Seattle police have cut their use of moderate and lethal force 60%. But controversial police shootings still happen, and no officer has been prosecuted since the change took effect.
by Lauren Rosenhall
SEATTLE (CalMatters) — Working his beat on a rainy fall afternoon, Seattle Police Sgt. Eric Pisconski checked in with a man he knew was mentally ill. He wanted to see if he’d been taking his medication, a key piece of a court-supervised plan to improve his mental health.
“We’ve been familiar with (him) for the last few years and his behavior has been declining steadily and becoming more concerning,” said Pisconski, who heads a special unit focused on people in mental crisis.
“He can’t legally obtain a firearm but he has gone out and obtained very realistic replica airsoft firearms … and has attempted to prompt multiple officer-involved shootings.”
Police didn’t shoot the man, though. Pisconski credits officers for a “phenomenal job of de-escalation.”
But he doesn’t know how long the peace will last.
“The rub there is that, while he might have shown up on multiple occasions with a replica firearm, you don’t know when it’s going to be a real firearm,” Pisconski said. “You’re probably not going to find too many cops that are going to risk their life on, ‘Well it was fake last time, so it’s probably gonna be fake this time.’”
The situation exemplifies the nuanced reality for Seattle police, who have been under a court order to reduce their use of force since the U.S. Justice Department found that officers frequently treated people in unconstitutional ways.
Seven years later, Seattle officers are using force a lot less — a reduction that has made the department a national model for police reform. But racial inequities in the use of force and concerns that officers are not always held accountable for misconduct have tempered some praise of the department. Officers and activists alike offer mixed reviews of the impact of the court order.
Seattle’s experience offers important lessons for California as the state adapts to new laws meant to reduce police shootings: requiring officers be better trained in how to de-escalate tense situations, and placing new limits on when police can use deadly force. As California lawmakers debated both bills earlier this year, civil rights advocates pointed to Seattle as a place that had benefited from a similar policy.
Seattle police have reduced their use of moderate and lethal levels of force by 60%, according to monitors tracking the department’s court-ordered reforms. (That includes shootings as well as other force that can cause injuries, such as tasers and batons.) The reduction followed a host of changes at the police department, including improved de-escalation training and a more robust use-of-force policy.
SO IN A GENERATION, WE HAVE MOVED THE NEEDLE.” — Seattle Activist Rev. Harriet Walden
Police in this city already had the word “necessary” in their policy, but it grew more detailed after the court order. It now says officers can only use force that is “reasonable, necessary, and proportionate” to bring a situation under control, while protecting the lives of officers and others. That’s similar to the new California law, taking effect in January, which says officers can only use deadly force when “necessary in defense of human life.”
Seattle’s experience “provides a pretty good indication of what we can expect” in California, said Peter Bibring, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney who advocated for California’s new law.
“A policy that restricts force to situations where it’s ‘necessary’ can reduce uses of force and do so safely,” he said. “I think that should hold true in California.”
But police shootings still happen in Seattle — including some that have been very controversial — and no officer has faced criminal prosecution in the seven years since the court order. Police remain more likely to use force on people of color than on white residents of Seattle, the court-appointed monitors found. And the federal judge overseeing the department has criticized its appeals process, which allows officers to be rehired after they’ve been disciplined or fired for misconduct. Seattle police rehired an officer who’d been fired for punching a hand-cuffed woman in the face.
“It’s not nirvana, so let’s be real,” said Rev. Harriett Walden, a Seattle activist who sits on the community police commission created in response to the court order.
On the other hand, she acknowledges some major improvements: Activists and police officials have learned to work together, and better record-keeping provides more information on which officers are using what types of force.
“This is a lot different than it was 30 years ago,” Walden said. “Wasn’t nobody talking about use of force (or) bias … It was standard police procedure and it was nothing you can do about it. So in a generation, we have moved the needle.”
Seattle’s rate of fatal police shootings is lower than that of many California cities, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Fresno and San Jose, based on a CalMatters analysis of data from the Seattle Times and the Washington Post. And, importantly, Seattle’s experience suggests that law enforcement agencies can change in ways that make the public safer without putting officers in greater danger. Researchers found no increase in crime or injuries to Seattle officers as they decreased their use of force.
“I don’t think that officers are getting injured, harmed, assaulted, or killed just because ‘necessary’ is in our use of force guidelines,” said Pisconski, the Seattle police sergeant leading the mental health response unit.
Sgt. James Kim, who is responsible for training Seattle police, said the new emphasis on de-escalation and promoting teamwork has made everyone safer.
“THERE’S OFFICERS THAT ARE REAL WORRIED THAT YOU’RE GOING TO BECOME THE CENTER OF MEDIA ATTENTION BASED ON ONE DECISION.” — Seattle Police Sgt. Brian Kraus
“Before it would just be kind of a brawl, I hate to say it. Now we’re using coordinated tactics that are less injurious to the suspect and less injurious to the officer,” he said.
Other officers disagree. “In some cases it’s made the job more dangerous,” said Rich O’Neill, a spokesman for the Seattle police officers union. “Officers are hesitating in certain circumstances where they shouldn’t be.”
Sgt. Brian Kraus, who patrols downtown Seattle by bike, said he sees that happening, too.
“They don’t use enough force when enough force is needed… Even if they’re hit, they don’t respond appropriately,” Kraus said. “There’s officers that are real worried that you’re going to become the center of media attention based on one decision.”
The tremendous scrutiny, he added, has made some of his colleagues quit: “They don’t believe that they can do police work and they want to go somewhere that they feel that the city government is going to support them.”
Activists are similarly divided over how much the changes at the police department have helped. Five years after the court intervened, Seattle erupted in protest when police killed a pregnant African-American woman in her own home, with her children present. The police department’s investigation determined that the officers were justified in shooting Charleena Lyles because she pulled a knife on them after they entered her apartment.
“I believe that there is something different that could have been done,” said Lyles’ cousin Katrina Johnson. “There is some sort of de-escalation that could have transpired.”
She seemed stunned that advocates in California regard the Seattle Police Department’s use-of-force policy as a model.
“Are we really the model when we still have things to work on? I’m not sure it sits well with me at all,” she said.
Lisa Daugaard, an attorney who runs a nonprofit public defender office, said many people in Seattle still feel like police can get away with unnecessary shootings. “Community questions about whether those were avoidable are just as alive and just as valid as before the (court order),” said Daugaard, who served on the community police commission for several years.
“I think the department gets a ton of credit for innovation, openness to partnership, sensitivity to community concerns. But on this one question about deadly force, I would be hard pressed to say that something definitive has changed.”
This story was originally reported for an episode of the Force Of Law podcast, in which reporter Laurel Rosenhall follows the creation of new California laws meant to reduce police shootings. Force Of Law producer Brian Howey and researcher Robbie Short contributed to this report.
This article is produced as part of WeHo Daily’s partnership with CalMatters, a nonpartisan, nonprofit journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters.
Bev Hills Police Chief to Retire Amid Discrimination Lawsuits
BEVERLY HILLS — Beverly Hills City Manager George Chavez announced that Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli will retire from the department, effective May 15, 2020.
NBC LA cites “several law enforcement and other sources” as saying that Spagnoli was notified “she had until Friday, April 24, to resign or face possible termination.”
Spagnoli joined BHPD in February of 2016 from the City of San Leandro in Northern California where she served as Chief since 2011. She has been accused in multiple lawsuits of using slurs and making remarks about Jews, employees who were LGBTQ and people of color. NBCLA reports on allegations of promoting mostly white men and having sexual contact with employees.
“During the Chief’s tenure, crime was reduced while the department increased diversity, public outreach, best practices and advancements in technology,” said Chavez. “We thank Chief Spagnoli for her service to our community and her three decades of public service in law enforcement.”
“I am grateful to have served Beverly Hills and proud of the accomplishments over the past 4 years to keep this world-class community one of the safest in the nation,” said Chief Spagnoli.
Chavez is expected to name an Interim Police Chief in the coming weeks.
WeHo Sheriff Adjusting Patrols and Services for Coronavirus Reality
WEST HOLLYWOOD — The West Hollywood Division of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department will be adjusting their patrols as businesses close and residents shelter at home due to the Covid-19 Coronavirus.
The station issued the following statement:
The COVID-19 virus, and the unprecedented statewide call for civilians to create social distance, has created a situation where many retail businesses in West Hollywood are closed. Based on concerns regarding the security of businesses in the City of West Hollywood, we have organized a plan for directed patrol of both high value commercial burglary targets and other retail establishments within the City. These directed patrols will be 24/7 until further notice.
We have identified several areas of the City that have a high density of commercial businesses that are more commonly subjected to burglaries. Our crime analyst and historical crime data supports this conclusion. These directed patrol units sole responsibility will be monitoring their assigned areas of the City.
We will also have dedicated directed patrol units responsible for monitoring our grocery stores and other vital resources. They will also include residential patrolling, as well. These added security enhancements will not affect the station’s normal patrol deployment.
The Sheriff would like to assure the community that police services are continuing.
The Station is fully staffed and as always, will respond to priority and emergent calls for service. In an abundance of caution and in an effort to prevent the unnecessary exposure and spread of the COVID-19 virus, the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station began taking non-emergent, property crime reports over the phone on March 12.
The station lobby is open to the public; however, for non-emergent services, those in need are encouraged to please call the Station business line at (310) 855-8850 ahead of time, and to use services available on LASD.org.
For emergency calls, please dial 9-1-1. Certain police reports can be made online at the station website, WeHoSheriff.
This system allows you to file a specific type of crime or incident report through this website. Once your report is reviewed and accepted, you will be emailed a free copy of the approved report for your records. You can report the following incidents:
– Lost or stolen cell phones valued $950 or less
– Lost or stolen property valued $950 or less
– Vandalism, excluding graffiti, where damage is valued under $400
– Theft from an unlocked vehicle valued $950 or less
– Theft from an open or unsecured area valued $950 or less
– Supplemental Loss Form (Must already have a LASD report number)
As the City continues to adapt to the challenges caused by the COVID-19 virus, deputies have been provided emergency response protocols to assist with community members who may be infected. Safety equipment measures for personnel have also been implemented. Stores and businesses are being monitored frequently where food, health and emergency resources can be obtained.
The Sheriff’s Department is working closely with Public Health and Emergency professionals such as the County Emergency Operations Center (CEOC), The County Department of Public Health (CDP), The Los Angeles County Department of Human Resources (DHR), and The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) through our LASD Department Operations Center (DOC) which is open 24 hours a day/7 days a week.
Cops Aren’t Scared of Coronavirus, They Are Used To Danger
(TMZ) — The long arm of the law isn’t backing down from the highly-contagious coronavirus … and while cops are taking some precautions, they’re just used to facing danger at every turn.
Cops across the country are telling us the same thing … they’re not afraid to arrest and interact with suspects, break up fights or subdue people in the face of a deadly pandemic.
Our law enforcement sources in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Miami and Green Bay tell us their officers face much bigger dangers every day on the force — bullets, cars, staph infections, etc. — and most cops are under the age of 55, so they feel less at risk.
Sources tell TMZ … at the LAPD, COVID-19 is just another occupational hazard, and officers are being instructed to wear gloves and not touch their face. We’re told cops are still gonna get hands-on with suspects if they have to — they’re not just gonna let s*** hit the fan — and the virus won’t stop anyone from doing their job.
As we first reported … one woman’s already been arrested for allegedly threatening to cough on a cop and spread the virus.
Our sources tell us L.A. Sheriff’s Department deputies are using caution when responding to calls, and if they’re not sure how to handle a situation they’re being told to call a supervisor. We’re told LASD is picking and choosing battles, but if deputies need to get hands-on, they will … and they’re carrying special coronavirus kits.
Law enforcement sources tell us the NYPD has its officers wearing masks and gloves and exercising caution … but laws still gotta be enforced, and that’s what the NYPD is doing.
Our sources also tell us cops in Chicago are also being cautious, but they still have to answer calls and nothing’s changed on that front.
Ditto for police in Miami, though sources say cops might not respond to calls where a police report can be taken over the phone. Still, we’re told cops will still get in the mix when it’s necessary.
Law enforcement sources tell us police in Green Bay are educating themselves on the virus, and they want officers to have access to safety tools like wipes and gloves. In the meantime, cops are taking more reports over the phone and will respond to calls when needed.
Bottom line … coronavirus doesn’t mean this is the Wild Wild West.
County Hospitals Receive 300 iPads for Patients to See Family
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Anderson Cooper Reveals He’s a Dad, Welcomes New Baby Boy
Madonna: I Have Antibodies … Gonna Breathe in COVID-19 Air
Trump Thinks Armed Michigan Protesters Are ‘Very Good People’
21 Workers Test Positive for Coronavirus at Rock n Roll Ralphs
Residents of Whitley Ave Hold Dance Party From Windows, Balconies
Laurel Canyon Hosts Porch Concerts Amid Stay Home Order
WeHo’s Leslie Jordan Gains 3.5M IG Followers During Quarantine
‘Safer at Home’ Extended to May 15, Face Covers Required in Public
‘Project Runway’ Star Michael Costello Converts Factory to Produce Masks
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LA’s Original Farmers Market – Business Booming During Pandemic
This Just In…
- County Hospitals Receive 300 iPads for Patients to See Family
- Processions to Cedars Will Salute Healthcare Workers on National Nurses Day
- WeHo Webinar: Loneliness, Isolation, Depression, and Anxiety During Pandemic
- Texas & California Wet Markets Show Full Extent of Vile Conditions
- White House Gift Shop Selling Coronavirus Commemorative Coins
- Joe Exotic Prison Has 2nd Highest ‘Rona Rate
- Beverly Hills Votes To Resume Plastic Surgery Despite Coronavirus Pandemic