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Seattle must do more to address ‘imperative’ accountability issues within SPD, judge rules

Parker Miles Blohm

A federal judge ruled Wednesday that the City of Seattle is partially out of compliance with court ordered reform of its police department. U.S. District Judge James Robart said the city has a ways to go in terms of accountability, despite improvement in other areas.

The city has been operating under a consent decree for seven years, following a U.S. Department of Justice finding of biased policing and excessive use of force. Robart oversees the consent decree.

While praising the department for its work at improving areas such as use of force and crisis intervention, Robart said "it's imperative to deal with these accountability issues."

Robart cited the case of an officer who punched a woman while she was handcuffed. The officer was fired by the city, but later reinstated through arbitration, which is allowed in the police union contract. The judge said the reinstatement called into question Seattle's ability to discipline officers effectively. He said the process needs to be fixed for the city to be in full compliance with the consent decree.

Mayor Jenny Durkan says Seattle will review the ruling and look at its options. Addressing reporters, she underscored what the judge said Seattle is doing right.

"I know while many of you will focus on the areas where the judge had concerns, I think that where he said we are in compliance I am very, very heartened by it," Durkan said.

It was Durkan who, as U.S. attorney in Seattle, spearheaded the 2012 consent decree with the city that required the police department to address allegations that officers engaged in a pattern of excessive force and displayed troubling evidence of biased policing.  

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.