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: