By Nicholas Gardner
SEATTLE – A federal judge has approved a temporary restraining order (TRO) filed by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to block implementation of a Seattle Police Department directive that bans the use of 40 mm launchers, blast balls, CS gas, and oleoresin capsicum spray.
The DOJ believes this directive—a response to the Seattle Police Department’s (SPD) mishandling of the ongoing George Floyd protests—would actually cause police to use more lethal forms of crowd control and conflicts with previous agreements regarding the use of force by Seattle police.
In 2012, the City of Seattle entered a Consent Decree designed to revise the SPD’s use of force policies. The Decree, which was the result of a 2011 investigation that found the SPD to be engaging in unconstitutional policing practice, places regulations on the use of lethal force and crowd management strategies.
In 2017, the city followed this process to pass the current version of the SPD’s crowd management policy. This included the formal submission of materials—including policies, procedures, training curricula, and training manuals—to the DOJ and the Court before they were approved.
Additionally, the terms provide up to 45 days for both parties to meet and discuss changes, as well as 14 additional days to bring any issues before the Court.
As for the substance of the directive, the DOJ believes that a change to the Consent Decree would cause the United States and the public to “…suffer irreparable harm resulting from officer confusion and the inability to modulate force or de-escalate situations in which force may be needed.”
Among the conditions that satisfy a TRO is the ability of the plaintiff to prove that “the injunction is in the public interest.” The DOJ believes that the directive would decrease public safety by reducing officer’s available force and thus their ability to de-escalate situations.
According to Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best, “left only with the options of a baton, a taser, and an officer’s body, the likelihood of greater injury—to both officer and subject… should be patent and concerning.”
Judge James Robart agreed with the DOJ’s concerns, stating that “the issuance of this immediate change, without time for additional direction or training, is likely to result in officer confusion.”
This decision preceded a weekend that saw thousands of protestors flood the streets of Seattle, demanding police reform.
The use of tear gas was banned by Police Chief Best during last weekend’s protests; however, police were still free to engage crowds using pepper spray and blast balls.
As it stands now, the TRO will remain active for 14 days.
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