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Seattle Cops Crowdsourcing Legal Battle Against DOJ-Imposed Excessive Force Remedies

from the cops-ask-public-to-front-money-in-return-for-gunshot-wounds-later dept

Reaping what you sow doesn’t seem to be an operative metaphor in the law enforcement world. Years of excessive force and biased policing by the Seattle PD resulted in a Dept. of Justice investigation. The final outcome was a series of reforms being ordered to address these issues [pdf]. These reforms — including a new use of force policy — went into effect at the beginning of 2014. And probably not a minute too late. 2013 saw the Seattle police officers performing 20% of the city’s homicides (6 out of 29 total).

But some officers on the force seem to prefer excessive force and discriminatory policing. The Oregonian reports that a group of Seattle police officers has set up a crowdfunding campaign to finance its legal battle against these reforms, which they say “violate” their “rights.” (via Techdirt reader hoare)

A Seattle police officer suing to block new use-of-force policies has set up an Internet fundraising page to help pay for the legal fight, calling the federally mandated reforms “the greatest threat to the city’s public safety in our time.”

Robert Mahoney, the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit brought by 113 officers, created the crowdfunding page Saturday on the website GoFundMe.

The manifesto delivered there is impressive in its assertion of nonexistent rights and misrepresentation of the dangers Seattle cops face.

We would prefer to just be doing our jobs rather than having to also wage a legal battle for our rights. However, as well as being public servants, we are also fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors. We have the right and the duty to go home at the end of each watch. Requiring us to take unnecessary risks that will inevitably prevent this is not only unreasonable, it is immoral.

No one has the “right” to make it through work safely. There are plenty of safeguards in place in hopes of assuring this happens, but it’s a stretch to say that anyone has the “right” (guaranteed by what?) to not die while on the clock. To be sure, wrongful death suits can arise out of workplace-related deaths, but this is a civil remedy that deals mainly with employer negligence, not the normal, known hazards of the work environment. If you don’t want to face these known risks, then your best bet is to find alernate employment.

The crowdfunding page tries to turn a statement by the Supreme Court dealing with self-defense into a “right” to live through a shift.

The Supreme Court has long acknowledged that self-defense is a natural individual right possessed by every citizen, regardless of profession, i.e. “the rules which determine what is self-defense are of universal application, and are not affected by the character [of a person’s] employment.”

Even if self-defense is a right, staying alive until the end of the shift is not. The government has never portrayed police work — or any other dangerous work — as subject to a right to remain alive. What these officers are doing here is turning self-defense into something much more proactive than it really is. It’s a defensive method ties to justified force, not a blank check for excessive/deadly force. These cops seem to believe in preemptive self-defense, which helps explain why the Seattle PD was responsible for 20% of homicides last year.

This fact points to uglier truth: do these Seattle cops believe only the police have a “right” to make it home safely? Is that only guaranteed for some people? Because six people didn’t “make it home safely” in 2013 as a direct result of police force. And yet, all we’re seeing here is an argument that because police work is inherently dangerous, there should be nothing standing between a police officer and a safe return home — even if it means “violating” other people’s “right” to self-defense/make it home alive. This statement pushes for everyone to make the assumption that at all times, it is civilians who are the aggressors. Fighting back — even in self-defense — isn’t really an option for civilians. That behavior tends to make members of the public more bruised/bleeding/dead.

Further “justification” for the removal of DOJ-ordered remedies takes the form of phrases delivered without citing any evidence whatsoever.

Being a cop has never been more complicated, unpredictable, and dangerous. We work in a city, like many American cities, faced with increasing criminal violence…

Being a cop is actually safer than it’s been in over 50 years. Police have access to a greater variety of offensive and defensive options than they’ve ever had. The assertion that Seattle is “facing increasing criminal violence” is just plain wrong. Crime rates nationally have been in a steady decline since the late 1980s. Seattle is no exception. Its crime rate is now half of what it was in 1985.

The statement leans heavily on depicting self-defense as a Constitutionally-guaranteed right to deploy whatever amount of force the officer deems necessary when faced with a potentially dangerous situation. The Constitution does not guarantee an “any means necessary” approach to threats — not for police officers and not for members of the public.

Officers will find themselves in more dangerous situations than most members of the public, but they also have Kevlar vests, openly-carried weapons, Tasers, nightsticks, etc. on hand at all times. What these officers want to do is roll things back to the days when they could go hard on certain ethnicities and dole out excessive force as they saw fit. And now they want the public to help fund a fight for worse policing — the same public that’s on the hook for every settlement handed out to excessive force victims, as well as paying for any legal action the city of Seattle takes in response. That’s beyond tone-deaf. That’s audaciousness bordering on sociopathy.

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Comments on “Seattle Cops Crowdsourcing Legal Battle Against DOJ-Imposed Excessive Force Remedies”

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Michael (profile) says:

From the report:

When SPD officers use force, they do so in an unconstitutional manner nearly
20% of the time. This finding (as well as the factual findings identified below) is
not based on citizen reports or complaints. Rather, it is based on a review of a
randomized, stratified, and statistically valid sample of SPD’s own internal use of
force reports completed by officers and supervisors

They violate the CONSTITUTION 20% of the time when they are using force? Why are they not all in jail?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Wrong, they violate it in their own words 20% of the time. The other 80% of the time they manage to not implicate themselves whether that means that there was no violation or not, hard to say due to the lack of documentation and the stonewalling to prevent real independent review. The “Thin blue line” is a clear demarcation that prevents the law from being applied equally. When you have an imbalance in law, you have an imbalance in society and the end is inevitable.

aldestrawk says:

homicide metric

If the police were performing their job perfectly they would be performing 100% of the homicides in a jurisdiction. Alternatively, if the police existed as an armed, corrupt, and evil entity, the only one in a jurisdiction, they would also be performing 100% of the homicides. I’m pointing out that a ratio of homicides is not a good metric for judging a police force. What’s important is whether such a powerful and committed (as in one that can’t be taken back, there is a better word here but I can’t think of it at the moment) use of force is justified. That justification shouldn’t come from just internal reviews.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: homicide metric

Not zero but certainly very low.

People generally don’t want to kill their neighbors, and in a working society, there would be plenty of alternatives to murder when it comes to resolving disputes.

We’d still have problems with people wanting to posse up and go to the next town and shoot those WEST SIDE southern Pentecostals. Heretics.

But if we gave them alternatives to that (e.g. sports, video games, plenty of sex and food) they might not be so interested.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 homicide metric

People generally don’t want to kill their neighbors, and in a working society, there would be plenty of alternatives to murder when it comes to resolving disputes.

It may sound strange but I think if everyone had a good job* there would be very little violence. You would still have the occasional jealous spouse or psycho, but if everyone had work and we took a different approach to drugs, we could almost get rid of police.

* meaning paying enough money to make ends meet, and offering at least a moderate level of satisfaction

Dave Cortright says:

Isn't that in the job description?

It seems pretty strange (arrogant) to me that someone would choose a profession that any reasonable person knows comes with inherent danger, and then try to say that the job needs to be changed to eliminate that danger.

If you’re a cook and can’t stand the heat, you get out of the kitchen. And if you’re a *trained* cop and can’t stand dealing with inherently dangerous citizens (you know, because that’s your job: to “serve and protect” the public who is not trained to do so), then get out of the uniform.

Every cop who thinks they need to use excessive force should be required to read/watch this account of Australian cops subduing a mentally ill man in a mall with a gun. It can be done. And if you choose not to do it, that’s fine. We can find someone else who will. Maybe we need to get some Aussie cops over here on a work visa.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: I am still stunned by the GSG 9 statistic.

Grenzschutzgruppe 9 der Bundespolizei is an elite German counter-terrorism unit.

They’ve been active since 1973.

They’ve served for over 1500 missions.

About 250 operators currently.

In their history of duty, they’ve discharged their weapons five times.


I want that kind of professionalism for our counter-terrorism squads, from SWAT to DEVGRU.

Michael (profile) says:

Even more horrifying is the actual changes they are looking for include (paraphrased):

1) Clarify that all use of force must be reported
2) Create a use of force policy specific for each weapon available to officers
3) Develop protocols for interacting with people that appear crazy
4) Make sure supervisors call for medical assistance and review all use of force incidents
5) Use teams to review and investigate all serious uses of force
6) Follow their own policy of submitting use of force reports before going off-duty
7) Supervisors should take action when use of force policies are violated
8) Conduct reviews of officers with high use of force incidents
9) Track the outcome of cases after arrest
10) Early intervention reviews should be handled by higher level officers
11) Early intervention should be expanded to include supervisors that are using excessive force
12) Put people into the early intervention program at a lower threshold than the current levels

How could ANY of this put officers in more danger?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Taken together these requirements obviously put officers at greater danger.

Greater danger of actually having to do their jobs.
Greater danger of having to behave responsibly in a responsible job.
Greater danger of getting into trouble if they indulge their own racist bigotry by using excessive violent force on visible members of and race disliked by the officer.
Greater danger of losing jobs that they are unfit to hold.

Not that I think all Seattle cops are scumbags, but those who are would definitely be place in greater danger, just not the danger they want you to believe…

Matthew A. Sawtell (profile) says:

Say what you will about the situation...

Say what you will about the situation, and there is plenty to say, it is interesting to see what groups can and will attempt the crowdfunding method to further their cause. It will even more interesting to see if there will be any attempts to “out” any anonymous donors said cause, and the reactions to that afterwards.

lucidrenegade (profile) says:

Funny, I don’t see Law Enforcement Officer anywhere…
Top 10 Most Dangerous Jobs according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics

1. Logging workers
2. Fishers and related fishing workers
3. Aircraft pilot and flight engineers
4. Roofers
5. Structural iron and steel workers
6. Refuse and recyclable material collectors
7. Electrical power-line installers and repairers
8. Drivers/sales workers and truck drivers
9. Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers
10. Construction laborers

Anonymous Coward says:

“We have the right and the duty to go home at the end of each watch.”

Please cite your reference for this statement officer. If this is an unalienable right bestowed upon you and your officers via the city or state, you should have no problem producing said reference to the satisfaction of the public. If not, your cause is questionable in both its legality and ethical position with its contempt toward the public you allegedly serve. Though you have the right to state such comments, the public cannot detain or arrest you for that. It would benefit you and your cause to learn from this concept of reciprocity between law enforcement and the public.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I think people are misinterpreting his quote.

Based on what the changes are, I don’t think this actually has to do with the job being dangerous — this has to do with the fact that with the changes, at the end of an officer’s shift, instead of going home they’re going to have an additional two hours of paperwork to fill out.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: propaganda

Very possibly. Human beings as part of our lexicon of organization-related instincts tend to hold persons of authority in higher esteem, and tend to cut them a lot more latitude on the presumption that they know better than we do.

Critical thought, especially regarding laws and customs, has to be trained, and it’s rather problematic that nations allegedly governed by the people do not include this as necessary in the education of their children, possibly because those in power enjoy staying in power.

So undue respect of persons in authority is actually very commonplace, and is from whence appeals to authority get their power and from whence expressions like “The law’s the law” come. It’s also why incumbent representatives have an intrinsic advantage in elections, ergo George W. Bush’s second term.

David says:

Rules of Engagement

If the police want to play military and have all the military toys, they should also be required (under VERY severe penalties) to adhere to the same Rules of Engagement. Currently, the police are allowed to shoot at nearly any provocation where they feel “threatened”.

Our military sometimes has more restraint against terrorists than our police has against its own citizens.

Anonymous Coward says:

I agree that this lawsuit is ludicrous and the statement is tone-deaf, but focusing in on the 20% homicide figure seems lazy. The sample size is pretty small (29), and we don’t know how many of those six homicides were controversial or justifiable. Most importantly, we don’t know from this article if any of those six homicides would have been affected by the revised use of force rules.

I just think repeating “Seattle Police cause 20% of homicides” detracts from an otherwise great article.

ECA (profile) says:

Self defense for police?

1. its a JOB, YOUR JOB, you PICKED IT..You get paid for it, with the best insurance and Union in the nation.

2. What about Citizen SELF DEFENSE?? from YOU? This DOG is eating me, and I cant shoot it, because you will shoot me, for having a GUN..

3. You want less Paranoia? go work at the MAll, for LESS MONEY..less insurance..

Its bad enough when we have to listen to TV, and paranoia is all over the news..(hate national coverage) but to be paranoid from someone thats SUPPOSED to help me?

Zonker says:

We have the right and the duty to go home at the end of each watch. Requiring us to take unnecessary risks that will inevitably prevent this is not only unreasonable, it is immoral.

Don’t expect this guy to be one of those good officers who selflessly charged into the Twin Towers to rescue as many people as they could before they collapsed.
Don’t expect him to face any threat to life and safety until they’ve already been neutralized either, though he’ll likely insist on taking credit for it.
Don’t expect him to confront anyone actually armed and ready to defend himself with lethal force, the coward will exercise his “right and duty” to run and hide in the safety of his own home.
Expect him to only ever have the guts to use force on people who are of little or no threat to him so that he can still go home at the end of his shift rather than face any real threat.

I’d gladly contribute to a campaign to remove him from the police force. That way he can exercise his right and duty to stay home as long as he likes.

Anonymous Coward says:

Only police have rights.

So where is our right to defend ourselves in cop related “incidents”. Oh yes it is nonexistent, because we can videotape the whole thing, have 10 witnesses, be innocent of the original crime, and have broken bones while the cops wouldn’t have a scratch, and still time and time again it is proven to simply not be enough in a court of law.
Self-defense rights are not for civilians I guess.
The only way to see justice from violence by cop is if you are a cop yourself i guess.

TestPilotDummy says:

Simplify it.

I don’t care what cops do, as long as they obey and protect
the US Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Whomever cross this line, there must be immediate personal consequence.

The discussion for “Today’s America” needs to be about a Standard Operating Procedure, on how and where to APPLY THE SCREWS, and TEETH to ALL OF those who DARE to break their oath.

Coyne Tibbets (profile) says:

Re: Re: Clarification, please

Rights are often mutually exclusive, and the deletion of one Right often implies the creation of another.

Right 1: Right of an employee to be safe at work. Right 2: Right of an employer to subject an employee to death risk. These are mutually exclusive rights, but balanced: If Right 1 does not exist, then the Right 2 well might.

Consider the fireman mentioned above. His job is inherently dangerous and he cedes a portion of his Right 1 to do that job. Does that mean in turn that WE, as his employers have a Right to EXPECT that he die? Do WE have a Right to give him less than the best protection we can? If we assume Right 1 exists, then the answer is, “No,” to both questions.

But if Right 1 does not exist, then it should be clear that WE, the fireman’s employers, have a Right to answer, “Yes!” to both questions.

And yet the author of this piece asserts, “No one has the ‘right’ to make it through work safely.” This is the same as asserting that Right 1 does not exist. (“Get in there and die, fireman, without any safety equipment.”)

So the author’s assertion should offend every employee.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Clarification, please

Right 1: Right of an employee to be safe at work. Right 2: Right of an employer to subject an employee to death risk.

One problem with your analysis is that safety and risk are not absolute. There is no such thing as 100% safety, therefore all employees are subject to some risk of death at work. That doesn’t mean right 1 doesn’t exist, and it doesn’t mean right 2 is absolute.

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