Criminal Justice Reform

The Equal Justice and Opportunity Agenda

We must keep pushing for meaningful, impactful, and lasting police reform and a progressive justice system.

Goals: Increase public safety by continuing to build meaningful, impactful, and lasting police reform and building a progressive justice system centered on proven prevention, intervention, and restorative policies.

Approach: A city’s approach to public safety and criminal justice is one of the most visible expressions of our values. We will continue to combat crime and ensure that all communities, in all parts of our city are safe.  However, to truly enhance public safety, we must focus on: increasing and expanding prevention efforts that address root causes of crime and give people real opportunities to succeed, embracing successful interventions that reduce violence and divert people from the criminal justice system, ensuring accountable law enforcement, and supporting those who have been incarcerated to re-enter society and reclaim their lives.

All of these efforts must be developed and implemented with input and leadership from Seattle neighborhoods and communities – who not only live the consequences of our current systems but best understand and know what solutions work in their communities. We must acknowledge that institutionalized racism and other bias are factors throughout the criminal justice system and work to eradicate them.

A number of encouraging collaborative, community-led efforts are having a positive impact across Seattle. Organizations are utilizing credible messengers to connect with young people and working with people who are transitioning back into society to get the services and support they need. They are working with law enforcement and other first responders to improve crisis intervention efforts and embrace trauma-informed approaches, especially with young people.  And they are providing the types of alternatives to incarceration that get to root causes with the recognition that we are not going to prosecute and jail ourselves out of society’s failures to support, nurture, educate and protect the well-being of members of our community.

Fundamentally, we must move away from a model of arrest and detention of juveniles. That requires providing alternative supportive placements for youth that will help us achieve the goal of zero youth detentions. In 1996, the average detention population at the detention center was 190. In 2016, it was approximately 51 (a 73% reduction). To continue to reduce youth detentions, we also need to work with the County and State to support dedicated child welfare, family services and restorative justice programs.  The City must not just be a strong partner, but lead on these issues.

As we increase and expand prevention efforts, elevate successful interventions, and support those who are transitioning from prison, we also recognize that the Seattle Police Department (SPD) has been operating under a Court-ordered consent decree for the past several years. The consent decree required significant reforms to be enacted — new use of force policies and trainings that emphasize de-escalation, a new approach to how officers interact with people experiencing mental crisis, new supervision and oversight with community involvement. These changes were necessary to improve the police department and, as a result, SPD now has:

  • Systemic policy changes that require officers to de-escalate a situation if they are able – something community members demanded for 25 years.
  • A requirement to carry a less-lethal alternative like a taser.
  • Crisis intervention training for all officers (which didn’t exist before and was developed with community members and mental health experts).
  • Real community input and oversight through the Community Police Commission.
  • A decrease in uses of force overall – including a 60 percent reduction of the most serious uses of force – and a significant decline in force used against people in crisis. With approximately 9,300 crisis responses reported last year, 149 (1.6%) involved any use of reportable force. And in 99.6% of those cases, officers used the lowest level of force (which they were not even documenting before the decree). Overall, uses of force against people in crisis represented 15% of all incidents in which SPD officers used force, a significant reduction from the 70% during the Department of Justice investigation.
  • More transparent, professional and Court-monitored investigations of officer involved shootings
  • A requirement that data on police stops and all uses of force be collected and reviewed to ensure constitutional policing and reduction of bias

Seattle Police Department Type II and III Use of Force (moderate ad serious)

Community trust can be earned or lost with every officer interaction. We must keep pushing and evaluating if policies, training, and oversight are working in practice and to make sure the community has a voice in that process. The job is not done.

Policy Proposals: To meet our goals of continuing to build meaningful, impactful, and lasting police reform and a progressive justice system centered on proven prevention and intervention policies, we will: (1) continue to build an accountable, diverse police department, (2) focus on young people with a spectrum of support and opportunities, especially for those disconnected from school or in the justice system, (3) provide more effective alternatives to incarceration, and (4) restore rights and assist with re-entry.

1.  Build an Accountable and Diverse Police Department

We must continue to deliver on meaningful and lasting police reforms. The reforms required by the consent decree and overseen by the federal Court created a foundation for an accountable police department that serves the public and enhances public safety in a way that is consistent with our community values and the Constitution.

  • Bring the consent decree and Court oversight to a successful close and transition the Seattle Police Department (SPD) to the new civilian-led accountability system with ongoing community oversight, transparency, and embedded processes for continual improvement.
  • Focus explicitly on the disparate impacts of policing on people of color, LGBTQ, and marginalized communities, and ensure progress by dedicating resources and responsibility for this mission in the new Office of Inspector General.  We must be honest and transparent in evaluating the data, acknowledge racial disparities that exist, and urgently change this dynamic.
  • Continue and enhance anti-bias training developed in partnership with community members, including building on the currently required off-site trainings with regular formal trainings and modules on explicit and implicit biases for all officers at roll calls.
  • Expand officer training on how to respond to situations involving individuals with mental health issues, substance-induced crises, or developmental disabilities. Include Community Police Commission members on the Crisis Intervention Committee (CIC), which is tasked with regularly evaluating and updating policies and trainings, as a vital link back to the community around these efforts, and ensure community organizations can place issues of concern with respect to policing of people with behavioral health issues onto the agenda of the CIC.
  • Increase and improve connections between SPD and communities in Seattle, including revitalizing community foot and bike patrols, safety officers and crime prevention specialists.
  • Continue working with the state Criminal Justice Training Center to institutionalize training and policies that emphasize police as guardians of the community, not warriors.
  • Pass De-Escalate Washington’s Initiative 940 to change the impossible legal barrier for charging police officers who wrongfully shoot people and to require de-escalation and implicit bias training for all officers. This Initiative builds on the work done at SPD to emphasize and train officers in de-escalation and adopt new approaches to people in crisis.
  • Revamp the North Precinct project and explore a solution of multiple, smaller north end precincts as well as better community relations.  Target cost savings to prevention and diversion programs.
  • Increase diversity within the Police Department by enacting SPD recruitment recommendations from the Community Police Commission to (1) “create a comprehensive recruiting plan that builds a pipeline of potential applicants from Seattle’s diverse racial and ethnic communities, and LGBTQ community (2) “ensure more inclusive and transparent outcomes in the selection process,” and (3) “increase student officers’ cultural awareness and community engagement skills.”
  • Challenge the barriers created by Initiative 200, passed in 1998, by moving forward immediately to correct the disparity that has led to hiring inequities and lack of diversity at SPD.

2. Focus on Young People

We must prioritize investments in a spectrum of support and opportunities for young people, especially those disconnected from school or in the justice system. We will prioritize effective strategies that dramatically reduce youth detentions and prevent youth violence, particularly the community-based and community-led efforts and neighborhood networks that have been built over many years. As a City partner, we must expand meaningful opportunities for young people by engaging neighborhood stakeholders and build on the knowledge and expertise that exist in our communities.

  • Continue progress to significantly reduce youth detention by funding promising prevention programs and restorative justice efforts, and by supporting innovative, community-based diversion options where after successful participation youth can have their cases dismissed or resolved without a criminal record or detention. The City can be a critical partner in developing these efforts, evaluating whether they are working, and, if so, taking them to scale. Cost, language, and cultural barriers for such programs need to be removed.
  • Support and explore expansion of Rainier Beach’s highly successful, community-based “A Beautiful Safe Place for Youth” initiative that identifies and addresses place-based causes of youth victimization and crime and increases non-arrest interventions. Seek out other comprehensive, community problem-solving efforts to serve as models for replication and scaling.
  • Expand on the community collaboration model established through the Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative in the three most impacted neighborhoods: Southeast, Southwest and the Central Area. Build on the neighborhood network concept established through this initiative to ensure that young people are supported beyond their teens and into young adulthood.
  • Support the Community Consortium of racially diverse community leaders developing community-based diversion proposals in South Seattle in dialogue with the King County Prosecutor.
  • Address the realities and consequences of displacement to work with neighboring jurisdictions to help establish and support similar programs in their communities.
  • Work with Seattle Public Schools, businesses, community based organizations, labor, and faith communities to increase out of school learning opportunities, summer jobs and career pathways for all youth, especially young people of color and those experiencing multiple barriers.

3. Provide More Effective Alternatives to Incarceration

As a community, we have committed to providing alternatives to prosecution and incarceration through drug and mental health courts, and by piloting efforts to keep low-level offenders, often with addictions and untreated mental health issues, out of jail and in treatment. Jails and emergency rooms are increasingly becoming our way of housing individuals with such challenges.  Any unnecessary trip to jail can interrupt Medicaid benefits, remove homelessness priority for housing, and expose individuals to immigration enforcement.  Approaches like Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) have shown it can be more effective and less damaging to resolve many low-level law violations in the community. We must increase our investments in proven alternatives to incarceration.

  • Expand to all precincts diversion programs like Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD), the pre-booking diversion program developed with the community that gives officers the ability to redirect certain low-level offenders to community-based services, instead of jail and prosecution.
  • Explore city- and county-based reforms to eliminate unnecessary and detrimental pretrial detentions. To reduce harms and costs associated with incarceration prior to any conviction, we should not base pretrial detention determinations on financial status.
  • Institute a graduated scale for Municipal Court fines based on ability to pay, and create more productive ways to discharge these obligations without cash, so that people with lower incomes do not get buried in court or ticket debt.

4. Restore Rights and Support Re-Entry

Currently, too many released from incarceration return to the criminal justice system.  It is well recognized that real economic opportunities and supportive living environments can dramatically reduce this cycle.  Strong re-entry programs are not just the right thing to do for the people and families impacted – they increase public safety and reduce taxpayer costs.   We must support those who are transitioning back into the community and help them develop fulfilling lives, including partnering with government, non-profit and community efforts that assist in re-entry, restore rights, develop skills, and remove barriers.

  • Work with federal, state and county resources to provide a unified system for identifying and obtaining benefits for individuals, before they are released from incarceration. Often individuals are eligible for a range of benefits that can help support their re-entry, and reduce costs to the city for supportive services. But navigating the fragmented system is daunting and can require complicated paperwork and visits to multiple government offices. Improving this process will increase opportunities for successful re-entry and provide other sources of revenue to assist in holistic efforts.
  • Voting rights of those convicted of felonies are restored automatically in Washington, but those affected are not automatically registered on the voter rolls. We need blanket restoration and automatic registration. The City must be a partner with non-profits and others working with formerly incarcerated individuals to get registered to vote and civically engaged.
  • Establish a re-entry and diversion coordinator to work directly with the county on re-entry and diversion programs to ensure Seattle services and programs are maximized to assist the re-entry population.  Seattle must further align efforts with county and community partners to create pathways to workforce opportunities, education, and housing.
  • Explore partnerships with and expansion of pre-apprenticeship programs like Pre-Apprenticeship Construction Education (PACE), a construction training program focused on preparing people for the construction trade apprenticeship programs and careers in the construction industry.  This provides a real pathway to better opportunities.

 — Jenny Durkan