DOJ hammers SPD for use of excessive force
The U.S. Department of Justice found that the Seattle Police Department exhibits a pattern of using unnecessary or excessive force. The department findings were based on a review of police documents and interviews with police officials and community members.
The 67-page document from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division outlined the findings that the SPD’s use of force was unconstitutional 20 percent of the time and that officers too quickly resort to use of weapons like batons and flashlights. It also noted concern about the community perception that police action disparately targets minority communities.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington requested that the DOJ investigate excessive force in the Seattle Police Department. In a letter from December 2010, the ACLU listed six specific incidents in which police used excessive force, including the shooting death of John T. Williams, a First Nations carver.
According to the report, a minority of SPD’s police force is responsible for much of the excessive force.
According to the study, officers escalate situations unnecessarily for minor offenses, especially when dealing with people who are mentally ill. Mentally ill people are involved in 70 percent of cases in which police used force.
While the report did not find conclusively that the department has a pattern of discriminatory policing, it did mention that 43 percent of all residents and 56 percent of black residents believe racial profiling is a problem among Seattle police.
More than 50 percent of unnecessary or excessive force cases involved minorities, even though minorities account for less than 31 percent of the city population.
The report said that inexperienced police officers make up a growing portion of the police force in Seattle.
One-third of the 1,300-officer department has less than three years experience. Another 350 were eligible to retire at the time of the study, likely to be replaced with new, less experienced officers.
Police Chief John Diaz questioned the findings in an email sent to staff Friday morning. He said the city is requesting to examine the data used in the study’s conclusions.
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