SEATTLE — A federal judge ruled Wednesday that Seattle’s police department is in “full and effective compliance” with court-ordered reforms imposed on the city more than five years ago.
The ruling from U.S. District Judge James Robart marks a milestone recognizing the city’s efforts since entering a consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department to address allegations that officers had routinely used excessive force and shown troubling evidence of biased policing.
Robart granted a motion filed by the city in September seeking to be found in compliance with the agreement. The DOJ and Community Police Commission, a citizen body created as part of the consent decree, joined in the city’s request.
The city has worked to overhaul nearly all aspects of its police department, including how officers are trained, how and when they use force, and how such episodes are documented and reviewed.
Next for the city is a two-year review period in which it must show the sweeping reforms are maintained.
“Fulfilling Phase I is an enormous milestone and one in which the city and SPD should take pride,” Robart wrote. “Nevertheless, the court cautions the city and SPD that this does not mean their work is done.”
The Justice Department began investigating Seattle police following a series of questionable uses of force, including the unjustified shooting of a Native American woodcarver after he crossed the street in front of a patrol car in 2010.
A year later, DOJ attorneys said they had found that officers were too quick to resort to force, especially in low-level situations.
Police brass and city officials initially disputed the DOJ’s assertions but then entered the consent decree in 2012 after difficult negotiations. The move was aimed at reducing unnecessary uses of force, curbing biased policing and improving residents’ trust.
The department began to move toward compliance under the leadership of former police Chief Kathleen O’Toole, an ex-Boston police commissioner who was hired by Seattle in 2014.
A series of assessments have documented the changes, including what court-appointed monitor Merrick Bobb described as a stunning drop in how often officers use serious force — with no increase in crime or officer injuries.
Still, Bobb filed court papers in September telling Robart the city hadn’t met all of its obligations in the decree.
The city argued in its motion that it had successfully completed all 10 key assessments conducted by the monitor and that Bobb was seeking more than required.
Interim Police Chief Carmen Best, who has said she wants the permanent job, inherits the responsibility of maintaining the reforms.
New Mayor Jenny Durkan — who was the U.S. attorney in Seattle when the DOJ found the police deficiencies_has pledged to carry out the changes.