Members of the Seattle City Council met Sept. 18 with representatives from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Community Police Commission to hear proposals for how the Seattle Police Department (SPD) can use force less frequently and more wisely.
A 2011 report from the DOJ found SPD had a pattern of excessive force that disproportionately targeted people of color and people with mental illness. A settlement between the city and the DOJ outlined a number of reforms and called for an independent monitor to ensure reforms are working.
Councilmember Bruce Harrell, chair of the Council’s Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology Committee, sat alongside Councilmembers Mike O’Brien and Nick Licata as the monitor, Merrick Bobb, presented an updated form of the proposed guidelines, called the New Use of Force Policies for the Seattle Police Department. The 70-page document covers everything from defining when force is justified to how internal investigations are conducted.
The proposed reforms would cause “an elimination of whatever unconstitutional policing is currently taking place within the SPD,” Bobb said.
The proposal calls for officers to analyze all possible factors that might be contributing to a subject’s lack of compliance or alarming behavior, such as whether the person has any mental conditions, as well as their emotional state.
Instead of using force, the proposal suggests that officers remove the immediate threat of an insubordinate individual by, for example, placing barriers between themselves and the subject, moving bystanders and on-site officers to a safe distance, and constantly using verbal persuasion.
Other parts of the proposal address policies and procedures for specific nonlethal tools such as beanbag shotgun rounds, a type of ammunition that can be outfitted for a regular 12-gauge shotgun. Officers using beanbag shotguns would be prohibited from targeting a subject’s head, neck or genitalia. In addition, each individual round fired will later have to be justified in the officer’s Use-of-Force Statement.
The New Use-of-Force Policies are the product of numerous negotiations with various branches within city, including SPD, the City Attorney’s Office, the Mayor’s Office, as well as DOJ representatives.
Bobb has given the proposals, which he calls a “consensus document,” his tentative approval. This kicks off a 45-day period for comments and community input.
At the end of that period, Bobb will make a final decision of whether or not to approve the document, which would then be forwarded to Judge James Robart, who is overseeing the process.