Can Seattle Police Be Reformed?

     No longer “Sleepless in Seattle,”the city has woken up. In an historic  settlement, a federal judge recently approved a plan between the city of Seattle and the  U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to reform the city’s police department. This came about following a scathing report that found that Seattle officers routinely used excessive force against citizens.

It all began in November, 2010, when the ACLU requested the Department of Justice to begin a civil rights investigation in Seattle regarding “unnecessary violent confrontations” against minorities. In March, 2011 the DOJ begin their investigation. In March, 2012 the city issued their own plan for reform in their document “20/20: A Vision For the Future.” This document outlined 20 major initiative that the department and city was going to take in a period of 20 months. It appears to be a good report but short on the how-to-do-it.  The U.S. Attorney though so, too, and  after her review of the document, stated in was a “good start” but needed more detail.

Finally, last month, an agreement between the city and the DOJ was made with the provision that the court would approve the final plan and the monitor.

This is a unique opportunity in the police field to observe (again) the result of a court-imposed reform of a major police department. Will it work? We’ll see.

In my experience, it took just about 10 years to reform the Madison Police Department and another 10 years to put things strongly in place so that the changes I made would be sustained beyond my tenure. Those reform efforts are detailed in my new book, “Arrested Development.

We must remember that police departments are notoriously effective in resisting change and reform. Whether or not a court-appointed monitor (as suggested by the federal judge in this case) will be effective in creating positive and lasting change remains to be seen.

In the meantime, I hope that Seattle citizens, and those of us interested in the improvement of our nation’s police, will keep a close watch on what happens. And when reform doesn’t seem to be happening, to speak out.

For more on this subject, an article in the Seattle Times, and links to the various reports see:

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About improvingpolice

I served over 20 years as the chief of police in Madison (WI), four years as chief of the Burnsville (MN) Police Department, and before that as a police officer in Edina (MN) and the City of Minneapolis. I hold graduate degrees from the University of Minnesota and Edgewood College in Madison. I have written many articles over my years as a police leader calling for police improvement (for example, How To Rate Your Local Police, and with my wife, Sabine, Quality Policing: The Madison Experience). After retiring from the police department, I answered a call to ministry, attended seminary, and was ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church. At the present time, I serve a small church in North Lake (WI), east of Madison. Sabine and I have nine adult children, eleven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. She is also a retired police officer and we both continue active lives.

7 Responses to “Can Seattle Police Be Reformed?”

  1. Will the other police deapartments like NYPD, Tampa Police, the Hillsborough Sheriff County, the law enforcement agencies at the Republican National Convention a few years ago will learn from the lessons of Seattle debacle or are they just going to learn from what happened at the National Republican Convention like pre-empative police raids. I don’t know why they are using the National Guard for policing duties at Tampa? To me, it is clear that the National Guard is being used again to crush all kinds of political and labor union activities like in the 19th cand 20th centuaries

    • Again, it is the point I make in my book about the militarization of our nation’s police after 9/11. There must be a strong separation between local police and the military. T think it’s what the Founders had in mind. Nevertheless, it is a disturbing trend that needs oversight.

      • We all know there should be a separation between the local police and the military. The problem is the local police have now become the military for the One Percent. And the police like it. You cannot reform a group that derives its source of income from a segment of the population that controls most of a society’s wealth and is hell bent on taking the rest. I predict that there is a gulf so wide between the 99 Percent and the local police that when economic times get so bad that people are going hungry, the local police won’t dare leave their homes in a blue uniform much less SWAT black fatigues. Don’t believe me? Go look at the comments on the YouTube videos about police abuse. The people are seething. The ones that are taking videos with their iPhone now will be packing heat and looking for payback.

      • I hope you’re wrong. But I think I know what you are talking about. The more police find themselves (take themselves) away from the community, the more dangerous their job is. The kind of “new” police I am talking about on this blog and in my book are the kind of police that will not let that happen because they will represent the 99%. I hope my vision for police becomes a reality (today’s blog) and that your’s doesn’t. Peace. And thanks for replying!

  2. I agreed with Bob A. If Americans really took the Second Amendment the right to bear arms to heart, I guarntee the police officers and the military would think twice about violating people’s rights and protecting corporations unless they want to end up six foot deep grave. If that happen 100 years ago, police corruption would never have existed in the first place.

  3. I also agreed with Bob A. about the police siding with the 1%. If you recall the Republican National Convention, the Republican Party set up a special fund to help the police with legal expenses if the police got sue for violating people’s rights. To me that is clear evidence that the police is willing to be a whore for the Republican Party and Corporate America plus being a private police force while at the same time they want the taxpayers to paid their salaries and benefits including a pension.

    • What is also scaring me is how many police agencies are turning into intelligence gathering machine and using the data to suppress people instead of using it to fight crime. The NYPD from what I have been reading as turn into another inteilligence agency (we have too many of them as it is).

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