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Seattle
Saturday, November 27, 2021

Seattle City Council Approves Bias-Free Policing Law

On Monday, The Seattle City Council, by a vote of 8-0, approved legislation 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 City Councilmember Bruce Harrell

As a result, 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,” Harrell continued. “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.”

Hillary Madsen of Columbia Legal Services believes the legislation is a step in the right direction.

“Our client populations disproportionately come from the communities the bias-free policing ordinance is designed to protect,” said Madsen. “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.”

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. According to officials, 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,
  • 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.

Seattle City Councilmember Lorena González

“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,” said Councilmember M. Lorena Gonzalez. “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.”

“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,” she added. “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.”

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