Use of Force Core Principles

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Purpose of this policy

The opening section outlines SPD's use of force core principles. These include upholding the law and protecting life, property, and order; using de-escalation when safe; using force when unavoidable; using objectively reasonable, necessary, and proportional force; officers' responsibility to justify force; a commitment to leadership and supervision; and partnership with community.

Revisions SPD is proposing

There are no updates to this section other than changing the words "shall" and "should" to "will" (for example, "officers will use de-escalation tactics"). 

Read SPD's proposed revisions in full here. 

CPC Analysis

The CPC believes that, although SPD committed to re-envisioning public safety together with community, leaving this section effectively unchanged signals that it does not intend to meaningfully alter the way and frequency it uses force on community members. Other notes:

  • SPD commits to upholding the Constitution, US laws, and state laws, but not city ordinances (like the 2017 accountability ordinance).
  • SPD commits to protecting human life and property and maintaining civil order. We believe that protecting life should be the first and primary principle, explicitly before property and order.
  • The policy states that "community expects" officers to use objectively reasonable, necessary, and proportional force. Consistent with early recommendations, CPC believes the standard should be higher and that force should be a last resort and minimal, having exhausted all de-escalation options. We also do not support assigning expectation to community members without engaging them in authoring the policy. This is misleading and erodes trust.
  • De-escalation is required "when safe, under the totality of circumstances, and time and circumstances permit." We believe officers should exhaust de-escalation options first, always.
  • Stating that force may be unavoidable to protect from "risk of harm" is a much lower bar than imminent harm. This standard should be higher, clearer, and make less room for subjectivity.
  • Language like "Officers will take reasonable care that their actions do not precipitate an unnecessary, unreasonable, or disproportionate use of force, by placing themselves or others in jeopardy" is unclear. Officers should take more than reasonable care to not cause use of force.
  • Officers are responsible for explaining facts and reasonable inferences to justify using force. The CPC believes that this should be based on more than personal justifications, and include evidence, like video, and witnesses, both of which are not mentioned. Justifications that contradict evidence should be a violation of policy. Truth and facts should be core principles.
  • The section states SPD's commitment to oversight and accountability, mentioning prevention efforts, effective tactics, and objective review. This is out of place and incomplete, and efforts and tactics are not defined. There is no reference to oversight bodies.
  • The final principle is a partnership with community, but the CPC is not aware of community participation in writing the policy. Instead of mentioning a partnership, it explains that using force can have "negative effects," like damaging public perception. It does not mention death, injury, pain, or trauma. As actions to mitigate these effects, it lists explanations, reasonable aid, professionalism, and follow-up. We find it disrespectful for SPD to summarize negative effects as bad press, and to focus on mitigating damage to the department's image, not the community.

Comment on this policy

We want to know what you think. Whether or not you agree with the CPC's assessment, you can submit your thoughts on SPD's proposed policies by using the form below, emailing us at OCPC@Seattle.gov, or contacting us any other way. Due to SPD's current deadlines, we ask that you do your best to submit your thoughts by Tuesday, January 26th. 

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