Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole has asked the department’s internal-investigations unit to conduct a preliminary review of comments made by two officers in a video posted by The New York Times.
Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole has asked the department’s internal-investigations unit to conduct a preliminary review of comments made by two officers in a New York Times video and story on de-escalation training.
In one part of the video, a Seattle Police Department trainer expresses sympathy when he is aggressively challenged by skeptical officers.
“I agree. I agree. Don’t shoot the messenger. This is what the DOJ is saying, not me,” the trainer says, referring to new mandatory training to curb excessive use of force required under a 2012 consent decree between the city and U.S. Department of Justice.
In another part of the video, an officer undergoing the training describes a personal experience.
“I pulled my gun out and stuck it right in his nose and I go, ‘show me your hands now.’ He showed me his hands. I just de-escalated him from doing something.”
In the print version of the story, the officer is quoted as saying, “Last week, there was a guy in a car who wouldn’t show me his hands. I pulled my gun out and stuck it right in his nose, and I go, ‘Show me your hands now!’ That’s de-escalation.”
Another trainer then pointed out that department policy doesn’t equate de-escalation with use of force.
The video, shot in May, appeared online, linked to a Sunday story in The New York Times on the growing national trend of de-escalation training in law enforcement and the difficulty of teaching it to officers.
On Sunday, O’Toole asked the department’s Office of Professional Accountability to examine the comments regarding the use of a gun, Pierce Murphy, the OPA’s civilian director, said Monday.
On Monday, O’Toole asked that the trainer’s comments also be reviewed, Murphy said.
The OPA will conduct a preliminary review of both matters to determine if a full investigation should be conducted to determine if discipline is warranted, Murphy said.
In the case of the gun comments, the OPA will seek to determine whether the incident described by the officer occurred and the full context, including whether a use of force was reported under department policy, Murphy said.
If no incident occurred, the question would be why the officer made it up during a training session, Murphy said
As part of the reviews, the OPA also will determine if one or both matters should be referred to supervisors to handle instead of launching a full investigation, Murphy said.
Another part of the video shows a third officer appearing to be scrolling through his cellphone during the discussion. The OPA has not been asked to investigate that matter.
O’Toole, reached Monday by telephone, said she ordered the review of the gun comments to determine if use of force was properly reported and investigated.
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As for the trainer, O’Toole said she wants his comments examined to determine if they were “professional and appropriate.”
Training in de-escalation tactics is a centerpiece of the consent decree, which stemmed from a 2011 finding by the Justice Department that Seattle’s officers too often resort to excessive force. The Justice Department also found troubling but inconclusive evidence of biased policing.
O’Toole stressed that the department is in the midst of difficult training that has prompted “spirited” discussions and attracted the attention of other police departments as well as The New York Times.
The New York Times story also described what it labeled a success with de-escalation.
In May, the story reported, a Seattle police officer confronted a man with a knife.
“When the officer ordered him to stop, the man responded with a vulgar gesture and kept going,” according to the story.
Eventually, the officer learned the man’s name from his wife and used it, along with an “unconventional peripatetic monologue to try to persuade him to surrender,” the story said.
The man, who the story said was disconsolate after an argument with his wife, dropped the knife and was taken to a hospital for a mental-health examination.
“We’re really out on the forefront of this,” O’Toole told The Seattle Times Monday, noting the department is taking on tough, longstanding issues that are “deeply embedded.”
At the same time, she said, the department is committed to making sure officers are getting the message, and that it will not be “turning back” as it seeks to reverse decades of culture.
“This is really complicated,” she said, calling the reforms a “courageous step.”
Murphy offered similar comments, saying of the changes: “It’s hard and it’s not going to be easy.”
In a June progress report, Merrick Bobb, the federal monitor overseeing the consent decree, praised the department for “high-quality” training programs.
But while more officers appear to be fully embracing its objectives, “at least some of the rank-and-file, first-level supervisors, and more senior officers have a ways to go before there is universal acceptance of the Consent Decree as the way that Seattle does policing,” he wrote.