Sheriff’s Office reforms policy, seeks approval from 8 Can’t Wait

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Use of Force interactive dashboard
From the King County Sheriff's Office - which includes the Shoreline Police Department and Kenmore Police Department

The King County Sheriff’s Office is always evaluating our current policies and looking for ways to evolve and improve. 

After the tragic and troubling death of George Floyd on May 25th in Minneapolis, Sheriff Mitzi G. Johanknecht ordered a further review of our Use of Force policies to look for opportunities to clarify or strengthen them.

Although the King County Sheriff’s Office made considerable changes to our Use of Force policies last year, we asked Campaign Zero to audit KCSO policies against the 8 Can’t Wait.

The 8 procedures were developed by Campaign Zero, a nationwide police reform campaign to reduce Use of Force and police brutality. 8 Can’t Wait consists of:

1. Ban Chokeholds and Strangleholds
2. Require De-escalation
3. Require exhausting all reasonable means before resorting to deadly force
4. Ban Shooting At Moving Vehicles
5. Require Use of Force Continuum
6. Require Comprehensive Reporting (of force)
7. Duty to Intervene
8. Require Verbal Warnings Before Shooting

On June 11, 2020, Campaign Zero determined that items 1 through 6 are already contained in existing policy in our General Orders Manual (GOM). The General Orders Manual sets forth professional standards for the performance, behavior, and service of our employees.

Although KCSO already complies with 7 and 8 in practice, KCSO agreed that policies need clarification on these points. KCSO reached out to union leadership, who fully supported the Sheriff’s efforts and promptly agreed with the need to clarify policy. 

Collaboration with the King County Police Officers’ Guild (KCPOG) and the Puget Sound Police Managers’ Association (PSPMA) and the King County Sheriff’s Office Marshals’ Guild (KCSOMG) resulted in policy revisions to require a Duty in Intervene (GOM 6.00.055) when a member of KCSO observes another member using force that is clearly beyond what is reasonable under the circumstances and Verbal Warnings (GOM 6.00.045) before discharging a firearm. We accomplished these revisions in only 5 working days.

The King County Sheriff’s Office is grateful to Campaign Zero and union leadership. This is an example of how collaboration can work to effect change.

On Monday, June 22nd, we will send our revised policies to Campaign Zero for feedback and final sign off.

We look forward to more opportunities to collaborate on issues that improve transparency and accountability. Another recent project that increases transparency on use of force can be found at an interactive dashboard which contains information on all uses of force from 2014-2019.


Kelly Dahlman-Oeth June 23, 2020 at 8:18 AM  

I appreciate the objective reporting on this story.

As I read it, two of the three groups KCSO worked with were union guilds to add language to a policy, while making no substantive changes in practice: "Although KCSO already complies with 7 and 8 in practice, KCSO agreed that policies need clarification on these points."

Based on reporting across the country, the general public must know that the unions have consistently been part of the problem when it comes to holding individual officers accountable, including having them reinstated after being fired for violating clearly-stated policies.

This appears to be KCSO's effort to appear to be doing something, while not doing anything. Arguably, adding two statements to a policy cannot even be counted as "reform."

Given the systemic racism and historic inequities in nearly every institution in the country, much more will need to be done to address racial bias that leads to over-policing, and the use of excessive, and even deadly, force.

The debate being carried out in the public arena often refers to "a few bad apples." That may well be the case, but the code of silence and protection makes it incredibly difficult, even dangerous in some cases, for the "good apples" to report abuses. Add lack of meaningful civilian oversight, the protection of qualified immunity and the heavy hand of the guilds and we are almost assured that even one bad apple will "spoil the whole bunch" in the eyes of the public.

It is clear that departments, guilds and unions are unwilling to voluntarily make substantive changes. Thus, constant pressure, demands, peaceful protests and public outcry will need to continue until tax-paying voters convince elected officials to step in or be replaced.

- Pastor Kelly Dahlman-Oeth
Ronald United Methodist Church

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