in areas such as bias-free policing, officer wellness, and community engagement.
A balanced approach will be taken in this evaluation, the basis of which will be performance-based termination – meaning that Seattle must not only be in full and effective compliance with the Constitutional and lawful benchmarks in the consent decree, but also that reform is durable – meaning the policies and practices must sustainably ensure accountability. Lastly, we must close out the consent decree with a firm foundation of community trust in the efficacy and legitimacy of the Seattle Police Department and the accountability partners including the Office of Police Accountability, the Office of Inspector General, and the Community Police Commission.
 See pages 7-10 of the 2021 Monitor Semi-Annual report
On May 18, 2021, the Governor signed 12 police reform bills into law that were passed by the Washington Legislature. The focus of the legislation is to improve policing in the state, reduce the use of deadly force and ensure that when deadly encounters do occur, the investigations are thorough and independent.
HOUSE BILL 1267
Included in the package was HB 1267 - sponsored by Rep. Debra Entenman, a measure that establishes a new Office of Independent Investigations within the governor's office to investigate police deadly force incidents that occur after July 1, 2022. The focus of this office will be to conduct competent, unbiased investigations of police use of excessive force. These investigations will be required to be truly independent of the involved law enforcement agency. Releasing such investigations from any hint of conflicts of interest will improve accountability, transparency and the public’s confidence.
The office will have the authority to investigate earlier incidents if new evidence becomes known. The office will have a director, a team of non-law enforcement investigators and be overseen by an 11-member advisory board. In addition to training on how to conduct criminal investigations, the investigators will also receive training on topics such as the history of racism in policing, implicit and explicit bias.
SENATE BILL 5051
SB 5051 - Sponsored by Sen. Jamie Pedersen will increase oversight and accountability requirements for the state’s law enforcement and corrections officers. It makes Sweeping changes to the state's Criminal Justice Training Commission (CJTC), which trains and certifies peace officers in Washington. Under this bill, CJTC's mission will expand to focus broadly on the integrity, effectiveness and professionalism of police officers with the goal of promoting public trust and confidence. To that end, the commission itself will expand from 16 to 21 members and add civilians so that the majority of the membership is made up of non-law enforcement representatives. CJTC's authority will also be expanded to give it the ability to temporarily suspend a police officer's certification and make it easier to decertify an officer for misconduct. The bill also expands background checks for would-be officers and creates a publicly searchable database of complaints and disciplinary actions against officers. One of the goals of the legislation is to prevent problematic officers from moving from department to department; it changes certification and background check requirements for police officer; requires more thorough internal reviews if there is misconduct by an officer; and requires more consistent reporting of such by law enforcement agencies. Under this legislation, the public may now see the results of internal investigations and know whether an officer was previously held accountable for misconduct.
HOUSE BILL 1054
HB 1054 - sponsored by Rep. Jesse Johnson - HB 1054 is a bill that bans the use of chokeholds and neck restraints by officers, restricts the use of tear gas by police, and prohibits police agencies from acquiring military equipment. The bill also requires uniformed officers to be identifiable to citizens, restricts vehicular pursuits except in certain exigent circumstances; and bans the use of no-knock search warrants. It creates a consistent statewide standard for these tactics, and provides greater oversight when officers employ them. Additionally, the bill creates a workgroup to develop a statewide policy on the training and use of police dogs and to respond to valid citizen concerns in that regard.
HOUSE BILL 1310
HB 1310 sponsored by Rep. Jesse Johnson- Concerning permissible uses of force HB 1310 establishes a "reasonable care" standard that requires officers to employ de-escalation tactics, use the least amount of physical force necessary and limits the use of deadly force to situations where there's an imminent threat of serious injury or death. The bill requires the Attorney General's office to publish model policies on use of force and de-escalation by July 1, 2022 and that by December 1 of that year all law enforcement agencies adopt policies consistent with that guidance.
SENATE BILL 5066
SB 5066 Sponsored by Senator Manka Dhingra - Establishes a requirement that officers intervene if they witness a fellow officer using excessive force and render first aid to the victim if needed. The bill also requires officers to report to a supervisor any wrongdoing they witness on the part of another officer. While individual departments may already have such policies in place, this creates a statewide mandate for all officers.
SENATE BILL 5259
SB 5259 - Sponsored by Senator T’Wina Nobles - Concerning law enforcement data collection.
SENATE BILL 5263
SB 5263 Sponsored by Senator David Frockt - Concerning defenses in personal injury and wrongful death actions
SENATE BILL 5353
SB 5353 Sponsored by Senator Steve Conway - Creating a partnership model that facilitates community engagement with law enforcement.
HOUSE BILL 1088
HB 1088 - Sponsored by Senator John Lovick - Concerning potential impeachment disclosures.
HOUSE BILL 1140
HB 1140 - Sponsored by Rep. Jesse Johnson - Concerning juvenile access to attorneys when contacted by law enforcement.
HOUSE BILL 1123
HB 1223 - Sponsored by Senator Jamie Pederson - Enacting the uniform electronic recordation of custodial interrogations act.
HOUSE BILL 1089
HB 1089 - Sponsored by Rep. Bill Ramos - Concerning compliance audits of requirements relating to peace officers.