A Department of Justice report showing that the Seattle Police Department (SPD) has a pattern and practice of excessive force made big headlines when it was released Dec. 16.
It could take more than a year before Seattle police and the Justice Department come to an agreement about how to resolve the problems within the force.
Seattle is one of fewer than 20 government departments to receive a pattern-and-practice finding from the Department of Justice since the process was signed into law in 1995, according to Bob Scales, director of government affairs at the city's law department.
Scales, the city council's Public Safety Committee, Deputy Mayor Darryl Smith and other city officials spoke by phone
Jan. 18 to explain how past jurisdictions have handled these reports.
Scales said there are three ways the city could respond to the report:
- a memorandum of agreement between the police and the Justice Department showing the actions SPD will take
- a court-ordered consent decree outlining what actions the police will take. An independent monitor will report to the court on the police department's work. After five years, if the police department has not resolved the issue, the consent decree could be extended
- a informal letter of agreement without formal court action or oversight.
Scales said the timeline on the process varies, but he described Seattle as in the very early stages.
Councilman Bruce Harrell, head of the Public Safety Committee, said that the city is serious about approaching this as a department-wide issue, even though the report said a minority of officers accounted for more than half of the excessive force incidents.
Harrell said police and city official should not consider this a case of a few bad apples.
"I think that really simplifies, and I think misses the mark," Harrell said. "Part of the work is what an institution tolerates and what an institution chooses to ignore."