Chief Diaz’s Statement on What Police Bills Mean for Seattle PD

In recent weeks, the Seattle Police Department has received numerous questions regarding the impacts of House Bills 1310 and 1054, both of which relate to police tactics and use of force.

In light of this legislation, Chief Adrian Diaz has provided the following detailed statement,  outlining how this new legislation, in many instances, mirrors practices SPD has had in place for some time. The department continues to ban the use of choke and neck holds. SPD requires officers to de-escalate, thoroughly document uses of force, and report instances of potential misconduct. 

SPD officers will continue to provide high level public safety services to Seattle in a manner that fully complies with the constitution and the laws of this state, and will do so with honor, integrity, and compassion.  

On July 25, 2021, House Bills 1310 and 1054 go into effect.  In short, these bills create a civil standard that limits the circumstances in which any physical force may be used, impose new restrictions on certain police tactics (including pursuits, no-knock warrants, and neck restraints), impose reporting requirements of officers who witness out-of-policy force, and prohibit the procurement or use of certain “military equipment.” 

As I’m sure you’ve seen, these bills have generated some controversy amongst agencies around the state, not because there is opposition to the bills in principle (indeed, in many respects these bills codify what is already existing and best practice and incorporate changes that law enforcement had advocated) but because the language of the bills leaves room for debate as to how they are to be operationalized in practice or, in some instances, reconciled with existing law.  And, while the legislature tasks the Washington Attorney General to produce model policies reflecting these standards, the Attorney General is given until July 2022 to generate those policies – meaning that it is up to agencies to determine, in the interim, how these laws are to be incorporated into existing policy and training.

After careful review of the legislation and recent training guidelines produced by the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission, I am confident that these bills will have limited impact on how SPD provides services.  This is because:

•As our data make clear, SPD’s use of force at any level is an empirically rare occurrence. 

•The requirements of HB 1310 that force, when used, be reasonable, necessary, and proportional comports with existing SPD policy, as do the requirements and considerations around de-escalation and force mitigation.  

•Our pursuit policy is more restrictive than the bill as enacted.  

•We have no records or institutional recollection of having sought or executed a “no-knock” warrant, as those were already implicitly prohibited under existing law.  

•Neck-holds, chokeholds, and LVNR tactics were already prohibited under SPD policy.  

•Officers who witness misconduct are already subject to reporting requirements.  

•With the limited exception of 12-gauge shotguns and certain rifles which will be removed from service, SPD does not own, and has not sought to procure, items defined as “military equipment.”   

I know that there has been much discussion around the extent to which HB 1054 would prohibit the 40mm less lethal launcher – a tool with demonstrated capacity to resolve without serious injury volatile incidents that might otherwise end in tragic outcomes, including incidents involving individuals armed with knives or other edged weapons where the 40mm launcher is of particular advantage and effect in facilitating officers’ ability to maintain distance and cover.  While the plain language of HB 1054 would, when strictly construed and read in isolation, prohibit this tool as military equipment, I am of increasing confidence that it was not the intent of the legislature to do so, and that the legislature will make that clear.  It is simply anathema to every principle on which these bills are grounded to conclude that the legislature, while promoting in one bill the expanded use of less lethal tools, intended to strip from departments in another an established tool that has allowed marked success in bringing about positive outcomes in dangerous situations.  SPD will, accordingly, be maintaining its 40mm program.  

What has changed in SPD policy as a result of these bills, and what may be most noticeable to the community and our partners in social services, will be the level of SPD response to calls that do not involve a crime or may be better directed to other services.  In creating a civil standard around the circumstances when, in the performance of their duties, officers may use physical force, HB 1310 limits the use of “physical force” (or reportable force as defined in SPD policy) to circumstances where necessary to (1) protect against criminal conduct where there is probable cause to make an arrest; (2) effect an arrest; (3) prevent an escape as defined by RCW 9A.76; and (4) protect against an imminent threat of bodily injury to the peace officer, another person, or the person against whom force is being used.  This means that in circumstances where probable cause to arrest does not exist, including Terry stops (investigative detentions based on reasonable suspicion that a crime is, has been, or is about to be committed) and when responding with social service/crisis responders to effect non-emergent orders of detention for mental health care under the Involuntary Treatment Act, if officers cannot articulate – in the context of de-escalation considerations that include leaving the area if no crime is being committed – a basis for a use of physical force with an uncooperative or resistant subject that is allowable under HB 1310, officers will be expected to disengage.  We ask for understanding from the community, including those who may be impacted by crime and those charged with delivering individuals in crisis safely into services, as we adjust our service capacity to meet the language and intent of these laws.  

At the same time, I believe that we are at a point of realizing true and meaningful change in how we collectively, the Seattle community, work to re-envision the role of policing.  I am reassured that the work of the Mayor’s Office, SPD, and so many others over the course of the past year has well-positioned community and social service partners to meet the complex needs of our society that have so often been left, by default, to the police.  I look forward to continuing to work with city, community, public health, and public safety partners in making Seattle a more equitable and safe city for all.  

Finally, let me also make this clear:  while some agencies have taken the position that they will no longer conduct investigatory stops where officers have reasonable suspicion to believe an individual may be involved in criminal activity, and some agencies have declared they will no longer respond to calls involving subjects in behavioral crisis, that is not the position of our department.  None of these laws in any way prohibit agencies from responding to calls for service.  The idea that the ability to use force is a pre-requisite to engaging in investigative stops or responding to individuals in crisis is absurd; we know from our data and experience that any use of force by Seattle Police Officers is statistically rare.  We will continue to engage in Terry stops where reasonable and appropriate under the law and circumstances presented.  We will continue responding to calls for service involving behavioral health or crisis related issues, as we do now to over 10,000 crisis related calls annually. In each case, as with any case, officers will assess the situation and act with reasonable care, evaluate available resources, employ de-escalation tactics with the goal of achieving voluntary compliance, and determine the appropriate resolution based upon law, policy, and training.  

The Seattle community should be assured that SPD officers will continue to provide high level public safety services in a manner that fully complies with the constitution and the laws of this state, and will do so with honor, integrity, and compassion.  

Adrian Z. Diaz

Chief of Police 

Seattle Police Department