By David Anderson
Seattle’s Police Department just completed sweeping changes to theirs.
According to an announcement made at the December 5th meeting of the Tillicum Woodbrook Neighborhood Association by Bryan Thomas, Chair of Lakewood’s Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC), the Lakewood Police Department’s Use of Force Policy (UFP) is under further review.
This past summer the Lakewood City Council redefined what constituted ‘a weapon,’ and now, specifically with regards the PSAC’s Use of Force recommendations, the Council will apparently await input from the committee as it “gathers information from experts, opponents and proponents (including members of the community) to help guide the Council in both the development and monitoring of public safety policy,” as per the PSAC’s website.
The PSAC’s efforts should be immeasurably assisted by the related development just this week concerning the approval by U.S. District Judge James Robart of “a sweeping set of Seattle Police Department policy changes that describe when the use of force is appropriate,” according to Mike Carter and Steve Miletich, Seattle Times staff reporters.
Following an incident in Tillicum this past June 18 in which 28-year-old Patrick Omeara was shot dead by Lakewood Police, an examination of Lakewood’s 16-page Use-of-Force Policy (UFP) – as reported previously in this publication – revealed two statements missing from the document that, in this writer’s view, provide legitimate grounds for a formal assessment – reportedly now to be undertaken – of Lakewood’s UFP with the possibility of instituting change if necessary.
At the time Omeara was wielding a toy gun and had displayed it in a threatening manner according to accounts of the incident.
This past October 3rd, a three-month investigation into Omeara’s shooting death concluded with a “justifiable homicide” decision announced by Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist. “This appears to be another sad example of ‘suicide by cop,’” said Lindquist.
Likely it was tragedies as this – with the goal of improving policy and preventing the unreasonable use of force – that the American Civil Liberties Union undertook a 2012 investigation of Use of Force Policies of various police departments and law enforcement agencies across the country.
What the agency found lacking is also missing from Lakewood’s UFP.
There is no preamble or mission statement the purpose of which “is to communicate both to the community and to police officers that the preservation of human life is at all times a central tenet of the policy agency,” nor is there a declaration instructing officers “that the use of deadly force is an extreme measure to be employed only in the most limited and extraordinary of circumstances.”
In contrasting UFP’s from police departments in Los Angeles, Denver, Louisville, Portland (Oregon), Philadelphia, and Washington DC, with that of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) , the ACLU further found – in keeping with life-over-force preambles – that the LVMPD’s did not adequately emphasize the de-escalation step in which “an officer may withdraw to a position that is tactically more secure or allows an officer greater distance in order to consider or deploy a greater variety of force options.”
And now that a Department of Justice investigation has concluded, Seattle’s UFP has been revamped to reflect similar changes – and more – that outline for officers when force is appropriate, how much is necessary, and when it is not.
Among the new requirements for Seattle police officers: “If circumstances allow, attempt to de-escalate tense situations 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 findings of the Justice Department’s investigation echoed concerns that had been raised for years by Police Department auditors, a review board, blue-ribbon commissions and plaintiff’s attorneys, among others, who have complained that officers escalate to force too quickly.”
That Lakewood’s Public Safety Advisory Committee has been directed to pursue this matter more thoroughly is in keeping with both statements from Lakewood City Attorney Heidi Wachter and that issued by Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels, director of the Civil Rights Division.
Referencing the Seattle Police Department’s Use of Force Policy changes Samuels wrote, “This policy will help ensure that the people of Seattle have a police department that respects the Constitution, secures the safety of the public, and earns the confidence of the community.”
Said Wachter, “Our policies are developed pursuant to a process and that process results in a use of force policy that is accepted and approved in the law enforcement community.”
All of these recent developments are encouraging since, as in his book “Don’t Shoot,” David M. Kennedy wrote, “Nobody should go to prison who doesn’t have to,” any more than anybody should be shot who doesn’t have to be.