Court Approves Updates to Seattle Police Department’s Use of Force Policy
Revisions the Result of Consultation with Officers and Community, and Puts Greater Emphasis on De-escalation
U.S. District Judge James L. Robart today approved updates to the Seattle Police Department’s policies that address when officers may and may not use force and the reporting, investigation and review of uses of force. De-escalation provisions were already a critical part of the overall use of force policy, and the revisions now call those provisions out as a separate section to clarify that officers can be held accountable when they do not attempt to de-escalate tense situations, as their training instructs. The surgical revisions, submitted to the Court by Monitor Merrick Bobb with the support of SPD and the Department of Justice (DOJ), are the product of constructive feedback from officers and community members, including the Community Police Commission (CPC), as part of the annual review of new policies implemented after the DOJ civil rights investigation. As the Monitor indicated in submitting the revised policies to the Court last month, “the relatively limited changes to the policies are all evidence-based – informed by real-world experience, actual SPD trends, and objective data, not hypotheticals or unsubstantiated claims.”
“From the beginning, we have emphasized that reform wasn’t just about checking boxes and moving on. To take root, our collective reform efforts require constant feedback, critical review, and thoughtful revision,” said U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes. “Valuable insights from officers of all ranks and members of the community have made already excellent policies even stronger. By incorporating ongoing guidance about what’s working on the ground and in the review of force incidents, we enhance officer safety and protect constitutional rights. These revisions – and the built-in, self-correcting process to evaluate the core policies guiding reform at SPD – continue to build trust between the police department and the community.”
“Today’s announcement is an important step forward in our Seattle Police Department’s ongoing efforts to improve the quality of policing and restore public trust,” said Seattle Mayor Ed Murray. “As our nation grapples with the challenge of improving police accountability and transparency, the department’s reforms, such as our revised Use of Force policy, are helping us become a national model for urban policing.”
“Working collaboratively with the Monitoring Team and the Department of Justice, the Seattle Police Department is moving full speed ahead with reform,” said Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole. “Collectively, we have developed and refined policies, procedures and training, that are at the leading edge of policing.”
Among the changes are:
- Creating a stand-alone de-escalation policy (Section 8.100) to clarify that officers may be held accountable for failing to attempt to de-escalate where appropriate during an incident in the sequence of events leading to force being used.
- Tightening the core use of force policy (Section 8.200) to create an even clearer and shorter policy governing the application of force.
- Clarifying when the use of less-lethal tools may be prohibited (Section 8.300), including consideration of the physical condition of the subject and environmental or other situational circumstances.
- Revising the force review and investigation policies and process (Section 8.400) to reflect process-related lessons learned to ensure timely, objective investigation of force incidents.
- Clarifying that the Force Review Board has a duty to make determinations related to policy, tactics, or training issues as they arise and to refer matters to the Office of Professional Accountability as needed.
The Court initially approved SPD’s new use of force policy in December 2013, and it became effective on January 1, 2014. All officers began receiving training shortly thereafter, including electronic learning, an eight-hour in-class training, and a comprehensive, scenario-based, 24-hour training through 2014. Officers have been and will continue to receive additional force training throughout 2015. The training plan for 2015 may be found here: http://www.seattlemonitor.com/s/Third-Year-Monitoring-Plan.pdf.
Under the terms of the settlement agreement between the DOJ and the City of Seattle, the parties are required to engage in an annual review of all required policies, procedures and training curricula “180 days after it is implemented, and annually thereafter.” The changes accepted by the Court today are the result of the first comprehensive appraisal of the force-related policies. As the Monitor wrote when filing the updated policies, the revisions originate from:
- the analysis of hard data on use of force and its review;
- officer listening sessions and focus groups conducted by SPD Patrol;
- officer comments provided to SPD’s Audit, Policy & Research division;
- lessons learned by the Force Review Board and Force Investigations Team;
- separate officer and community input sessions by the CPC; and
- the ongoing observations of the Parties.
Background information about the originally-approved use of force policy is available here: http://www.justice.gov/usao-wdwa/pr/doj-hails-milestone-seattle-police-department-reform-efforts-court-s-approval-new-use .