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Press Release

DOJ Hails Milestone in Seattle Police Department Reform Efforts with Court’s Approval of New Use of Force Policy

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Washington
Establishes New Reporting And Review Requirements For Uses Of Force

SEATTLE -- U.S. District Judge James L. Robart today accepted the Seattle Police Department’s new Use of Force policy as consistent with the terms of the Settlement Agreement between the Justice Department and the City of Seattle.  The new policy, which builds on best practices and policies implemented nationwide, was negotiated by the parties and was the product of significant input from the police, policing experts and the Community Police Commission.

Under the new policy, all uses of force by SPD officers above de minimis force must be reported.  The policy defines force itself for the first time, and details when force is appropriate and when it is prohibited.  It establishes when and how to report force, and provides clear lines of authority and accountability for supervisory review and investigation of uses of force.  The review and investigation of force will be more thorough than ever before.  The policy further emphasizes de-escalation – including developing and using alternatives to force – and gives officers clear guidance on the use of specific tools, including a new requirement that officers carry at least one less-lethal tool.  Separate policies and training on crisis intervention and dealing with people in behavioral crisis will also be completed in the near future.

The new use of force policy will go into effect on January 1, 2014.   

“This is a major milestone in the reform process that will help rebuild trust and foster greater accountability.  Clear principles and guidance will enhance officer safety and protect the rights of people in Seattle,” said U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan.  “I am grateful to the contributions of the Community Police Commission and the members of the community it represents and to the City, SPD officers, and policing experts who contributed to shape a policy that is a national model.”

“We are pleased that, together with the City of Seattle and with the important input of the Community Police Commission, we have crafted and agreed upon a use of force policy that will serve as a model for police departments nationwide,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.  “This policy will help ensure that the people of Seattle have a police department that respects the Constitution, secures the safety of the public, and earns the confidence of the community.”

The new policies make clear that officers must “use only the force necessary to perform their duties” and “with minimal reliance upon the use of physical force.”  New emphasis is placed on de-escalation and interaction with people in behavioral crisis.  For the first time, there are policies on every weapon used, like pepper spray and tasers.  Supervisors are given enhanced responsibility for use of force by their officers.  The most serious uses of force – including police shootings – will be investigated by a special team and reviewed by a multi-disciplinary team.

The following is a summary of the new Use of Force policy provisions.  The new policy can be found by clicking here. 

Enhances officer safety and protects rights with clear core principles guiding appropriate use of force:
-Officers shall “use only the force necessary to perform their duties” and “with minimal reliance upon the use of physical force.”
-Officers shall de-escalate through the use of  “advisements, warnings, verbal persuasion, and other tactics in order to reduce the need to use force” and recognize that a subject’s lack of compliance is not always a deliberate attempt to resist but may be related to an inability to comply because of medical impairment or a language barrier.
-Sometimes force is unavoidable, but officers should not precipitate an unnecessary use of force and should know that their conduct prior to the need to use force may be a factor the Department will consider in assessing the appropriateness of the force.

Defines force – when it is appropriate and when it is prohibited – and when and how to report force:
-“Force means any physical coercion by an officer.”
-“All uses of force other than de minimis are reportable.  Reportable force includes the “intentional pointing of a firearm at a subject.”
-For reporting purposes, force is broken into four types based upon the nature and severity of the incident: de minimis and Types 1, 2, and 3.  [See chart on page one of Section 8.300 (Use of Force Reporting and Investigation) for guidance on distinctions, available here:

-Inappropriate to use force: to punish or retaliate; against individuals who only verbally confront them; against handcuffed or restrained individuals.

Defines and enhances responsibilities for supervisors and creates new Force Investigation Team (FIT):
-Supervisors will be responsible for their officers and will review all uses force and further investigate all uses of force categorized as Type 2 and above. 
-Supervisors screen all Type 1s at the scene and respond to the scene in all Type 2 and above.
-Creation of the new independent, inter-disciplinary FIT team for the highest level uses of force (Type 3 and above) and for officer-involved-shootings, in-custody deaths, serious assaults on officers.
-Procedures to protect the integrity of a possible future criminal investigation of the officer.


Creates four procedural manuals on:
-A first weapon-by-weapon guidance manual on when and how weapons like tasers and peper spray can be used (Section 8.200, available here:
-Procedures on the reporting and investigation of uses of force (Section 8.300, available here:
-A manual for the new Force Investigation Team, which rolls to the highest levels of force, including officer involved shootings (Force Investigations Unit Procedural Manual, available here:
-Procedures of the Use of Force Review Board (Section 8.400, available here:

Institutionalizes the UOF Review Board (created by SPD in 2011) (Section 8.400)  
The UOF Review Board reviews all Type 2 and Type 3 UOF to:
-confirm that UOF reporting, investigation and review are thorough and complete;
-determine whether the findings from the chain of command regarding whether the force used is consistent with law and policy are supported by a preponderance of the evidence;
-ensure that all uses of force contrary to law or policy are appropriately addressed; and
-identify trends or patterns of deficiencies regarding policy, training, equipment, or tactics.

Updated April 27, 2015