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Seattle council kicks off renewed push to limit SPD’s use of crowd control weapons

Seattle police dispersing pepper spray during a July protest. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

The Seattle City Council has kicked off a renewed bid to draft legislation limiting the Seattle Police Department’s use of crowd control weapons.

Oversight groups differ on how to handle crowd control weapons ban

In June 2020, the council approved a sweeping ban on 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.

Those three groups submitted their recommendations in September 2020, differing on whether some less-lethal weapons should be allowed in specific situations, but all agreeing that large-scale changes to SPD’s crowd control methods continue to be a necessity.

That has Seattle Councilmember Lisa Herbold — who chairs the public safety committee — spearheading an effort to draft new legislation that aligns with the recommendations of the city’s police oversight groups, as well as with an ongoing consent decree that the SPD continues to operate under.

As SCC Insight’s Kevin Schofield points out, there’s a laundry list of issues the council will need to resolve in order to get this legislation passed. That includes figuring out whether any changes run afoul of the city’s collective bargaining agreement with the police union, ensuring there’s no confusion concerning when officers are and aren’t allowed to use specific crowd control weapons, and what weapons the council believes police officers should no longer be allowed to use at all.

As of January 2021, the council’s proposal is in its infancy, with many of those details yet to be worked out. Herbold has already started that process, though, having held a pair of sessions “to discuss provisions of a revised ordinance,” Schofield describes. The hope is to have the bill introduced and voted out of the public safety committee on Jan. 26.

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

That will then trigger another lengthy approval process, which will require it to move through the U.S. Department of Justice and consent decree monitor, and then to U.S. District Judge James Robart (who had struck down the council’s original crowd control weapons ban in 2020). The expectation is that this will take weeks, and potentially even months.

If or when Judge Robart gives it the green light, it will go before the full council for a final vote.

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