General Policy Information
Latest Revision Date: 5/21/2014
Title 1 - Department Administration
Title 2 - Department Employment
Title 3 - Employee Welfare
Title 4 - Human Resources
Title 5 - Employee Conduct
Title 6 - Arrests, Search and Seizure
Title 7 - Evidence and Property
Title 8 - Use of Force
Title 9 - Equipment and Uniforms
Title 10 - Police Facilities & Security
Title 11 - Detainee Management
Title 12 - Department Information Systems
Title 13 - Vehicle Operations
Title 14 - Emergency Operations
Title 15 - Primary Investigation
Title 16 - Patrol Operations
Effective Date: 1/1/2014
An officer shall use only the force reasonable, necessary, and proportionate to effectively bring an incident or person under control, while protecting the lives of the officer or others.
In other words, officers shall only use objectively reasonable force, proportional to the threat or urgency of the situation, when necessary, to achieve a law-enforcement objective. The force used must comply with federal and state law and Seattle Police Department policies, training, and rules for specific instruments and devices. Once it is safe to do so and the threat is contained, and/or the subject complies with the officer’s orders, the force must stop.
When determining if the force was objectively reasonable, necessary and proportionate, and therefore authorized, the following guidelines will be applied:
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. Factors to be considered in determining the objective reasonableness of force include, but are not limited to:
• The seriousness of the crime or suspected offense;
• The level of threat or resistance presented by the subject;
• Whether the subject was posing an immediate threat to officers or a danger to the community;
• The potential for injury to citizens, officers or subjects;
• The risk or apparent attempt by the subject to escape;
• The conduct of the subject being confronted (as reasonably perceived by the officer at the time);
• The time available to an officer to make a decision;
• The availability of other resources;
• The training and experience of the officer;
• The proximity or access of weapons to the subject;
• Officer versus subject factors such as age, size, relative strength, skill level, injury/exhaustion and number of officers versus subjects; and
• The environmental factors and/or other exigent circumstances.
The assessment of reasonableness must embody allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second decisions—in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, 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: the question is 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: To be proportional, the level of force applied must reflect the totality of circumstances surrounding the immediate situation, including the presence of an imminent danger to officers or others. Officers must rely on training, experience, and assessment of the situation to decide an appropriate level of force to be applied. Reasonable and sound judgment will dictate the force option to be employed. 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 proportional, objectively reasonable, and necessary to counter it.
An Officer may not use physical force:
- To punish or retaliate
- Against individuals who only verbally confront them unless the vocalization impedes a legitimate law enforcement function or contains specific threats to harm the officers or others
- On handcuffed or otherwise restrained subjects except in exceptional circumstances when the subject’s actions must be immediately stopped to prevent injury, escape, or destruction of property. Use-of-force on restrained subjects shall be closely and critically reviewed. Officers must articulate both:
- The exceptional circumstances, and
- Why no reasonably effective alternative to the use-of-force appeared to exist.
- To stop a subject from swallowing a substance, such as a plastic bag containing a controlled substance or other evidence.
- To extract a substance or item from inside the body of a suspect without a warrant.
De-escalation tactics and techniques are actions used by officers, when safe and without compromising law enforcement priorities, which seek to minimize the likelihood of the need to use force during an incident.
When safe and feasible under the totality of circumstances, officers shall attempt to slow down or stabilize the situation so that more time, options and resources are available for incident resolution.
When time and circumstances reasonably permit, officers shall consider whether a subject’s lack of compliance is a deliberate attempt to resist or an inability to comply based on factors including, but not limited to:
• Medical conditions
• Mental impairment
• Developmental disability
• Physical limitation
• Language barrier
• Drug interaction
• Behavioral crisis
An officer’s awareness of these possibilities, when time and circumstances reasonably permit, shall then be balanced against the facts of the incident facing the officer when deciding which tactical options are the most appropriate to bring the situation to a safe resolution.
Mitigating the immediacy of threat gives officers time to utilize extra resources, and increases time available to call more officers or specialty units.
The number of officers on scene may increase the available force options and may increase the ability to reduce the overall force used.
Other examples include:
- Placing barriers between an uncooperative subject and an officer
- Containing a threat
- Moving from a position that exposes officers to potential threats to a safer position
- Decreasing the exposure to potential threat by using
- Communication from a safe position intended to gain the subject’s compliance, using:
- Verbal persuasion
- Avoidance of physical confrontation, unless immediately necessary (for example, to protect someone, or stop dangerous behavior)
- Using verbal techniques, such as Listen and Explain with Equity and Dignity (LEED) Training, to calm an agitated subject and promote rational decision making
- Calling extra resources to assist or officers to assist:
- More officers
- CIT-trained officers
- Officers equipped with less-lethal tools
- Any other tactics and approaches that attempt to achieve law enforcement objectives by gaining the compliance of the subject
4. Officers Should Assess and Modulate the Use-Of-Force as Resistance Decreases
For example, as resistance decreases, the use-of-force may decrease.
Deadly force may only be used in circumstances where threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others is imminent. A danger is imminent when an objectively reasonable officer would conclude that:
• A suspect is acting or threatening to cause death or serious physical injury to the officer or others, and
• The suspect has the means or instrumentalities to do so, and
• The suspect has the opportunity and ability to use the means or instrumentalities to cause death or serious physical injury.
See also 8.050 – Deadly Force.
6. Deadly Force May Be Used to Prevent the Escape of a Fleeing Suspect Only When an Objectively Reasonable Officer Would Conclude That it Is Necessary and the Officer Has Probable Cause to Believe That:
• The suspect has committed a felony involving the infliction or threatened infliction of serious physical injury or death; and
• The escape of the suspect would pose an imminent danger of death or serious physical injury to the officer or to another person unless the suspect is apprehended without delay; and
• The officer has given a verbal warning to the suspect, if time, safety, and circumstances permit.
7. Following a Use-of-Force, Officers Shall Render or Request Medical Aid, if Needed or if Requested By Anyone, as Soon as Reasonably Possible
Following a use-of-force, officers will request a medical aid response, if necessary, for subjects and others and will closely monitor subjects taken into custody.
Absent exigent circumstances, prone subjects will be placed on their side in a recovery position. Officers shall not restrain subjects who are in custody and under control in a manner that compromises the subject’s ability to breathe.
8. Officers Shall Automatically Request Medical Aid in Certain Situations
Any use-of-force, greater than de minimis force on subjects who are reasonably believed or known to be:
• Pre-adolescent children
• Physically frail
Any subjects or officers who:
• Sustain a CEW application
• Are struck by a beanbag shotgun round
• Sustain a impact weapon strike to the head
• Sustain a strike of their head against a hard, fixed object
9. Consistent With the Timelines in 8.300, Officers and Supervisors Shall Ensure That the Incident Is Accurately and Properly Reported, Documented, and Investigated