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Racial Disparity Project

The Public Defender Association’s Racial Disparity Project (RDP) worked to improve police accountability and reconsider the role of the police since its inception in 1998.

From 2002 - 2012, RDP lawyers participated in and served as technical advisors to the Minority Executive Directors’ Coalition Multi-Racial Task Force on Police Accountability. During the 2010 Department of Justice investigation into allegations of a pattern and practice of excessive force and racial discrimination by SPD, the RDP provided extensive evidence related to both aspects of the investigation. Seattle’s Community Police Commission (CPC) was formed in 2013 as a product of the settlement agreement arrived at as a result of the DOJ investigation, to provide a robust community voice in the police reform process and to bring community expertise to bear on policing policy. PDA Director Lisa Daugaard from 2013-2016 was a co-chair of Seattle's Community Police Commission, and she continues to serve as a Commissioner. Community Advocate Enrique Gonzalez (then working with El Centro de la Raza) was appointed to the Commission in 2014 and as of 2017, serves as a co-chair.

As part of the RDP’s partnerships with community organizations and activists seeking racial justice, we often provided legal representation for those wrongly arrested or threatened with arrest while engaged in speech and assembly. The RDP represented activists in criminal and civil proceedings since the WTO protests in 1999, including WTO anniversary demonstrations in 2000 and 2001, Nickelsville protests against homeless encampment sweeps, the Occupy movement, and Black Lives Matter demonstrations in 2014 - 2015. We were instrumental in preliminary injunctions obtained in 2000 and in 2012 for First Amendment use of Westlake Park in downtown Seattle. We also provide legal rights trainings to activists contemplating direct action. RDP staff attorney Patricia Sully presently leads this work.


The Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD)® program, a partnership the Seattle Police Department and the King County Sheriff’s Office voluntarily entered into beginning in 2010, is one of the most encouraging examples nationally of the potential for police collaboration with civil rights organizations, such as the RDP, to substantially re-define the role and expectations of a police force in contemporary American cities. We acknowledge and honor the vision of the reform leaders we are fortunate to work with in our local police departments, from sergeants and patrol officers to command staff, in the design and implementation of LEAD and subsequent reform initiatives.