Federal judge blocks Seattle ordinance prohibiting police use of non-lethal crowd control tools

The Seattle City Council recently imposed an ordinance that would have hamstrung police officers in dealing with crowds of rioters by stripping them of almost all less-than-lethal options.

However, a federal judge on Friday — at the request of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) — issued a restraining order that blocked the ordinance one day before it was to go into effect, allowing the Seattle officers to use non-deadly crowd control tools, the Washington Examiner reported.

Ordinance hamstrings police

The effort to largely disarm police in Seattle, save for their batons and sidearms, has been ongoing for over a month, as evidenced by a lawsuit filed on behalf of protesters in June that resulted in a temporary restraining order prohibiting officers from using less-than-lethal weapons like tear gas, pepper spray, pepper balls, beanbag rounds, and foam or rubber bullets.

In the wake of that lawsuit, the Seattle City Council produced an ordinance that attempted to make the temporary restraining order effectively permanent in the city, again taking from the police department all of the normal tools used for crowd control and the dispersal of unlawful assemblies.

Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best sent a letter to the City Council warning them of the substantial ramifications of the ordinance, namely that it would prevent the police from adequately doing their jobs.

For all intents and purposes, Best informed the council that, so long as the ordinance was in effect, the police would be incapable of responding to potentially destructive looting and rioting, and she let all businesses and residents in the city know that, in terms of protests and riots, they were on their own and would receive no assistance or defense from local law enforcement.

Judge blocks move

In response to the unacceptable state of affairs in Seattle — the City Council having effectively handcuffed the police department — the DOJ sought to intervene and block the implementation of the ordinance.

U.S. District Judge James Robart agreed with the arguments put forward by DOJ attorneys and granted a request for a temporary restraining order that stopped the ordinance from going into effect.

The crux of the DOJ’s argument was that as of 2012, the Seattle Police Department had been under a federal Consent Decree, meaning that the federal government had extra oversight over the department and therefore should have been consulted in the council’s promulgation of rules governing police actions.

Since the City Council failed to include the federal government in the drafting and implementation of the ordinance, the measure itself was in violation of the Consent Decree and therefore invalid, Robart found.

Timely intervention

Had the City Council gotten its way and successfully deprived the Seattle officers of effective nonlethal crowd control tools, the incessant protests in the city — which more often than not descend into destructive and violent riots — would have forced the police to either stand down in the face of provocative demonstrations or immediately escalate by using physical and deadly force.

Thankfully, though, the DOJ intervened and managed to block this misguided effort by the Seattle City Council to stymie its own police department’s response to protests and riots, ensuring that the police retain all of the tools they need to restore law and order.

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