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SPD says newly-passed policing bill will have ‘limited’ effect on city

Police block a road during protests near the Seattle Police East Precinct on July 26, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

The Washington Legislature passed a handful of bills related to policing this session, but according to the Seattle Police Department, not all of them will impact the city’s existing policy.

Seattle Police Department details changes since George Floyd’s death

Policing bills state lawmakers passed this session include:

  • HB 1054: Imposes restrictions on the use of tear gas, bans chokeholds and neck restraints, bans vehicular pursuits excepting specific scenarios, bans no-knock search and arrest warrants, prohibits the use of military equipment, and convenes a work group on the training and deployment of K9s.
  • HB 1310: Establishes standards for when officers can use force, narrowing the definition of when deadly force can be used
  • HB 1267: Creates a new office of Independent Investigations for cases involving deadly force
  • SB 5055: Mandates the formation of a new arbitration panel to handle disciplinary appeals from police officers

SPD detailed the impacts of each bill in its latest update filed with the federal monitor overseeing the department’s ongoing consent decree. For the bill regarding tear gas, chokeholds, and no-knock warrants, it doesn’t foresee major impacts, largely due to city-level policy that is either already on par with or more strict than the rules laid out in the legislation.

“While this law may bring important changes throughout the State, its effect on SPD operations will be limited,” SPD noted.

Currently, chokeholds and neck restraints are already prohibited in Seattle by a city ordinance and SPD’s own use of force policies. Additionally, the department “does not authorize officers to obtain or execute” no-knock warrants, citing how it “strictly adheres to the ‘knock-and-announce’ rule.”

For the new state guidelines restricting vehicular pursuits, SPD says that those rules are “less restrictive” than the department’s own policies.

Watchdog group received over 19,000 complaints against SPD in 2020

Regarding limits on the use of tear gas, the new state law mandates that it cannot be used “unless necessary to alleviate a present risk of serious harm” posed by either a riot, a barricaded subject, or a hostage scenario. Additionally, its use can only be authorized by the highest-level elected official in a police department’s jurisdiction (in Seattle’s case, the mayor).

Those rules would “have little effect on SPD’s crowd management practices,” the department said, excepting that the city’s prior policy required the chief of police’s authorization for the use of tear gas rather than the mayor’s. Seattle is also currently subject to a court injunction that “provides very similar restrictions” to the state bill, SPD points out.

That injunction was issued as part of an ongoing lawsuit filed by the ACLU and Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County, limiting the use of pepper spray, pepper balls, blast balls, tear gas, and more, excepting life-threatening situations for officers. Last December, a judge found SPD partially in contempt of the injunction, citing four separate incidents where police had improperly used blast balls and pepper spray.

For the other three state bills, SPD believes that until more specific details on their implementation are released, “it would be premature” to predict the impacts on the department’s current operations.

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