One way or another, the Seattle Police Department is going to look very different in the next 20 months.
Following a harsh review by the Department of Justice—which called SPD out for a pattern of excessive force and intimated there were signs of biased policing in the department—city leaders and SPD’s top brass are looking at a very real, and very costly takeover by the DOJ.
The department agrees that change needs to happen, but believes the most meaningful and lasting changes will come from within Seattle. That’s why today Mayor Mike McGinn, SPD Chief John Diaz and Assistant Chief Mike Sanford set a self-imposed deadline to finally make the reforms Seattle has been flirting with for decades.
“Don’t let a good crisis go to waste, that’s how we’re viewing this,” Mayor McGinn said, noting that the threat of a federal lawsuit and consent decree has “lent a sense of urgency” to the department’s reform efforts. “There’s opportunity in here, and we’re looking to seize that,” he said.
Rather than waiting for the DOJ to deliver a list of demands in the form of a legally enforceable consent decree, the police department has drawn up a far-reaching list of 20 reforms to police practices, policies, and procedures to be put in place over the next 20 months.
A number of high-profile incidents over the last few years have done a great deal of damage to the public’s trust of SPD. That has to be earned back through transparency, by improving public perception and bringing the police department into the 21st century.
That’s why the 20/20 plan’s extensive overhaul is all about smarter, more efficient, more accessible, and equitable policing.
“I’m committed to a police force that protects public safety, fights crime and treats every individual with dignity and respect,” Mayor McGinn said Thursday.
Under the 20/20 plan, officers will receive training emphasizing things like communication skills, as well as deescalation training so they’re better prepared for tough interactions out on the street, whether they’re dealing with a hostile crowd of protesters or individuals with mental illness and substance abuse issues.
The department will also take a data-driven and technology-based approach to public safety, allowing the department to better monitor, respond to, and proactively address crime before neighbors feel unsafe in their own homes.
Technical innovation will also allow the department to better track officers’ use of force, to make sure officers are properly using the authority the public has entrusted them with, and it will make public records and data even more accessible to the public.
The department is also making efforts to become more accessible to Seattle residents, both by giving officers more opportunities to meet and interact with neighbors in the precincts they patrol, and by engaging with the public on social media like Facebook and Twitter. Seattle deserves to be able to see and understand how and why the police department operates the way it does.
To make sure the community supports these reform efforts, the department has engaged with the Minority Executive Director’s Coalition (MEDC), which made 90 recommendations to SPD, many of which were incorporated into the 20/20 plan.
After standing at the side of Mayor McGinn and Chief Diaz as they unveiled the 20/20 plan Thursday, MEDC Board Member Estela Ortega called the interaction between the MEDC and SPD “historic.”
“Never have we had a mayor’s office and police department this committed to working with the community,” Ortega said, calling the SPD’s plan “a positive first step.” However, she cautioned, “we all know the devil is in the details.”
Mayor McGinn says he wants a department that “looks like Seattle,” and Chief Diaz says he wants “lasting and sustainable” changes. This is their chance to prove it, and these implementations are coming with or without the DOJ.
“At times we’ve fallen short,” Chief Diaz said Thursday. “The DOJ did bring up some issues we need to be better at, but many of these things are initiatives that we’ve been moving forward on because it’s the right thing to do. I want us to be at the forefront of all these issues. I’m hoping people see there’s a lot of weight behind this.”
Click here to view the full 20/20 plan, and watch the video below to see Mayor Mike McGinn, Chief Diaz and Assistant Chief Sanford discussing the reforms: