As allegations of excessive force piled-up for the Seattle Police Department, the stage was set for a federal takeover of the department. Last year, city leaders worked out a settlement to put Merrick Bobb in charge of spear-heading changes.
The previous guidelines on use of force was a 5-page document. Bobb drafted a 70-plus page manual that covers everything from finding alternatives to confrontation; to ensuring accountability when situations turn deadly.
"What we have done in these use of force policies is to build in requirements is that the officers consider alternatives," Bobb said.
At its core, the guidelines instruct officers to use force only when necessary and reasonable, to de-escalate when possible, and to reduce the force as a suspect ceases to resist.
"It makes very clear from a policy standpoint that force is not to be used generally," said Seattle City Councilman Bruce Harrell.
Community groups had long complained that Seattle police did just the opposite, and the Department of Justice found officers sometimes escalated minor situations into physical confrontations. Now the standards are changing, with new protocols on the appropriate use of firearms, batons, pepper spray and other weapons.
"Now anytime a firearm is pointed at someone, that's considered a use of force," Harrell said.
When force is used, guidelines lay out three tiers for reporting. Officers and sergeants have new reporting requirements under all three -- but more significant incidents go before a separate review board, or even a force investigation team.
"The proof will be what happens out there in the field, not the document itself," Harrell said.
A community survey released at the meeting found that while most people think Seattle police do a good job, they also don't believe officers treat people of all races and groups equally. And nearly half still think Seattle police use excessive force frequently.
It's perceptions these guidelines are trying to change.