Seattle Police Department Restriction of Force Plan Blocked by Federal Judge

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

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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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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22 Comments

  1. Keith Olsen

    Dear Business Owner and/or Resident:
    Please know that the Seattle Police Department is committed to addressing life safety incidents and calls for service, and responding to ongoing demonstrations and unrest in the city.
    Please also know that the City Council Ordinance 119805 Crowd Control Tool goes into effect this weekend on July 26, 020. This ordinance bans Seattle Police officers [from using] less lethal tools, including pepper spray that is commonly used to disperse crowds that have turned violent. Simply put, the legislation gives officers NO ability to safely intercede to preserve property in the midst of a large, violent crowd.
    It is important to bring to your attention that yesterday, I sent the City Council a letter ensuring them that as the Chief of Police, I have done my due diligence of informing them them numerous times of the foreseeable impact of this ordinance on upcoming events. The letter is attached for your reference.
    For these reasons, Seattle Police will have an adjusted deployment in response to any demonstrations this weekend – as I will never ask our officers to risk their personal safety to protect property without the tools to do so in a safe way.
    Sincerely,
    Carmen Best
    Chief of Police

    In other words it sounds like she was telling business owners to prepare for looting.

      1. Keith Olsen

        What, for caring about the safety of her police officers and the city’s business owners?

        The mayor’s edict would’ve left the cops and businesses in a very vulnerable position.

         

        1. David Greenwald

          It’s called insubordination. The chief is not the policymaker. His job is implement the policies. The Council have to weigh a variety of concerns in making their policy. The chief is allowed to disagree, but when he does so publicly and in that manner he undermines their authority. They need to hire someone who will carry out their policy goals not someone who will undermine them.

        2. Keith Olsen

          His job is implement the policies. 

          You don’t seem to be very well informed on this.  Her name is Carmen Best.

          One of her jobs is to protect and stand by her officers who are trying to perform a very hard and dangerous job in trying times.

          If the mayor’s edict had gone through the rioters would’ve been better equipped than the officers when it came to non lethal devices.

          1. David Greenwald

            I didn’t know who the chief was, but that doesn’t change my view. If she can’t carry out the policies of the council – who undoubtedly took her views into account when they made the policy, then she should step down and let someone else lead the department.

        3. Ron Oertel

          It’s called insubordination. The chief is not the policymaker. His job is implement the policies. The Council have to weigh a variety of concerns in making their policy. The chief is allowed to disagree, but when he does so publicly and in that manner he undermines their authority. They need to hire someone who will carry out their policy goals not someone who will undermine them.

          That’s a pretty strong statement.

          Seems to me that the chief has a duty to warn the public of the possible consequences, and to advocate for their safety (as well as the safety of HER officers).

          A lot more important than “hurting someone’s feelings” on that council. (That’s the type of thing that Trump constantly worries about.)

          Thanks, Keith – for bringing some balance to the Vanguard’s articles. (Actually, David should thank you, for that.)

        4. Keith Olsen

          Seems to me that the chief has a duty to warn the public of the possible consequences, and to advocate for their safety (as well as the safety of HER officers).

          I totally agree.  It seems as if the council only cares about the few thousand rabble-rousers.

          A lot more important than “hurting someone’s feelings” on that council. (That’s the type of thing that Trump constantly worries about.)

          Did you say this in jest or maybe I’m not understanding your point?  Trump doesn’t care whose feelings he hurts.

           

           

        5. Ron Oertel

          Trump is off topic on this thread.

          Thanks for clarifying the reason that my response has disappeared (twice).

          But, would like to clarify that my original comment was misstated, as the point was that Trump seems concerned about “insubordination”, not “hurting the feelings” of others.

          And David brought up “insubordination” in the first place.

          I’m not planning to make any other comments or comparisons to Trump, but would ask that this clarification be allowed to stand.

    1. Bill Marshall

      Actually, “in other words”, she was sending a message to the Seattle electeds, using her leverage as Police Chief, no doubt with full backing/at the instigation of  PD union(s)…  Almosts sounds like she was pressuring business owners to “pay” (political support to stop the change), for ‘protection’…

      Let’s see, ‘pay’ for ‘protection’… what does that sound like?  Think early-mid 20th century.

      We’ve been there, done that…

      The Fire Dept union should consider using a similar ploy…

       

  2. Rick Entrikin

    Very interesting.  David claimed that “He,” the Seattle police chief, should be FIRED.  But after Keith posted a photo showing “she,” the Chief, was a woman, and a woman of color at that, I can’t seem to find any demands for her to be fired.

    And WM, I’m glad you mentioned “paying for protection,” because that reminds me of the way businesses were besieged by rampant, violent crime a century ago.  If today’s police are incapacitated, as the Seattle city council is attempting to do, the only ones who will be able to “protect” business owners will be the anarchists and criminals themselves.

    We can speculate all we want about the Chief’s motivation in warning the larger Seattle community, but when the next Seattle business is destroyed or an employee is assaulted, I predict that her words will ring true.

    1. Don Shor

      But after Keith posted a photo showing “she,” the Chief, was a woman, and a woman of color at that, I can’t seem to find any demands for her to be fired.

      OK, I will. If I received such a letter at my business, I would immediately seek personal clarification from the chief as to what they meant by it with respect to protecting my property and guaranteeing the safety of my employees. If the answer indicated to me that they would not do their job in that regard, I would immediately contact the city council members and urge that the chief be fired.
      That is based on what we’ve been told here. It seems there may be more to this story, since the agency was already operating under legal constraints due to previous issues. And we don’t really know what the internal political machinations are behind the council decision and the chief’s public position. Based on what I see here, the chief should resign. If she declines to do that, she should be fired.

      1. Keith Olsen

         I would immediately seek personal clarification from the chief as to what they meant by it with respect to protecting my property and guaranteeing the safety of my employees.

        I think what she was saying is she can’t guarantee the safety of anyone when the city council has tied her police force’s hands by taking away much of their non lethal capabilities.  Have you seen the riots, even with the non lethal weapons police forces all over the country are over stretched with businesses suffering much of the brunt.

        1. Keith Olsen

          I got cut off by the time clock, but I also wanted to say what do people that demand protection by the police but at the same time take away their defense capabilities expect?

          Do they want the cops to stand in front of their businesses and fist fight?

          And we all know what will happen if the cops have to shoot someone.

          Miss Best’s letter is on target.  I salute her.

        2. Don Shor

          when the city council has tied her police force’s hands by taking away much of their non lethal capabilities. 

          We don’t know the full range of what is available to the police there or in general. Specific things were already banned, others were available to them. Clearly the chief disagrees with the council’s latest attempt to keep the police actions in line with the court order under which they are operating.  That is one of the things for which clarification is needed.
          I would like to have someone with legal training explain this whole situation more clearly. Why the DOJ is involved, what the previous court orders were about, and so on.
          The impression I get is that the police chief is trying to exert political pressure on the council via the business community. I would not want to be manipulated in that manner. But I really do think this is being put forth as a sort of binary choice when the issue involves degrees of escalation and a range of police actions that can be considered.

        3. Bill Marshall

          I think what she was saying is she can’t guarantee the safety of anyone when the city council has tied her police force’s hands by taking away much of their non lethal capabilities.

          Well, no public agency can guarantee anyone safety… nor their property…

          If we came up with a 95% effective vaccine against covid, there is no guarantee that no one will get covid.

          Specifically, as to looting… from the first reports/videos, the looting in Ferguson, MO, did not take place anywhere in vicinity of where the police were, during “the troubles” there… the police were dealing with people.  The looters are not part of the ‘protesters’, they are taking advantage of the fact the police are ‘elsewhere busy’… far less likely of getting ‘caught’.  It has always been so.

          Looting/vandalism/burglaries happen all the time… irrespective of protests.  Just not to the same degree.  In SF, 1906, there were no ‘protests’… after the earthquake/fire, looting was rampant, to the point where emergency rules were issued that ‘looters (called ‘ghouls’) may be shot on sight’… perhaps that would be a better deterrent, where even private citizens could ‘shoot on sight’ looters if the police were not present… police cannot prevent looting… all they can do is investigate, and arrest.

      2. Ron Oertel

        Based on what I see here, the chief should resign. If she declines to do that, she should be fired.

        Not a question for you per se, but would anyone “object” if she was replaced with a white person, and/or, a male? (Assuming, of course, that the potential replacement spouts the right tone at least.)

        It’s so “inconvenient” when a person of a preferable color and gender “disagrees” with the “party line”, isn’t it?  😉

        I smell a recall effort a-brewin, if the council fires this chief and replaces her with a less-than-preferable choice regarding color or gender.

      3. Rick Entrikin

        You honestly believe that if her officers cannot protect businesses or their own lives, due to lack of needed tools to withstand attacks by violent, aggressive anarchists, that Chief Best should be fired for warning people?   Do you believe that the City Council gave such adbanced warning to business owners and residents?   I suspect not, or they would be the ones facing resignations or recall.  I agree that there is probably more to this story than we’ve read here.  But I do not believe that a police chief can or should send her officers into a combat zone, knowing that they are under-armed and endangered.

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