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Surpassing Reform: SPD’s Commitment to Accountability and Transparency

Tomorrow, the new monitor overseeing Seattle’s federal consent decree will file a monitoring plan with the court for the next year. SPD collaborated in developing this plan and will continue engagement with the monitor, City, and federal partners, to continue to ensure SPD is a model for a new era in policing. This plan formalizes SPD deliverables. SPD has not been idly waiting for this guidance; instead, SPD has continued to learn from experience, to adjust, and to innovate.

Lessons Learned and Moving Forward
Summer 2020 presented unimagined challenges. SPD and the communities we serve must rethink how to work together to ensure the expression of First Amendment rights in a safe and equitable way. The evolving nature of demonstrations and protests must be accompanied by modulated police responses.

SPD will soon file annual revisions to policies that reflect lessons learned this summer, along with recommendations from the city’s accountability partners. Recent outcomes prove SPD’s adaptations effective: while demonstrations, often involving significant destruction of public/private property, occur almost nightly, very few over the past four months have involved any use of force. SPD has not used a blast ball since September 26, 2020 and has not used any other tool except personal pepper spray since October 3rd, 2020. I will continue to speak against real acts of violence and destruction that require SPD intervention. I meet that with a pledge of full accountability for any SPD personnel who have acted inconsistent with policy or law.

The Office of Police Accountability has received over 19,000 complaints connected to demonstrations, resulting in over 140 investigations, with about 50 investigations completed. I have issued discipline decisions in sustained cases. SPD is participating in the Office of Inspector General’s Sentinel Event Review. From OPA’s reviews of incidents and the OIG’s holistic evaluation, SPD welcomes recommendations to further inform SPD’s policies and training. The Community Police Commission, tasked by the 2017 Accountability Ordinance to engage and coordinate the voices of Seattle’s communities, has likewise undertaken renewed initiative to address matters of policy. The City’s accountability system is working.

Refocusing Policing
There is an urgency around creating an all-of-government and community response to social crises. The police have become the safety net after other systems have failed. It is time to invest in these systems and hold them equally accountable. I am grateful for the work of my SPD leadership team, along with the direction and support of Mayor Durkan, to reimagine how public safety is achieved.

SPD has engaged a team of experts to inform our work. The National Institute of Criminal Justice Reform is examining 911 calls to identify future community-led responses. The Center for Policing Equity is conducting the deep-dive we enthusiastically accepted in late 2019 to be a pilot site for their new Compstat for Justice process. CPE will use data to identify bias in police policies and practices, devise changes, and evaluate outcomes. We are leveraging earlier city investments during the consent decree — to ensure we could produce necessary data — to enhance our efforts at transparency, efficiency, and accountability. These efforts are aligned with the Mayor’s Executive Order on reimagining public safety.

SPD’s Commitments
In my first five months as Chief, I have made it clear that my career-long commitment to intensive community engagement is now the department’s commitment. SPD members are participating in numerous community reconciliation sessions. We launched a platform to collect direct community feedback on new and revised policies. We assisted OPA in providing a public dashboard on complaint data. I’ve taken a dozen community walks — with more to come — meeting leaders, residents, and business owners, to hear and see their concerns.

While I take no pleasure in it, during these months, I have terminated four officers. Lying, violating community trust, and any hint of bias or racism, will consistently be met with that same level of accountability. The Department supports Mayor Durkan in her advocacy for a statewide change in arbitration rules — once a chief reaches the decision to terminate employment, that decision should stand unless reached unfairly.

In recent weeks, I have directed my team to undertake a comprehensive review of how to ensure the department is not infiltrated by racism or extremism. This means engaging local, national, and international experts on strategies for hiring, training, and supporting employees so they are inoculated against the real trauma of this work that can make some vulnerable to radicalization.

Current Challenges & Opportunities
As we undertake a broader approach to public safety reform, we remain mindful that attention must also be paid to the impact of the daily realities of their work on officers’ health and wellness. Every day, officers respond to calls involving death, suffering, and personal devastation. It is often said that “the expectation that police can be immersed in suffering and loss daily and not be touched by it is as unrealistic as expecting to walk through water without getting wet.” This is at the core of the Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act of 2017, signed into law in January 2018 with broad bipartisan support. I am proud that despite the challenges of this year SPD was able to establish a dedicated Wellness Unit to support a culture of resilience and to make sure that we are doing our part to mitigate the inherent trauma of the job on our officers. Attending to the health and wellness of our employees is not merely the right thing to do, it is at the core of ensuring the fair, equitable, and effective delivery of police services.

In the face of these structural and procedural changes, crime continues. SPD officers have addressed a historic rise — seen across the country — in homicides and gun violence. In 2020, they took over 1,000 guns off the street for the fourth straight year, cleared a majority of homicide cases, and brought the numbers down from summer highs.

This work is being done in the midst of a true staffing crisis, an historic mid-year budget cut, and ever-pending additional cuts. Make no mistake: without appropriate funding to ensure continued training and staffing, it is not just frontline patrol response that are threatened, but the core infrastructure established under the consent decree to support continued reform. The Consent Decree explicitly recognizes this point, requiring the City to provide SPD with the necessary support and resources to meet and sustain its obligations.

Reform is not an end-goal; it is an ongoing process of critical, iterative review grounded in a commitment to continuous improvement and innovation. The purpose of the Consent Decree was not to have SPD meet a goal and stay there, but rather to cement into the department’s DNA this drive for continual reform. This means that when we stumble, we will right ourselves and recommit to moving forward. SPD is charting a clear path of exceeding the goals of the consent decree and meeting the expectations of the Seattle community. My commitment is that the Seattle Police Department — grounded in fairness and humanization — will be the model for exceptional policing that everyone deserves. I welcome the partnership of all.

Adrian Z. Diaz
Chief of Police
Seattle Police Department