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Civil rights group applauds new Seattle police use-of-force policy


SEATTLE — A major milestone has been reached between the Seattle Police Department and the Department of Justice about police reform.  The two sides have agreed on a new use-of-force policy, and a federal judge gave his approval Tuesday to the strict limits on officer behavior.

SPD“This is a really significant step forward in reform efforts,” said U.S Attorney Jenny Durkan, who represents the DOJ in the federal consent decree.

Since the recent problems at the SPD, and the reason the federal government is here at all mandating reform, is because of the issue of excessive force, revising those policies has been a big priority of the DOJ.  “It’s about rebuilding trust,” said Durkan.  “It will give [officers] more clarity in their job, and we hope help restore trust between they and the community.”

Here are some of the highlights of the new use of force policies:

  • For the first time there will be an emphasis and expectation of de-escalation, including cop warnings wherever possible.
  • All uses of force will be required to be reported and documented, something that isn’t happening now in every instance.
  • All officers will be given at least one non-gun weapon, be that a taser, a baton, ever pepper spray, to be used when appropriate and under new guidelines.

Durkan notes that the new weapons will also come with clear rules.  “We will have for the first time weapons specific policies,” she said.  “There will be a policy on how and when to use pepper spray, for example, how and when to use the taser.  And so every officer will have least-lethal alternative than their gun and they will be trained on how to use it.”

The ACLU was of the key groups that got this whole ball rolling by convincing the DOJ to step in and mandate reforms.  Today the civil rights group applauded the new court-approved use-of-force polices, especially the new, stricter reporting requirement.  “If there’s no injury it wasn’t considered reportable force,” said Jennifer Shaw, ACLU Deputy Director.  “There was also this assumption that wasn’t really force.  So now everybody has that same understanding.”

But the ACLU did sound a note of caution today that much more needs to be done to restore the community trust that has been lost at the SPD.  “There won’t be instantaneous change because this is a long process,” said Shaw.  “The policy is the first step. The next step is training.”

Another milestone in the reform effort will be to establish new policies for now to prevent racially biased policing.  Those will be coming out after the first of the year.

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