This is not an isolated incident. The Seattle Police Department has a long history of allowing jaywalking citations to escalate into use of force situations. The pattern is very predictable: The officer sees a jaywalker, orders the person to come to him, gets angry when the jaywalker either doesn’t respond or argues, and ends up either in a physical confrontation or an arrest for an obstruction charge or both.
The current incident is yet another example of the problem – a minor infraction outside of a racially diverse high school escalating into a physical altercation with African-American youth. And it serves to reinforce the feeling within the African-American community that their young people are primary targets of police misuse of power.
While the City of Seattle’s Office of Professional Accountability will review this particular incident, the City also needs to make significant changes in its policing policies and practices to end these unnecessary confrontations.
This isn’t just an ACLU observation. The OPA Auditors have been citing this problem since at least 2003 (those are the oldest reports available on line), excerpted below.
“An ability to de-escalate a situation is one of the most important skills Officers have, and this skill is frequently praised in the commendations received by the Department. When a traffic jam or jay-walking incident after a ballgame leads to an angry exchange, this skill may get lost. For instance, an after game jay-walker with his hand in his pocket was automatically assumed to be a danger and yelling quickly escalated to the use of force in one case.”
OPA Civilian Auditor’s Report for April – December, 2003, page 14
“It is distressing to see how many of the excessive force complaints begin with minor street confrontations: over jay-walking, possible impound of a car, or even, in one case, refusal to show an officer a “receptacle” for disposing of dog waste. Citizens often do not show officers respect or attention when confronted over such minor offenses. When they verbally challenge or disregard orders given, it often leads officers to respond more harshly than warranted. I made comments about these underlying situations in ten different cases. In four of them, the physical situation developed with witnesses, rather than or in addition to, suspects. I am hopeful that the new training and Standard of Conduct will help make the application of force unnecessary.”
OPA Civilian Auditor’s Report for October 2005-March 2006, pages 9-10
“It is distressing to see how many of the excessive force complaints begin with minor street confrontations. Citizens often do not show officers respect or attention when confronted over minor offenses. When they verbally challenge or disregard orders given, it may lead officers to respond more harshly than warranted.”
OPA Civilian Auditor’s Report for October 2006 to March 2007, page 5.
“On many occasions the initial contact was brought about by an allegation of jaywalking which escalated when the citizen failed to comply with the officer’s order to stop. In some cases the failure to stop was due to inattention or merely bad judgment. … the officer’s effort to enforce his or her authority often leads to physical contact with the citizen and often ends with a take-down or, on at least one occasion, with the use of a Taser. In addition, the situation often results in injury to the citizen, the officer(s) or both.
OPA Civilian Auditor’s Report for June 2009 to November 2009, page 8.