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May 29, 2014 at 1:47 PM

U.S. attorney: SPD officers’ lawsuit ‘without merit’

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U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan discusses the lawsuit filed by some officers in the Seattle Police Department with media Thursday afternoon at the Federal Courthouse in Seattle. Photo by Mark Harrison / The Seattle Times

U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan said a lawsuit filed Wednesday by more than 100 Seattle police officers over a new use-of-force policies is “without merit.”

She said there will always be those in an organization who will resist change because it is different. But she said police reforms will proceed.

Durkan called a rare, impromptu news conference the day after the lawsuit was filed in federal court, naming her, the monitor assigned to oversee Seattle police reforms and other federal and city officials as defendants. The lawsuit alleges the new policies are putting officers and citizens in danger because they are confusing.

Durkan disputed that, saying that the policies are still being implemented and that most officers haven’t been trained in their use yet.

“We will not be distracted by those who want to slow or stop reform,” Durkan said. She said the new use-of-force policies were written by police, for police.

Durkan said elements of the policies that are determined to not be working can be changed.

She said police deserve credit for taking on the changes while continuing to patrol the city’s streets. Durkan also said significant and positive reform has also been achieved, but that much more work remains before the city will reach compliance with the 2012 settlement agreement between the Seattle Police Department and the Department of Justice over findings that police here routinely use unconstitutional levels of force during arrests.

She said she was confident the “vast majority’ of police officers in Seattle go to work each day with one thing in mind: to protect the public.

The message to police is, “Reform is on the way. Get on the train, or leave,” Durkan said.

More than 100 Seattle police officers filed the federal lawsuit, alleging that new use-of-force policies imposed under a consent decree with the Department of Justice (DOJ) unreasonably restrict their right to protect themselves and others from apparent harm and danger. The lawsuit claims the the use-of-force policies “unreasonably restrict and burden their right to protect themselves and others in violation of the Second, Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution”

The civil-rights lawsuit names U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and Merrick Bobb, the federal monitor overseeing court-reforms to curtail excessive force and biased policing, as defendants. The city and Justice Department agreed to the reforms in 2012, and the revised use-of-force policies went into effect earlier this year.

The new use-of-force policy was negotiated between the police department and DOJ with the guidance of Bobb. It was designed to address the findings of a 2011 DOJ investigation that concluded Seattle police resort to force too quickly and routinely use too much when they do. The Justice Department also found disturbing but inconclusive evidence of biased policing.

The policy states specifically that officers shall “use only the force necessary to perform their duties” and “with minimal reliance upon the use of physical force.”

It requires them, if circumstances allow, to attempt to de-escalate tense situations through “advisements, warnings, verbal persuasion, and other tactics” to reduce the need for force.

When using force is unavoidable, the policy cautions officers to use only the force necessary to make the arrest, and says that their conduct before force was used may be considered by the department in determining whether force was appropriate.

The policy also requires all officers be armed with one “less-lethal” tool, such as a Taser, pepper spray or a “beanbag” shotgun, in addition to their sidearm.

 

Comments | More in The Blotter | Topics: Department of Justice, Jenny Durkan, Seattle Police Department

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