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Seattle Police Finally Get Good Grade On Reform

Natalie Wilkie
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The federal monitor charged with overseeing reform of the Seattle Police Department says there’s finally reason for optimism.

“The glass is now looking half full to me rather than half empty,” Merrick Bobb said during a briefing before the Seattle City Council Public Safety Committee Wednesday. New Chief Gets High Marks

Bobb cites Seattle hiring Kathleen O’Toole as police chief as the main reason his pessimism has eased.

“Chief O’Toole is a very quick study, very sensitive to these issues, understands what’s going on and has a plan and program to deal with all this,” Bobb said.

Still Concerns About De-Policing

Questions remain, however, about how cops on the beat are reacting to policies intended to lessen the use of force. For several years now, Seattle police have been operating under the cloud of a federal court order, put in place after the U.S. Department of Justice found evidence of racially-biased policing.

What qualifies as use of force can be confusing, according to some council members. Council member Sally Clark told Bobb about riding along with police when a man was arrested for felony assault.

“The person who was arrested said, ‘Ouch, the handcuffs hurt,’ and there seems to be a lot of consternation among officers right now about what happens when the person says, ‘Ouch, my handcuffs hurt,’” Clark said.

There is some speculation that the confusion over the issue prompts police to avoid actively doing their job.

How Changes Are Like Finding Cheerios

But Bobb told the council a transition to a new way of doing things takes time. He likened the process to trying to find the cereal aisle in a brand new supermarket.

“And I think that’s sort of where we are right now. We’re entering the new supermarket and we don’t quite know where the Cheerios are, but they are there,” Bobb said.

But Bobb is collecting data to see if officers really are playing it too safe. He says he suspects it's more "myth than reality."

Paula is a former host, reporter and producer who retired from KNKX in 2021. She joined the station in 1989 as All Things Considered host and covered the Law and Justice beat for 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.