Seattle Council Approves Bias-Free Policing Bill

by Sharayah Lane

Seattle City Council continued its efforts toward police reform on Monday, unanimously passing bias-free policing legislation.

The council bill comes one year after Councilmember Bruce Harrell proposed drafting legislation that would clearly lay out SPD policies on bias-free policing and develop a private right of action for victims of law enforcement discrimination.

The legislation brings forth a clear cut policy prohibiting officers from engaging in biased policing and creates a new path of action for victims of such policing to bring their grievance before the courts. It also seeks to remedy the lack of data collection.  The Seattle Police Monitor assessment found that “unfortunately none of the sources of data on arrests was comprehensive enough to allow us to investigate the question of the use of force as deeply as necessary.”

The bill explicitly defines “biased policing” as:

selective enforcement or non enforcement of the law … to adversely affect or differentiate between or among individuals or groups of individuals because of race, ethnicity, ancestry, religion, national origin, color, creed age, alienage or citizenship status, immigration status, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability or political ideology rather than reasonable suspicion grounded in specific and articulable facts or probable cause that the individual has been or is about to be involved in a crime.

NAACP president Gerald Hankerson was present at Monday’s vote and said that he isn’t entirely sold on the bill’s effectiveness just yet.

 “This is a first step. But what happens when the bill passes and after they do the data and track the behavior of the police we then find out that there is bias policing? Then what is the next step of how we are going to penalize and hold those folks accountable?” Hankerson asked.

“This is just a step that allows us to track things that our community already knows: that police are racist, they target our community and when it comes to black folks they automatically feel like their lives are in danger and see us as a threat,” he added.

Biased policing will now also be prohibited during Terry stops, the temporary detention of a person an officer believes is involved in committing a crime. Individuals will now have the ability to dispute these types of stops if it is found that bias was at play during any point.

Although this legislation was a year in the making it comes after strained relations between SPD and Seattle’s communities of color.

Just last month, two white police officers shot and killed Charleena Lyles in her apartment complex, with her children present. On a recoding, the officers can be heard conversing about Lyles’ mental health history before arriving on the scene.

In addition to the passage of Monday’s legislation, Mayor Ed Murry announced that he would be issuing an executive order for all SPD officers to begin wearing body cameras immediately.

“We can no longer deprive Seattle of this important tool to provide a detailed record of what happens during critical incidents; a public record that will hold police officers accountable to their own high standards and our community’s important expectations,” said Murray in a statement.

Through the creation of a private right of action for victims of biased policing, the bill states that victims would have a right to a restraining order and “the court may also award actual damages and allow reasonable attorney’s fees and costs including expert fees to the prevailing party”.

The newly implemented data collection is also a critical component as the Department of Justice and the Seattle Police Monitor (SPM) found SPD’s data collection to be insufficient. With SPM underscoring the importance of having the numbers ready and available for the public to monitor SPD progress.

Moving forward, the legislation will require SPD to document the following on each Terry stop:

  • Name and serial numbers of all officers involved
  • Audio/video if available and if not then why not
  • Reason for the stop including if a citation was issued or an arrest made
  • Whether a frisk was conducted if so description of facts that justified the frisk
  • Whether person stopped was specifically directed to assume any position or posture
  • Duration of stop and explanation of factors that explain the duration

This data must be collected, stored and made available for audit.

“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 pro-active, and engaging with the community are fully consistent with the bias-free policing law,” said Harrell, speaking near the conclusion of Monday’s meeting.

DSC06076Sharayah Lane is an active seeker of good stories and social justice in Seattle. She is a new mama who loves spending time with her son Ian and watching him discover the world.  She enjoys long naps, good books, and enjoying the beauty of the PNW. 


Featured image courtesy of the Seattle City Council 



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