In an open revolt, more than 100 Seattle police officers suing to block new use-of-force polices assert that high-level city, police and union officials privately agree with their contention that the court-ordered changes put them and the public in danger.
But the officers who filed the suit aren’t naming those high-level officials, saying only that the officials told them they won’t seek to alter the policies because of the “politics” of the situation and the “perceived inability” to fight federally mandated reforms, the officers allege in newly filed court papers.
“This means that the City is now knowingly and willingly playing politics with Plaintiffs’ lives and the lives of the law-abiding citizens of Seattle,” the officers wrote in a 34-page amended complaint filed late Wednesday with U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman.
While I don’t think the court will view this complaint with much credence (“Evidence of police injuries is mounting,” the complaint says, without providing a scrap of, you know, evidence), I think this “playing politics” charge does provide a window into a fundamental misconception underlying many police abuses: some officers seem to have forgotten who is actually in charge.
See, it’s our democratically elected civilian government that writes the rules, not the guys with the guns and the pepper spray and the scary demeanor. And politics is the process through which democratic governments craft and enact policy. So of course the City is playing politics with the use of force of guidelines. That’s how city governments work.
Is it the perfect method for crafting and enacting policy? No. The perfect method would be to appoint me benevolent dictator. But alas, in a democratic republic, we’ll just have to rely on politics to get public policy done as best we can.
Ironically, by filing this complaint and giving it to the press, the rebel SPD officers are playing politics too. Which is fine. But the fundamental assertion implicit in their complaint—that it is the officers who should write the use of force rules, not their civilian overseers—is downright disturbing:
In the complaint, the officers allege the use-of-force policies do not reflect the work of department members who were asked to develop them and instead were hijacked by Bobb and the Justice Department.
“Those personnel will testify that the UF policy they wrote was altered almost in its entirety and replaced with specific language provided, and required, by the Monitor,” the complaint says, referring to the overall use-of-force policy.
“This supports,” the officers wrote, the “contention that DOJ, in partnership with Mr. Bobb, intends to use consent decrees in Seattle, as well as other jurisdictions, to rewrite longstanding constitutional law and principles intended to protect officer safety, and eliminate reasonable police practices, with which they — from the comfort and safety of their desks and with no experience facing dangerous threats — disagree or find distasteful.”
This is were some police officers go wrong. It is the officer’s job to enforce the law, not write it. And if these rebel officers truly harbor such arrogant disrespect for civilian authority, then I’m not sure we should feel comfortable arming them to the teeth and trusting them to patrol our streets.