NEW use-of-force policies approved for Seattle police officers come with a substantial burden on Seattle Police Department’s management to make their use and application clear.
The new rules approved by U.S. District Judge James Robart come in the form of 10 pages of policy and dozens of pages of new procedural manuals. Translating those guidelines into routine practices out on the streets is a real professional challenge.
The rules go into effect on Jan. 1. They are a product of a settlement agreement negotiated with the Department of Justice after a 2011 investigation into SPD use of force and biased policing complaints.
Putting the new policies, definitions and expectations into daily use will require on-the-job training, supervisory awareness and a willingness of the entire chain of command to enforce the rules.
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Resolving the issues raised by the DOJ investigation will be a study in continuing education. Additional policies dealing with biased policing and the proper use of temporary police detentions are due at the end of December.
The need for new protocols and procedures on use of force was echoed in a recent settlement that cost the City of Seattle $235,000.
That case, which dated to a 2009 confrontation with an off-duty SPD detective, was ostensibly about access to public records, but at its core was about use of force and the escalation of events between citizens and law enforcement officers.
The rules and practices accepted by the federal judge emphasize the minimal use of force necessary. And at the other end of such confrontations, the rules provide for more formal review of citizen complaints.
Training, professional acceptance, and use of the standards and their oversight by supervisors are vital. No one disputes the assertion that police officers have a tough job, and that the DOJ investigation revealed the complaints involved a small number of officers.
One unfortunate outcome would be a passive-aggressive resistance to the new protocols, with SPD patrol officers taking a half step back — in protest or doubt about how to proceed.
Embrace the new rules, and work for their pragmatic implementation.
Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).