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Police Use of Force in Seattle, January 2009 – March 2011

Police Use of Force in Seattle, January 2009 – March 2011

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Published by KING 5 News
Matthew J. Hickman, Ph.D., Seattle University;
Loren T. Atherley, M.A., Northwest Justice Solutions
Matthew J. Hickman, Ph.D., Seattle University;
Loren T. Atherley, M.A., Northwest Justice Solutions

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: KING 5 News on Dec 20, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Police Use of Force in Seattle, January 2009 – March 2011
Matthew J. Hickman, Ph.D.Seattle UniversityLoren T. Atherley, M.A. Northwest Justice SolutionsDecember, 2012Points of view expressed in this report are those of the authors and do not represent or reflect views of Seattle University. Please direct all correspondence to either Matthew J.Hickman (hickmanm@seattleu.edu) or Loren T. Atherley (lorentatherley@gmail.com).
This study provides a descriptive statistical analysis of Seattle Police Department use of force reports – the same reports that were used in a recent Department of Justiceinvestigation concerning the use of excessive force. An additional goal of the study wasto attempt to replicate the government’s finding that 20% of uses of force by Seattle police are excessive or unconstitutional. All use of force records during the periodJanuary 1, 2009, through March 25, 2011, (N = 1,240) were coded for content, includingadministrative data elements as well as the content of report narratives. Incidents werecoded for both officer force level and suspect resistance level, in both static andsequential forms, following Alpert’s force factor method. Relevant
factors werealso coded. The incidence of force, incident characteristics, officer characteristics,suspect demographics, and force factors are described and discussed. The data were alsogeocoded and mapped in order to better understand the spatial distribution of police useof force in Seattle.
In December 2011, the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, inconjunction with the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington (collectively,“DOJ”), released a report entitled,
 Investigation of the Seattle Police Department 
. In thisreport, the DOJ described the results of their investigation in Seattle consistent with their role of identifying “patterns or practices of conduct by law enforcement agencies thatdeprive individuals of rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States” (p. 1). In both the report and a televised news conference itwas announced that the DOJ found “SPD engages in a pattern or practice of usingunnecessary or excessive force, in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the UnitedStates Constitution and Section 14141” (p. 3) and “When SPD officers use force, they doso in an unconstitutional manner nearly 20% of the time” (p. 4).A finding that 1 out of 5 uses of force are unconstitutional should be taken veryseriously, for if true, it suggests a very serious problem. For the two and a quarter year  period studied by DOJ, this would amount to approximately 250 use of excessive forceincidents. Such a finding demands careful scrutiny to ensure a thorough understanding of the problem so that police reform efforts will be meaningful and long-lasting.Unfortunately, the DOJ report does not contain a description of their methodology thatwould permit one to directly replicate the analysis.Absent a clear methodology, we sought to replicate this finding using commonsocial science methods. In addition, and perhaps more important, we provide a thoroughdescriptive analysis of use of force incidents in Seattle. It is our hope that those involvedin police reform efforts will use these data to better understand police use of force inSeattle and move forward with reform efforts from a rational basis. Specifically, we provide answers to the following questions:
When, where, and how often do the police in Seattle use force?
What are the underlying offenses in use of force incidents?
What are the characteristics of a typical suspect and what do they do?
How many officers are typically involved and what do they do?
How are the interactions distributed in terms of both suspect and officer actions?
How often might the use of excessive force occur in Seattle?
How is police use of force geographically distributed in Seattle?Regardless of whether one agrees with our methods, analysis, and conclusions, we believe that our creation of a research platform for understanding use of force in Seattle isa substantial step forward. We believe that our data collection provides a useful andimportant decision tool for understanding the nature and scope of police use of force inSeattle. Our descriptive analysis only scratches the surface of a rich data source, but thisis a necessary first step and is only the beginning of an ongoing program of research. Weanticipate being able to make these data publically available (subject to SPD approval) sothat anyone who is interested may explore the data. We welcome and encourage other researchers to replicate our findings in the interest of science and the pursuit of knowledge.

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