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Appeals Court Rejects Absurd Claim Use Of Force Policy Violates Seattle Officers’ Second Amendment Rights

A federal appeals court rejected claims from about 125 Seattle police officers that a consent decree or “use of force” policy violates their Second Amendment rights to use firearms for “self-defense.”

Previously, a district court ruled against the complaint filed by officers against the Seattle Police Department, city of Seattle, and Justice Department. It determined the “use of force” policy, which was developed after the United States government brought civil action against the city of Seattle, was constitutional.

The “use of force” policy approved by a federal judge dictates an “officer shall only use objectively reasonable force, proportional to the threat or urgency of the situation, when necessary, to achieve a law enforcement objective.”

According to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals [PDF], “The City of Seattle has a significant interest in regulating the use of department-issued firearms by its police officers, and the [use of force policy] does not impose a substantial burden on the Second Amendment right to use a firearm for the core lawful purpose of self-defense.”

The appellate court’s decision makes clear that the firearms the officers would like to use more freely are issued by the city. Seattle has a right to control how they are used by employees.

Additionally, the officers put forward no “historical evidence” that regulating how officers use firearms has ever infringed upon their ability to defend themselves.

The officers that sued most likely object to the part of the policy, which instructs them to “‘consider whether a subject’s lack of compliance is a deliberate attempt to resist or an inability to comply based on’ a variety of factors, including the subject’s possible medical conditions, mental impairment, developmental disability, drug interaction, and behavioral crisis.” De-escalation tactics are encouraged to reduce the “need for force.”

What this lawsuit really amounts to is resistance by a sub-section of Seattle police, who refuse to be more careful about how they use their weapons so they do not kill citizens.

The “use of force” policy was not adopted on a whim. The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division investigated the Seattle Police Department, and in 2011, a report [PDF] was released that concluded officers engaged in a “pattern or practice of constitutional violations regarding the use of force that result from structural problems.” They also focused upon a pattern of discriminatory (or racist) policing.

“When SPD officers use force, they do so in an unconstitutional manner nearly 20 percent of the time,” the report stated. “SPD officers too quickly resort to the use of impact weapons, such as batons and flashlights.”

Technically, the lawsuit does not contemplate the use of these weapons because they are not “firearms.” That means, even with this ruling, police could feel there is a loophole that allows them to use a baton or flashlight instead of a firearm to bludgeon arrestees.

The Civil Rights Division determined officers were known to “escalate situations and use unnecessary or excessive force when arresting individuals for minor offenses,” especially when it came to individuals with “mental illnesses” or “those under the influence of alcohol or drugs.” Seventy percent of encounters involved “these populations.”

Most of the time that force was used, the Civil Rights Division found multiple officers were involved in the brutality.

Pepper spray is another weapon the Seattle police abused, deploying the substance against Occupy Seattle or protesters at the World Trade Organization meetings in 1999.

Simply, the lawsuit was a product of a sub-section of the Seattle Police Department that is opposed to accountability. They do not believe they should have to think twice before shooting an arrestee or suspect. They operate with the presumption that any force they use is justified in some way, and nobody but them should be able to decide what is appropriate.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals sensibly disagrees with them and maintained they have no legitimate argument that their rights are somehow under attack.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."