Judge OKs Seattle police use-of-force policy

It's a major step toward compliance with Justice pact



SEATTLE — A federal judge on Tuesday approved a new Seattle Police Department policy detailing when officers can use force and requiring all but minimal force to be reported.

The policy is a major step toward helping the city comply with a July 2012 settlement agreement with the U.S. Justice Department to curtail excessive use of force and curb biased policing.

U.S. District Judge James Robart on Tuesday accepted the sweeping policy negotiated between the city and the DOJ. It defines force, lists guidelines for every weapon used and requires the most serious uses of force to be investigated by a special team.

“This is a major milestone in the reform process that will help rebuild trust and foster greater accountability. Clear principles and guidance will enhance officer safety and protect the rights of people in Seattle,” U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan said in a statement.

The DOJ issued a report in late 2011 that found Seattle officers were too quick to use force, including using their batons and flashlights, especially in situations that could have been defused verbally.

The investigation followed an officer’s fatal shooting of a woodcarver who crossed the street in front of him carrying a small folding knife, a killing the Seattle Police Department ruled unjustified, as well as other questionable incidents.

The new police policy defines force as any physical coercion by an officer and spells out when force is appropriate and when it’s prohibited, according to the DOJ. The policy also emphasizes developing and using alternatives to force and requires that officers carry at least one less-lethal tool such as a Taser.

The policy takes effect Jan. 1.