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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Justice Department Applauds Adoption of Police Department-Wide Tactical De-escalation Training Program in Seattle

U.S. District Judge James L. Robart today approved a department-wide training program developed by the Seattle Police Department (SPD) and endorsed by the Justice Department, the Seattle City Attorney’s Office and the Federal Court Monitor Merrick Bobb, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta of the Civil Rights Division and Acting U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes of the Western District of Washington.  The training is a key requirement of the 2012 consent decree entered by the city and the Justice Department to address a pattern and practice of excessive use of force by SPD officers.

All 1,300 sworn officers of the SPD will be trained in tactical de-escalation skills and strategies through the newly approved program.  The goal of the training is to teach SPD officers that tactical de-escalation is more than a set of specific skills but also an overarching approach to incident resolution and community policing.  De-escalation more broadly refers to the strategic slowing down of an incident in a manner that allows officers more time, distance, space and tactical flexibility during dynamic situations on the street.  Applying these specific skills increases the potential for resolving the situation with minimized force or no force at all, which reduces the likelihood of injury to the public, increases officer safety and mitigates the immediacy of potential or ongoing threats.  A reduction in use of force incidents also reduces community complaints, promotes the perception of procedural justice and, most importantly, promotes resolution of events with the public’s compliance.

The 2015 tactical de-escalation training builds upon training that officers received for the first time in 2014.  Tactical de-escalation training has and will be woven into every aspect of more specific technical training that SPD officers will receive throughout the year, including firearms, individual and team defensive tactics and more. 

As the Federal Court Monitor Bobb stated in his filing memo with the court:

For some time, many Seattle residents, like others throughout the country, have suggested that officers receive training on how to de-escalate situations in order to reduce the potential for force needing to be contemplated.  However, in many instances, the concept of “de-escalation” has tended to be imprecisely defined and served as a kind of “catch-all” term or approach used to refer to anything that might defuse difficult police encounters.  Clear and precise training on what de-escalation means in Seattle began in earnest last year.  This year’s training will deepen officers’ understandings of how de-escalation is strategic, tactical, and valuable both to officers and the communities that they serve.  By providing clear detail and real-world techniques that officers can apply immediately in the field, it puts substantial “meat on the bones” of what “de-escalation” is in its full scope and how, when, and why such techniques should be used.  This training is a notable step forward.

“De-escalation tactics are essential skills for police officers and departments both to help to ensure constitutional policing and to improve public safety and officer safety,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Gupta.  “Force must be both reasonable and necessary, and this training will provide valuable guidance to officers when they make split-second decisions about when and how to use force.  As the Seattle Police Department implements this training, it is taking a vital step forward toward compliance with the consent decree.”

“Tactical de-escalation goes to the heart of the consent decree,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Hayes.  “Training in these skills will give officers the tools they need to avoid, mitigate, or minimize force encounters.  When put to use, these skills keep both officers and the individuals they encounter safer, allowing officers to focus on their primary mission – service to their community.” 

Judge Robart approved the consent decree in August 2012.  The Justice Department and the city of Seattle jointly selected and the court approved the monitor in October 2012. 

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Updated August 26, 2015