Police oversight groups differ on Seattle council’s ban on crowd control weapons

Sep 11, 2020, 12:36 PM | Updated: 4:45 pm
Seattle police, police tactics...
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

A trio of police oversight groups presented recommendations Friday for how they think Seattle lawmakers should approach the use of crowd control weapons by police.

Federal judge cautions council to be ‘mindful’ of consent decree

In mid-June, Seattle council members approved a sweeping ban on the Seattle Police Department’s use of crowd control weapons, including tear gas, pepper spray, and blast balls. Before it could go into effect, though, a federal judge granted a temporary restraining order on the legislation, asking the city’s three police oversight groups — the Office of Police Accountability (OPA), the Community Police Commission (CPC), and the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) — to submit their own recommendations.

The groups presented their findings and recommendations to the council’s Public Safety and Human Services Committee Friday.

The CPC was the lone agency of the three to recommend that the city implement its ban on crowd control weapons “as soon as possible,” specifically “as it pertains to First Amendment protected activity,” such as protests.

That being so, it also noted that some of these weapons should be available for use outside of crowd control situations, alongside “strong policies” and increased accountability.

Both the OPA and OIG disagreed with the CPC on the crowd control weapons ban, citing the need for police to “have sufficient tools to address specific acts of violence or disperse a declared riot.”

“To take all those tools away and to expect the city, if in a dire situation, can be kept safe, I think that is an unreasonable request,” OPA Director Andrew Myerberg said.

Despite that difference in opinion, all three groups agreed that large-scale changes to SPD’s crowd control methods are a necessity.

“Where we can join is that what’s happening right now is not working, and there have to be changes to these policies,” Myerberg noted.

Judge expands restrictions on SPD’s use of crowd control weapons

The groups also all agreed that tear gas should be banned entirely as a means of crowd control, and that stricter regulations need to be in place any time other less lethal weapons are used. Additionally, they cited the need for more specific standards regarding the declaration of a riot.

“We found SPD’s policy to be very lacking in details, both in terms of when a riot can be declared, and at what stage certain levels of force would be appropriate,” Inspector General Lisa Judge said.

To that end, the CPC called for “clear, strong, and high standards for when police and city officials are authorized to declare unlawful assemblies and riots.”

From here, U.S. District Judge James Robart will review the findings of the CPC, OIG, and OPA, as well as recommendations from the SPD, in order to determine whether it violates the city’s ongoing federal consent decree. Council members may also decide to revise the legislation themselves based on Friday’s recommendations, although at this point it’s unclear to what extent they plan on doing so.

Meanwhile, the city continues to operate under a separate injunction from U.S. District Judge Richard Jones, ruling that police cannot deploy crowd control weapons “indiscriminately into a crowd,” and must instead target them “at the specific imminent threat of physical harm to themselves or others,” or “to respond to specific acts of violence or destruction of property.”

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Police oversight groups differ on Seattle council’s ban on crowd control weapons