“The Monitor finds that overall use of force by the SPD is down . . . Overall, use of force has gone down even as officer injuries have not gone up and crime, by most measures, has not increased . . . the force that SPD officers do use is, by and large, reasonable, necessary, proportional, and consistent with the Department’s use of force policy.”
This finding is part of a new report issued by the federal monitoring team this afternoon. The Monitor found that Seattle officers use force “very infrequently.” In a nearly two-and-a-half-year period (July 2014 to October 2016), there were 2,385 incidents where officers used force out of 759,383 contacts with people in the city. Use of force decreased by 10 percent overall from the first half to the second half of the study period. Moreover, moderate- and higher-level use of force decreased by 60 percent over the study period.
One thing is also very clear from the Monitor’s new report: Seattle officers are documenting their use of force as never before. New reporting and accountability requirements are much more rigorous. I saw this first hand two weeks ago, when I observed a Force Review Board assessment of five use of force cases. Watching the Board function was instructive.
Each Board member had reviewed the case files before the meeting; they had read written reports, listened to police radio communications, and watched any available video. One board member presented the key facts of each incident, recapping when and where it occurred, who was involved, and what happened. Board members asked questions, discussed the case, then answered a series of set questions about each incident. One case stood out in particular.
It involved a young man who had reportedly sexually assaulted a woman at a bus stop on lower Queen Anne. As officers were responding, it was reported the man was throwing objects at passing cars. What unfolded was similar to what we saw last week on Third Avenue near Benaroya Hall—officers showing patience, de-escalating, getting resources to the scene.
The first police car to arrive on the scene recorded video of the man throwing a rock which bounced off the front windshield of the police car. The video also shows the man walking toward the first officer; he’s yelling “shoot me” and counting down “three-two-one,” then raising his hands and “firing” his “finger pistols” at the officers. What followed was an amazing example of superior police work—de-escalating, waiting, giving clear commands with no profanity, asking for backup. At one point, as the man continues to advance on the officers, one fires his Taser (which one of the Review Board members said could reasonably have occurred much earlier in the incident) to no apparent effect, which sometimes happens with individuals experiencing “excited delirium,” a particularly troubling mental state that can quickly lead to extreme violence. Near the end of the incident, the man attempts to hit one of the officers with his fists and he is physically tackled and arrested. But even then, officers are calm, focused on properly applying handcuffs. It’s all on video for a clear record of what happened.
Observing that Force Review Board meeting, and now reading the Monitor’s report, causes me to realize again just how far we have come. And the credit goes to the officers who are out on the streets every day doing their tough jobs with excellence.