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Seattle Police collecting community feedback on new use of force proposals

(Image: Tom Walsh with permission to CHS)

After months of protests in Seattle and a stream of examples of excessive force used by police, the Seattle Police Department debuted drafts in December that would alter its policies on use of force and crowd management last month, but advocates say they fall short.

Advocates and community groups have spent weeks organizing response to the proposals but there is still time to add your voice. SPD said its deadline for public feedback is Friday.

The specific existing policies, which undergo annual review, that the new drafts revise were originally developed in collaboration with the U.S. Justice Department and were approved by a federal court, noted SPD spokesperson Valerie Carson.

“Since June, SPD has significantly modified its tactical approach to meeting the evolving nature of this unprecedented series of protest events, responsive to both community concerns and internal discussions around lessons learned,” Carson said in an email, emphasizing changes in SPD policy around crowd management — tactics that faced heavy criticism over the summer for unnecessary escalation with protesters.

These changes include “robust emphasis” on tactics that isolate individuals who have broken the law so they can be arrested and reducing the “SPD visible footprint around these events” with the recognition that a heavy police presence can escalate tension.

Seattle Community Police Commission senior policy analyst Nia Franco said, however, there is little change to the crowd dispersal tools available to SPD, which would still be able to use tear gas and blast balls under the departmental policy. The CPC has consistently called for limitations on the use of crowd control weapons, including last year when, along with the Office of the Inspector General, and the Office of Police Accountability, it called on SPD to stop using tear gas on protesters.

“Their proposed changes completely disregard those recommendations that we’ve made,” Franco said in a Wednesday meeting of the commission.


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Franco added that, in the CPC’s analysis, the threshold for declaring an assembly unlawful is “much too low.” The criteria for an unlawful assembly, unchanged in these revisions, includes violent acts by four or more people, “significant unpermitted traffic disruption that poses an imminent threat of harm,” and criminal acts in the crowd that can’t be handled through “crowd intervention strategies.”

Franco also noted that the policy does not require outside reviews of dispersal orders given by police.

New language in the department’s de-escalation tactics policy outside of crowd management similarly does not reach the bar the CPC was hoping for, said Luiza Montesanti, policy analyst for the CPC. The drafts do add the use of “pattern interrupts” as a way to communicate with individuals to get them to comply with police and avoid escalation.

“The mandate to de-escalate really needs to be much stronger,” Montesanti said

There have been few changes, also, to SPD’s “core principles” on the use of force, Montesanti pointed out.

(Image: Tom Walsh with permission to CHS)

“We think that not having any significant change to the core principles also signals that there has not been significant changes to how the department hopes to use force,” Montesanti said Wednesday.

For example, Montesanti said the standard for use of force should be higher than “objectively reasonable,” which is based on the perspective of an officer on the scene, not on one with the benefit of hindsight. Factors that play into what is considered “objectively reasonable” force include age, size, and number of officers compared to the number of subjects, which Montensanti argues could open the door for bias and a divisive us vs. them mentality. The “objectively reasonable” term is a standard set by case law, using all circumstances present at the time force was used to judge if it was excessive, Carson said.

One specific tactic newly prohibited in the draft revisions is “intentionally placing a knee on a prone subject’s neck while taking them into custody,” which is what a Minneapolis police officer used when killing George Floyd last year. Officers also cannot use tire deflation devices on moving cars.

“In our analysis, what we found to be really salient is that the policy still allows for officers to use force on restrained individuals, pregnant people, young children, elderly people, and what they term ‘physically frail or disabled’ people,” Franco said.

The public comment period for the drafts of these policy revisions, which has been open since mid-December, closes Friday, January 8th. SPD aims to have updated policies on these issues approved by DOJ and others and submit them for court approval sometime this year.

To add your voice, there are survey links embedded at the end of each draft document. You can find more information and links to the draft proposals here.

One proposal at the state level would aim to create some uniform tactics for law enforcement across Washington. The bill, introduced by Federal Way Democratic Rep. Jesse Johnson, prohibits the use or purchase of tear gas, military equipment like armored vehicles, and creates new rules around vehicular pursuits that hold there must be “probable cause to believe that a person in the vehicle has committed or is committing a violent offense or sex offense.”

The state legislature opens its 2021 session next week.


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CD Born n Raised
CD Born n Raised
3 months ago

Here’s some feedback from a longtime black resident of Seattle:

How about ZERO use of force. Especially in terms of tear gas and the unconstitutional sweeps.

CityOfVagrants
CityOfVagrants
3 months ago

Long time white resident – the police are far too gentle here. More force but equally against all races if they are breaking the law. Severe penalties for police in the case where an innocent person is attacked.

The Ghostt Of Capitol Hill
The Ghostt Of Capitol Hill
3 months ago
Reply to  CityOfVagrants

how do you flag racist comments on here?

RWK
RWK
3 months ago

His is NOT a racist comment. He specifically says that force should be used against ALL races equally. You need to work on your reading comprehension.

Jack
Jack
3 months ago
Reply to  RWK

Treating everyone the same is racist. You have to compensate for for history the person is aware of too.

The Ghostt Of Capitol Hill
The Ghostt Of Capitol Hill
3 months ago
Reply to  Jack

Yep!

The Ghostt Of Capitol Hill
The Ghostt Of Capitol Hill
3 months ago
Reply to  RWK

equity.. look it up hun.

The Ghostt Of Capitol Hill
The Ghostt Of Capitol Hill
3 months ago

Yep.