Police to train on intervening in Washington state. ‘You owe it to your partner’
Jumping in to stop a fellow police officer from doing something wrong -- as an act of loyalty, not betrayal.
That will become part of the training for police recruits in Washington, a change that stems from Black Lives Matter marches that have swept the state and country since George Floyd’s killing by a white Minneapolis police officer.
In the wake of Floyd’s killing, many people have asked why the other officers present did nothing to intervene. All four are facing criminal charges.
Now Washington state’s police recruits will be among the first in the country to receive a new training program called ABLE: "Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement."
At the state’s police academy in Burien, new recruits already learn about peer intervention -- the need to speak up when a colleague does something wrong.
But Sue Rahr, executive director of the state’s Criminal Justice Training Commission, said the new training developed by Georgetown Law Center may prove more effective. Rahr said it studies group dynamics and emphasizes that intervention is an act of loyalty to your colleagues, not betrayal.
“You owe it to your partner to intervene and save them from their adrenaline, from their fear reaction, whatever it is,” Rahr said. “The program presents intervention in a positive light rather than, ‘do it or you’re gonna get punished.’”
The training was first developed for the New Orleans Police Department as part of their federal consent decree, and is now being adapted for broader use. Rahr said she decided to implement the new training in response to Floyd’s death. The academy should have the program in place by September.
As recently noted in The Atlantic, Washington has long required de-escalation and crisis intervention training for new recruits. Now thanks to the passage of I-940 in 2018, the state has begun to send instructors around the state to train officers in the field as well.
This week the Seattle City Council enacted a ban on police use of “chokeholds," as well as the use of tear gas and crowd control devices by Seattle police. Rahr said she’s concerned that Seattle’s ban removes a less-lethal option for officers.
She said officers are never taught to use “chokeholds” that block someone’s airway. But she said they are taught the use of “vascular neck restraints” which briefly stop the flow of blood to the brain. It can cause someone to become unconscious for a few seconds, which Rahr said can be the amount of time officers need to handcuff them safely.
“I really understand the revulsion to using a neckhold,” Rahr said. “But I also am reluctant to take a less-lethal option off the table.”
Rahr said it’s also important to listen to the protests and take steps to build public trust right now. Seattle’s ban prohibits any type of neck restraint by police.
Mike Solan, president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild, said Seattle Police already does not condone any use of neck restraints.
“The reality is, the chokehold has been prohibited in SPD policy for a long, long period of time,” he said. “And it was only there as far as verbiage is concerned for last-resort deadly encounters.”
But that is not the case in other parts of King County, where the "vascular neck restraint" is often employed.
Rahr said she’d like to see elected officials discuss whether to prohibit no-knock warrants in drug investigations. The practice has received new scrutiny after Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, was shot by police serving a warrant on her home in Louisville in March.
Louisville recently banned no-knock warrants, which allow officers to enter a person’s home without warning and without identifying themselves as police.
“I think communities need to tell their police department, ‘We don’t want you to use an enforcement strategy that endangers human lives in order to restrict the supply of drugs,’” Rahr said.
But she said some communities still clamor for vigorous drug enforcement, and elected officials have to decide who to listen to as they determine their priorities for policing.
CROWD CONTROL WEAPONS
It’s unclear when the law passed Monday by the Seattle City Council banning tear gas and other crowd control methods will be able to take effect. It currently awaits the mayor’s signature.
The council’s vote came despite concerns from the city’s police oversight groups. Andrew Myerberg, the director of the Office of Police Accountability, said in a letter to the council:
“We caution the Council to consider the long-term implications of its proposed ban as it could result in SPD being functionally unable to police large scale riots or harm to people in the future or, in the alternative, would require them to do so with no tools other than batons and firearms.”
He said the Council’s “expedited timeline” also made it impossible for the Seattle Community Police Commission to weigh in.
City Councilmember Lisa Herbold said the Seattle Police Officers Guild is asserting a right to negotiate with the city about the impact of the legislation on its officers.
“We learned that SPOG also has filed with the city a ‘demand to bargain’ this policy,” Herbold said. “So the question of when it’s going to take effect is an open question right now.”
Herbold said the next step is a meeting with the city’s Labor Relations Department.
Guild President Mike Solan said the legislation affects the safety and working conditions of his members. He said it leaves fewer options if they are ordered to defend a structure like the East Precinct.
“So it puts us in a real tenuous situation, I think it puts our community in Seattle in a tenuous spot,” he said, “because we don’t want to engage in any kind of physical confrontation, and those less-lethal tools provide us with the ability to hinder that physical confrontation.”
The organization Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County has accused SPD of violating protesters’ constitutional rights through use of tear gas and other measures against largely peaceful demonstrations. U.S. District Judge Richard Jones agreed last Friday, and has banned tear gas and other crowd-control measures in Seattle through the end of September.
Solan said SPOG has already condemned George Floyd’s death and supported the right of demonstrators to peacefully assemble.
“What’s clear and evident is there was a small group of criminal agitators that stole the peaceful protesters’ message,” he said.
Solan is calling on SPD to release body cam videos that he says will exonerate his members from claims of excessive force.
“All that stuff is captured on the body-worn camera footage of each officer, and it’s also captured on the East Precinct closed circuit television data,” he said. “I’ve always urged our public officials to immediately release it. That has yet to happen.”
He said SPD told him the footage will likely be released sometime this fall.