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Originally published Monday, March 7, 2011 at 5:03 PM

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Report: Seattle police use of force dropped between 2006 and 2009

According to a Seattle Police Department special report, use of force has steadily decreased, dropping 37 percent in a four-year period, from 872 incidents in 2006 to 549 in 2009. Allegations of unnecessary force by Seattle officers fell from 146 complaints in 2006 to 105 in 2009, the report says.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Seattle cops aren't trained to fight fair, nor are they taught to shoot to wound.

When officers find themselves in violent encounters, they're trained to win the fight quickly, according to a Seattle Police Department (SPD) special report examining officers' use of force from 2006 to 2009.

According to the report, use of force by Seattle police steadily decreased, dropping 37 percent in the four-year period, from 872 incidents in 2006 to 549 in 2009.

The 10-page report, dated Aug. 12, was released to the media Monday. Written by Mimi Walsh, an SPD crime analyst, the report wasn't made public until now because "it didn't feel appropriate to release it" until the investigation into the Aug. 31 fatal shooting of First Nations woodcarver John T. Williams by Officer Ian Birk was concluded, said Sgt. Sean Whitcomb.

The four-year period covered in the report does not include a series of high-profile incidents between officers and minorities last year, including the Williams shooting. Those incidents prompted the U.S. Department of Justice to conduct a preliminary review of Seattle police practices.

The Justice Department review, which was requested by the American Civil Liberties Union and 34 other community groups, is to include scrutiny of instances of alleged criminal civil-rights violations by individual officers as well as a "global" look at the department to determine whether, as the ACLU and others allege, there exists a "pattern and practice" of civil-rights violations by officers.

The SPD report notes that "99 percent of the time, officers are involved in situations where people they contact are compliant with their commands or requests."

Officers aren't required to duke it out with combative suspects before dousing them with pepper spray or zapping them with Tasers, the report says. Noting that there is much public confusion — and frequent outcry — concerning police use of force, the report disputes the notion that officers should "match" whatever force a suspect uses against them.

"To put it bluntly, officers are trained to fight to win," the report says. "... Officers are expected to use judgment to determine how best to resolve the situation before them, always with the goal of gaining control as quickly as possible."

The report, citing a 2007 Bureau of Justice Statistics national study, says that less than 1 percent of all interactions between officers and members of the public result in force being used. Seattle's use-of-force rate dropped from 0.18 percent of all police contacts in 2006 to 0.12 percent in 2009, which the report says "is less than one-fifth of the national rate."

In 2009, 78 percent of force used by Seattle officers involved hitting or kicking a suspect, while 0.6 percent of all force incidents involved firearms, according to the report. The report does not offer a year-to-year analysis on firearms use and does not provide statistics for officer-involved shootings.

According to the SPD report, the racial breakdown of people subjected to police use-of-force was similar to the breakdown for those arrested by police, though the analysis includes only cases in which someone's race and ethnicity were known. Whites accounted for 51 percent of arrests and 45 percent of force subjects in 2009, the report says. While 39 percent of all arrestees were African American, blacks accounted for 43 percent of force subjects in 2009, it says.

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Men were far more likely than women to have force used against them, a pattern that remained stable throughout the time covered by the report. While women represented a little more than 20 percent of all those arrested, only 12 percent of those subjected to force were women.

In 2009, 40 percent of use-of-force incidents arose after officers responded to investigate assaults, the report says. Responding to assaults, along with robberies, reports of armed subjects and disturbances — including domestic-violence disturbances — accounted for 56 percent of all force incidents, the report says.

Also in 2009, the report says 73 percent of force incidents involved impaired subjects. Of those, 54 percent were either drunk or high on drugs, while 12 percent were impaired because of mental illness.

Complaints made to the department's civilian-led Office of Professional Accountability about officers' use of force also declined between 2007, when 111 officers received a single force complaint, and 2009, when 72 officers received one complaint, the report says.

Eleven officers received two complaints in 2007; two years later, only five officers received two complaints.

In 2007, two officers received three or more force complaints; the number increased to seven officers in 2008, but dipped back down to two officers in 2009, according to the report.

Between 2006 and 2009, allegations of unnecessary force by officers fell from 146 complaints to 105, the report says.

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or sgreen@seattletimes.com

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