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Seattle Police Disagree On How To Interpret New Use-Of-Force Policy

Flickr Photo/Tariq Abdel-Monem (CC-BY-NC-ND)
Seattle Police at the 2012 May Day demonstrations.

[asset-images[{"caption": "An internal Seattle Police Department memo tells officers they are being too hesitant when it comes to use of force. Click on the image for a larger view.", "fid": "80788", "style": "card_280", "uri": "public://201409/spd-email.JPG", "attribution": ""}]]Seattle police officers are not using enough force.

That’s according to an internal email sent last week. The email, obtained by KUOW, says that hesitancy to use force could pose risks to officers and the public.

In the email to East Precinct Staff on Sept. 18, a Seattle Police Department watch commander emphasized that officers could use force when necessary to protect themselves, fellow officers, the public and the suspect from harm.

He said the latest trends suggest that officers are too hesitant to use force in cases where it’s warranted.

SPD’s new use-of-force policy is the result of a federal consent decree. It requires officers to document nearly every type of confrontation with the public. But the email notes that no officer has faced discipline for using “necessary, proportional and appropriate force.”

Speaking to a public meeting on Capitol Hill Thursday, Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole dismissed the claim that new policies are making officers more reluctant to use force when needed. “I have not been told yet of a case where an officer has failed to use force in an instance where he or she should have, to protect himself or to protect a member of the community,” she told the audience.

O’Toole noted that SPD is currently investigating five officer-involved shootings, another indication that officers are not holding back.

This email comes as SPD is working to train officers on the new policy, which has led to conflicting claims. A group of officers has filed a federal lawsuit claiming the policy makes them less safe. Seattle’s Community Police Commission has also called for substantial revisions to the policy, saying it is confusing and vague.

A court-appointed monitor will have to approve any changes to the use-of-force policy. One problem O’Toole does have with the policy is the extensive reporting requirements. She said officers and supervisors are having to spend too much time in the station filing paperwork. 

“It’s taking them away from their patrol duties,” she said. “So we’ve been working very effectively with the monitoring team and having very constructive discussions about how we can make this process more effective and efficient but still accomplish the requirements of the consent decree.”

O’Toole said July 1 marked the beginning of a review period for the consent decree. She said she will seek changes to the reporting requirements triggered when officers use handcuffs or point their guns. She expects to hammer out those amendments in the coming weeks.

Year started with KUOW: 2005