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Council Approves Bias-Free Policing Law

SEATTLE – Council approved legislation today by a vote of 8-0 to codify the Seattle Police Department’s (SPD) policies on bias-free policing, making it a permanent part of the City of Seattle’s Municipal Code. Seattle will be one of the first major cities to, and will for the first time, codify the SPD’s policy:

  • Prohibiting police officers from engaging in biased policing
  • Creating a private right of action for persons alleging that they are a victim of biased policing
  • Requiring SPD to provide training on the policies
  • Collecting specific data regarding Terry stops and traffic stops and
  • Making such data available to an audit

“I drafted this law to ensure bias-free policing is permanent, providing assurances for the future even after the police department is no longer under the scrutiny of a Federal Monitor or Federal Judge. The City is committed to providing bias-free policing to all residents,” said Council President Bruce Harrell. “I know firsthand from friends, families, and community members that racial profiling is a concern we must openly address. We have to clearly define our expectations of SPD, and we must hold our police officers to the highest standard. SPD’s mission statement echoes the golden rule of, ‘treating people the way you want to be treated.’ Good policing, protecting our streets, enforcing our laws, being proactive, and engaging with the community are fully consistent with the bias-free policing law.”

Councilmember M. Lorena González said, “I believe this legislation is the first step of many needed to make sure that every person in our city is treated fairly by our Seattle Police Department. During a decade of service as a civil rights attorney, I witnessed first-hand the consequences of our racial-biased policing system and the harm inflicted on the communities of those predominantly affected. With that being said, I am proud to be among the first of very few major cities to codify bias-free policing and make the ordinance a permanent one for our city. Today’s vote should serve as a signal to Seattleites everywhere that the city stands firm in our commitment to bias-free policing for all residents, at all times. While I recognize that there is more work to be done, Bias-Free Policing is a step in the right direction needed to dismantle the systemic disparities embedded in our society.”

The existing SPD bias-free policing policy has been in place since January 1, 2015, approved by both the DOJ Federal Monitor and the Federal Judge as part of the Consent Decree process. All officers have received training on this policy. The policy corrected three systemic deficiencies identified by the DOJ Investigation Team:

  • the failure to adequately collect data necessary to assess allegations of discriminatory policing;
  • the failure to develop adequate policies and procedures; and,
  • the failure to develop appropriate training curricula that properly addresses the potential for implicit bias.

The in-practice policy makes it clear that officers may not use race, ethnicity, or national origin in determining reasonable suspicion or probable cause unless it is a component of a suspect’s description. Officers must be responsible for knowing and following the policy and are required to report incidents of bias-based policing. The policies also place responsibility and accountability not only on the officer who engages in discriminatory policing but also on supervisors, commanders, and civilian managers.

“I am proud of the fact Seattle is introducing legislation at the local level for us to look at and at least identify the patterns and practices of police officers,” said Gerald Hankerson, President of Seattle King County National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. “We need to stop racial profiling and end the injustice.”

“At Columbia Legal Services, our client populations disproportionately come from the communities the bias-free policing ordinance is designed to protect,” said Hillary Madsen of Columbia Legal Services. “Everyone knows that who gets stopped by policy is highly problematic. Better data is necessary to find effective solutions so we are especially excited about the requirement in the bias-free policing ordinance for gathering data on Terry and traffic stops. Addressing disparities at the time of the initial stop ultimately reduces disparities and mass incarceration.”

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