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Seattle police file suit over DOJ reforms

Former Boston police commissioner Kathleen O'Toole left, walks with Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and Interim Police Chief Harry Bailey, right, Monday, May 19, 2014, on the way to a press conference in Seattle to introduce O'Toole as Murray's nominee to be the new Seattle Chief of Police. (Ted S. Warren/AP Photo)

Former Boston police commissioner Kathleen O’Toole left, walks with Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and Interim Police Chief Harry Bailey, right, Monday, May 19, 2014, on the way to a press conference in Seattle to introduce O’Toole as Murray’s nominee to be the new Seattle Chief of Police. (Ted S. Warren/AP Photo)

SEATTLE – In a highly public rejection of federally mandated reforms, more than 100 Seattle police officers filed a lawsuit Wednesday asking a federal judge to block what they called “mechanical” and unrealistic use-of-force policies imposed on them under a court-ordered consent decree.

The 43-page suit alleges policies stemming from an agreement between the city and the U.S. Department of Justice stoked a “bold, new disregard for police authority in the streets of Seattle,” putting officers and the public in unreasonable danger.

The civil rights suit contends that the changes have effectively created “hesitation and paralysis” among officers, stripping them of their constitutional and legal right to make reasonable, split-second judgments in the line of duty.

In Albuquerque, the DOJ issued a report April 10 that said Albuquerque Police Department officers have a pattern of violating residents’ constitutional rights through excessive force. The report came after the DOJ reviewed more than 200 APD use-of-force reports from 2009 to early 2013.

The city and DOJ officials are negotiating police reforms to address the Justice Department’s findings.

The Seattle police officers are upset because the consent decree negotiated between Seattle and the DOJ resulted in an 88-page use-of-force policy that is hard to understand, said Shaun Willoughby, vice president of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association. Willoughby said he spoke with the Seattle police guild Thursday about their negotiations with the DOJ.

“It’s very, very crucial and important to have the men and women working this job involved in making changes,” he said. “What went wrong up there is that (the police officers) were completely left out of all the negotiations.”

Willoughby said the negotiations with Albuquerque have just begun and it’s too early to know how APD officers will feel about the process.

“We’ve had meetings (with DOJ officials and city-hired consultants). Whether our meetings and input resonates with their recommendations, I can’t tell you that,” Willoughby said.

As a result of policy changes in Seattle, officers there are afraid to do their job for fear of being second-guessed over burdensome, complicated and voluminous policies, the suit says.

“Aside from evidence that officers are hesitating and/or failing to use appropriate and lawfully justified force to address threats safely and effectively, there is evidence of a dramatic decrease in proactive police work to investigate and stop crime,” the suit alleges in a reference to what some have called depolicing.

Just two weeks ago, a Seattle Police Department report revealed steep drops in the enforcement of lower-level crimes, traffic offenses and infractions in recent years as officers have displayed less willingness to seek out illegal activity.

Journal staff writer Ryan Boetel contributed to this report.

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