8.000 - Use of Force Core Principles

Effective Date: 01/19/2019

This section outlines the Seattle Police Department’s core principles relating to the use of force. These general principles provide the foundation for the more specific policies governing the application, reporting, investigation and review of force. The Department recognizes that officers will face unique and challenging circumstances not specifically addressed in this policy. Officers are expected to apply these core principles reasonably in unanticipated situations.

1. Every Member of the Seattle Police Department is Committed to Upholding the Constitution and Laws of the United States and the State of Washington, and Defending the Civil Rights and Dignity of All Individuals, While Protecting All Human Life and Property and Maintaining Civil Order

It is the policy of the Seattle Police Department to accomplish the police mission with the cooperation of the public and as effectively as possible, and with minimal reliance upon the use of physical force.

The community expects and the Seattle Police Department requires that officers use only the force necessary to perform their duties and that such force be proportional to the threat or resistance of the subject under the circumstances.

An officer’s commitment to public safety includes the welfare of members of the public, the officer, and fellow officers, with an emphasis on respect, professionalism, and protection of human life, even when force is necessary.

Officers who violate those values by using objectively unreasonable force degrade the confidence of the community, violate the rights of individuals upon whom unreasonable force is used, and may expose the Department and fellow officers to legal and physical hazards.

Conversely, officers who fail to use timely and adequate force when it is necessary may endanger themselves, the community and fellow officers.

2. When Safe Under the Totality of the Circumstances and Time and Circumstances Permit, Officers Shall Use De-Escalation Tactics in Order to Reduce the Need for Force

Additional guidance on how to reduce the need to use force may be found in Section 8.100.

3. Sometimes the Use-of-Force Is Unavoidable, and an Officer Must Exercise Physical Control of a Violent, Assaultive, or Resisting Individual to Make an Arrest, or to Protect Members of the Public and Officers from Risk of Harm

In doing so:

- Officers should recognize that their conduct prior to the use of force, including the display of a weapon, may be a factor which can influence the level of force necessary in a given situation.

- Officers should take reasonable care that their actions do not precipitate an unnecessary, unreasonable, or disproportionate use of force, by placing themselves or others in jeopardy.

- Officers should continually assess the situation and changing circumstances, and modulate the use- of-force appropriately.

4. An Officer Shall Use Only the Degree of Force That Is Objectively Reasonable, Necessary Under the Circumstances, and Proportional to the Threat or Resistance of a Subject

Objectively reasonable: The reasonableness of a particular use of force is based on the totality of circumstances known by the officer at the time of the use of force and weighs the actions of the officer against the rights of the subject, in light of the circumstances surrounding the event. It must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.

The calculus of reasonableness must allow for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second decisions—in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, dynamic and rapidly evolving—about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.

The reasonableness inquiry in an excessive-force case is an objective one: whether the officers’ actions are objectively reasonable in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them, without regard to their underlying intent or motivation.

Necessary: Officers will use physical force only when no reasonably effective alternative appears to exist, and only then to the degree which is reasonable to effect a lawful purpose.

Proportional: The level of force applied must reflect the totality of circumstances surrounding the situation, including the presence of imminent danger to officers or others. Proportional force does not require officers to use the same type or amount of force as the subject. The more immediate the threat and the more likely that the threat will result in death or serious physical injury, the greater the level of force that may be objectively reasonable and necessary to counter it.

Guidance on when force is authorized may be found in Section 8.200.

5. Each Officer Is Responsible for Explaining and Articulating the Specific Facts, and Reasonable Inferences From Those Facts, Which Justify the Officer’s Use Of Force

The officer’s justification will be reviewed to determine whether or not the force used was in or out of policy.

Failure to adequately document and explain the facts, circumstances, and inferences when reporting force may lead to the conclusion that the force used was out of policy.

Additional guidance on reporting force may be found in Section 8.400.

6. The Department Is Committed to Upholding Lawful, Professional, and Ethical Standards Through Assertive Leadership and Supervision Before, During, and After Every Force Incident

The Seattle Police Department recognizes the magnitude of the responsibility that comes with the constitutional authority to use force. This responsibility includes maintaining vigorous standards and transparent oversight systems to ensure accountability to the community in order to maintain their trust. This includes:

- Force prevention efforts,

- Effective tactics, and

- Objective review and analysis of all incidents of reportable force

Additional guidance on the Department’s review of force may be found in Section 8.500.

7. A Strong Partnership Between the Department and the Community Is Essential for Effective Law Enforcement and Public Safety

Uses of force, even if lawful and proper, can have a damaging effect on the public’s perception of the Department and the Department’s relationship with the community.

Both the Department and individual officers need to be aware of the negative effects of use-of-force incidents and be empowered to take appropriate action to mitigate these effects, such as:

- Explaining actions to subjects or members of the public

- Offering reasonable aid to those affected by a use-of-force

- Treating subjects, witnesses, and bystanders with professionalism and courtesy

- Department follow-up with neighbors or family to explain police actions and hear concerns and feedback