- Associated Press - Monday, December 15, 2014

SEATTLE (AP) - From new training programs to better record-keeping, the Seattle Police Department is making good strides toward reform, according to the court-appointed monitor for the efforts.

Merrick Bobb filed his latest semi-annual progress report with the U.S. District Court in Seattle on Monday. It said that while a lot of work remains, the department is making “sustained, positive” progress toward improvements required by a settlement agreement with the Justice Department two years ago.

Bobb’s team gave much of the credit to new Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole for her commitment to the reforms, and praised other city leaders as well, including Mayor Ed Murray. The report especially praised O’Toole for her hiring decisions, her involvement in a wide array of community meetings, and even her appearance in court before the federal judge overseeing the overhaul - “which her two immediate predecessors had pointedly not done,” it noted.

“If it continues on the path that it is now, the Monitor can say - for the first time - that SPD is likely to get the job done,” the report said.

Bobb noted that by the end of the year, all officers will have completed 32 hours of training on new use-of-force policies, as well as additional training on bias-free policing and dealing with those suffering from mental illness. He also says Seattle police are continuing to improve the way they document and report uses of force.

The city agreed in 2012 to make changes in the police department after the Justice Department found it had a “pattern or practice” of violating the civil rights of citizens. The DOJ said officers were too quick to use force, including using their batons and flashlights, even in situations that could have been defused verbally.

Though some officers have questioned the amount of paperwork required by new policies on reporting the use of force, data collected from April through September suggest police on average use force 1.5 times per day citywide - “suggesting that force reporting, investigation, and review requirements are not generally tying up substantial operational resources on any given day.”

The report said it wasn’t clear how long it would take before the monitor’s job is complete. Bobb said the team remains concerned with delays in the investigation of some use-of-force incidents and that department’s Force Review Board does not yet hold officers accountable for “unreasonable failure” to de-escalate, or calm, situations in which force could have been avoided.

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