The Seattle Consent Decree: Excessive or effective force in police reform?

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Police reform
Consent decree
Use-of-force theory
Procedural justice

The main objective of this research project was to evaluate and critically analyze the United States Department of Justice’s (USDOJ) effort to reform the Seattle Police Department through the use of a “Consent Decree,” pursuant to the provisions of 42 U.S.C. Section 14141. By examining the history, origin and use of Section 14141 with respect to other jurisdictions in general and Seattle in particular, an understanding of the effectiveness of this externally mandated reform effort emerged. Data compiled from interviews, court filings, public reports and media accounts support the conclusion that substantive, sustainable reform has been achieved as a result of the adoption of the federal Consent Decree between the City of Seattle and the USDOJ, at least as it relates to updated policies and practices involving police use-of-force, “stop and frisks,” and biased policing, as well as investigations of uses-of-force and reviews of those incidents. However, questions remain as to the long-term effectiveness of the reform effort on the culture of the Seattle Police Department and its ability to sustain the reform efforts into the future. Further, the data support that there is great potential for future DOJ externally-imposed reform efforts to be successful if the USDOJ enhances its efforts to engage in a holistic approach to police reform and if the DOJ uses police use-of-force theory in its application and enforcement of Section 14141 investigations, findings and litigation efforts. The research also indicates benefits to USDOJ reform efforts through the creation of a new “Police Reform Section” within the Civil Rights Division to replace the USDOJ’s reliance on its Special Litigation Section to enforce Constitutional policing on a systemic level within the United States.

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This thesis may be printed or downloaded for non-commercial research and scholarly purposes. Copyright remains with the author.
David MacAlister
Arts & Social Sciences: School of Criminology
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) Ph.D.