But some 125 Seattle police officers responded by filing a lawsuit challenging the new rules. In their view, the new policies infringe on their rights to use as much force as they deem necessary in self-protection. They represent about ten percent of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild membership. The police union itself declined to endorse the lawsuit.
This week, a federal judge summarily rejected all of their claims, finding that they were without constitutional merit, and that she would have been surprised if such allegations of excessive force by officers did not lead to stricter standards.
The officers claimed the policies infringed on their rights under their Second Amendment and under the Fourth, claiming a self-defense right to use force. Chief U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman pointed out that the Second Amendment protects the right to bear arms — not the right to use them — and that the officers “grossly misconstrued” the Fourth Amendment when they claimed that it protects them, and not individuals who would be the subjects of police force or seizures.
If they appeal, the officers have little chance of faring better. But their lawsuit does shed light on the sort of resistance officials and police chiefs face as they seek to make their policies more humane. The lawsuit employs rhetoric hostile to the idea of treating vulnerable suspects such as the mentally ill differently, and calls DOJ’s findings on excessive force “highly suspect.” It also embodies a Stand Your Ground-ification of self-defense attitudes in asserting that officers have a right not to de-escalate the situation before turning to deadly force, asserting that their force is protected “regardless of whether or not there existed less intrusive means, or alternatives to self-defense or defense of others, such as inflicting a less serious injury to, retreating from, or containing, or negotiating with a suspect.” (some version of this could be a defense to criminal charges against police, but not to Department policies).