Professional Standards Bureau

Timeline of Seattle Police Reform

The work of the Seattle Police Department is informed by five key priorities, which serve as the foundation for the work done by the Professional Standards Bureau.  These Priorities inform our policies, guide our hiring and set clear expectations for all SPD personnel. They are:

  1. Reduce Crime and Disorder: The Seattle Police Department strives to move beyond just responding to crime after it has occurred to proactively working toward reducing the opportunity for and disorder associated with criminal activity.  
  2. Service Excellence: Enforcing the law is only a portion of what the Seattle Police Department does each day.  Providing service to individuals happens much more frequently than arrests.  To this end the men and women of the Seattle Police Department are continuously looking for better and more effective ways to advance policing.
  3. Honor and Professionalism: Public trust, Courtesy, and Respect remain a top priority for the Department.  All SPD personnel understand that this is a shared responsibility and is critical in building strong relationships with the communities of Seattle.  
  4. Business Efficiency: SPD has a duty to administer the resources granted to it in a responsible and effective manner and is always looking toward implementing best business practices to provide effective and skillful police services.
  5. Data Driven Policies and Practices: Effective, modern policing is grounded in agile, data-driven strategies.  SPD is committed to using multi-disciplinary solutions for improving the livability of the City.  

The Professional Standards Bureau was created in 2013 and is headed by Assistant Chief Lesley Cordner who oversees the Training Section, the Audit, Policy & Research Section, the Force Review Unit and the Force Investigation Team.  Assistant Chief Cordner also chairs the Force Review Board (FRB), which is charged (per policy) with doing comprehensive reviews of selected Type II and all Type III Use of Force incidents and making recommendations based on those reviews.    

 

Sections of the Professional Standards Bureau

The Force Investigations Team

FIT

The Force Investigations Team (FIT) is a specialized investigative unit that was established as a result of the Consent Decree.  It is the responsibility of FIT to investigate selected Type II and all Type III Use of Force incidents, including Officer Involved Shootings.  FIT investigators are experienced Police Officers who have been assigned to the team based on their proven abilities to maintain the highest investigative standards and commitment to excellence.  In addition to their case work, FIT members receive ongoing, nationally recognized training on force investigations. 

FIT has a critical role in ensuring that the use of force investigations are thorough, objective and complete.  Investigators are trained to not only determine what happened in respect to the officer's application of force but all events and circumstances leading up to the incident. By policy, FIT investigators are required to respond to the scene of all officer-involved shootings, in-custody deaths, Type III use-of-force, Type II use-of-force when requested by a supervisor and serious assaults against an officer. Their role is to investigate the facts and circumstances surrounding the use-of-force.  This includes interviewing witnesses, both civilian and police, as well as (if possible) the subject involved in the use-of-force.  They collect and document both physical and video evidence (with the assistance of the Crime Scene Investigation Team.)  FIT investigators have 30 days to put together their case, which is then presented to the Force Review Board (FRB).  FIT is an independent investigative unit, not tied to the Office of Professional Accountability (OPA), however, representatives from OPA do observe various aspects of any FIT investigation.  FIT does not determine if the use-of-force applied by an officer was justified, legal or within Department policy.  Their role is to gather evidence and construct an unbiased and comprehensive case that lays out the circumstances of the incident.  If in the course of the FIT investigation, any potential misconduct is identified, FIT detectives are required to make a referral to OPA.

Community Role in Force Investigations

The community has a stake in the Force Investigation process and rightly has demanded a transparent and full accounting of the circumstances surrounding officer's application of force.  The FIT detectives are dependent on strong relationships with both members of the SPD and the community to carry out their responsibility of conducting an unbiased, comprehensive and accurate investigation relating to incidents where force is used. FIT investigators rely on and actively seek community input regarding observations made during the course of a use-of-force incident.  Anyone who has information regarding the use-of-force by a Seattle Police Department officer is encouraged to contact the FIT unit at 206-684-9292.  Community input is valued and by participating you are helping to improve the quality of services the department provides.

Force Review Unit

FRU Wheel

The Seattle Police Department is committed to a robust and consistent review of incidents involving use-of-force.  While reporting use-of-force has long been a requirement in most police agencies, ensuring reports were timely, accurate, and comprehensive has often been cited as lacking. The Force Review Unit (FRU), is charged with overseeing the internal review process to ensure that objective, thorough and timely reviews of all use-of-force cases are completed. 

All use-of-force reports are routed to the Force Review Unit and staff review each one to ensure that the standards set forth in the policy are met in the report.  Documenting and tracking Use-of-force reports is another large responsibility of the unit.  The Force Review Unit is also charged with preparing for and staffing the Force Review Board meetings.  These meeting are an important step in the process as they provide information that helps the organization identify potential problems, either with individual officers and/or internal process that need to be addressed.  As part of this the FRU is a key conduit in generating "lessons learned" to the wider department.

Force Review Board

FRB Considerations

The Force Review Board (FRB) is the official body that is charged with reviewing Type II Use-of-force incidents referred by the Force Review Unit and all Type III Use-of-force incidents including Officer Involved Shooting.  It is made up of internal SPD officers who serve a minimum term of 18 months.  The Board is chaired by the Assistant Chief of the Professional Standards Bureau. Members are selected based on their specialized knowledge regarding departmental policy, training and legality surrounding police use-of-force incidents.  Members of the FRB are required to attend a minimum eight (8) hours of annual training. The Force Review Board has a very specific mandate in their review of use-of-force incidents (to see specific requirements click here).  

In each review, the board also makes official recommendations regarding policy, training, or practices that need to be addressed.  These recommendations are routed to the appropriate section and are tracked to ensure that the needed changes are institutionalized.   Members from OPA, the Monitoring Team, Department of Justice and a Citizen Observer designated by the Mayor's Office attend the Force Review Board meetings.  Additionally, Consultants or Subject Matter Experts from outside the department may participate and/or observe the Force Review Board meetings.  These individuals are not voting members, but observe both the case presentation and deliberations.   At the conclusion of the FRB meeting the board must determine (by a vote of yes or no) if:

  • The tactics and decision-making was consistent with policy and training
  • The force used was objectively reasonable, necessary and proportional based on the totality of the circumstances
  • The force used was compliant with SPD use of force policy
  • The on-scene supervisor(s) provided appropriate tactical guidance and support
  • The investigation was thorough and complete and the evidence supported the reviewer's determination 

The findings of the Force Review Board are provided to the Monitoring Team, Department of Justice and the Community Police Commission.

Audit, Policy & Research Section

APRS graphic

The Audit, Policy & Research Section (APRS) is responsible for research, development and review of the policies that guide the work done by the Seattle Police Department.  Policies are anchored in:

  • legal and constitutional standards
  • best practices in the police profession
  • department and community values
  • best evidence & science and collaboration with subject matter experts

The Unit is also responsible for conducting audits to ensure the department is adhering to established practices and policies.

When a policy is under review or a new policy is being written, an APRS detective is assigned as the lead.  He/she begins by assembling a work group of subject matter experts, who provide guidance throughout the policy development phase.  An internal peer review is undertaken when the policy is still in draft form, once vetted through the smaller group, a Department-wide review is conducted.  This level of review has proven invaluable in identifying areas where language is vague and may leave officers uncertain about what the expectations are. Once the review process is complete, the policy is presented to Department Command Staff where it is discussed and reviewed, ultimately the decision to accept the policy is that of the Chief of Police. SPD share draft policies with the Community Police Commission for their input and comments. 

Training Section

Training graphic

The role of the Training Section is to develop and deliver training that provides officers with skills and knowledge to respond to the very complex and dynamic situations they encounter in the field.  The Training Section is responsible for:

  • Developing curricula and providing instruction to police officers after graduating from the Basic Law Enforcement Academy (BLEA) and prior to beginning their field training
  • Managing the Field Training Officer program for student officers coming out of the BLEA academy
  • Providing in-service training, including regular firearms training, to the Department's 1300+ sworn employees
  • Maintaining a records system to document the training provided;

De-escalation integrated into Use of Force Training

As the use-of-force policy has changed and evolved, SPD has had to rethink how Officers are being trained.  Expanding the skill set and options from the very onset of a police contact is the goal of the Use of Force training. When addressing use-of-force, the need to enhance officers' skills around de-escalation is an important part of the overall curriculum.  The training incorporates de-escalation and provides a strong skill-based component which challenges officers to integrate their skills into real world scenarios.  This scenario based training tests officers' abilities to draw from the full spectrum of "force options".  By design, each scenario includes an initial de-escalation decision point, as well as on-going requirements to continually consider and identify (under dynamic circumstances,) whether de-escalation is no longer feasible, or if de-escalation has become feasible because the subject's demeanor has changed.   Debriefs following each scenario examines de-escalation, crisis intervention techniques, communication techniques, LEED (Listen, Explain, Empathy, Dignity) principles, and a discussion about the tenants of procedural justice, specifically police legitimacy.  In the safety of the training environment, reviewing students' performance and providing specific feedback and direction, allows for a much fuller learning experience.  Ultimately officers complete training with improved confidence in their skills and how and when to use them.  

As the Department moves beyond the consent decree, the Training Section has adopted the model of first teaching skills then integrating those skills into real world scenarios.  This allows officers to experience the pratical application as well as reinforce and build on previous training.