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Police Detail Force Training, Racial Profiling Training

Seattle Post Intelligencer via YellowBrix

September 24, 2010

SEATTLE – Following the Aug. 30 shooting death of John T. Williams, a man carrying a knife when stopped by police in downtown Seattle, some community leaders have asked why the officer involved fired four rounds instead of taking another approach.

The officer, Ian Birk, wasn’t armed with a Taser. But on Wednesday, police explained they don’t consider a Tasers a substitute for a gun when an officer is faced with a potentially lethal threat.

Seattle police brought reporters to their firearms-training facility in Tukwila this week to show a video shooting scenario simulator, answer questions about use of force, racial profiling and other topics.

Tasers can not work as expected when a suspect is experiencing excited delirium, said Officer Chris Myers, who has taught Taser training. Police say people excited delirium can exhibit violent behavior, be resistant to severe pain and demonstrate abnormal strength.

The state can be caused by drug use or, in some cases, mental illness, according to police

Police say Williams refused multiple commands to drop the knife from 9 feet away — a distance that can present a lethal threat. Williams also had a decades-long history of gross misdemeanor and misdemeanor offenses, and some violent incidents in his past.

Critics have said Williams was deaf in one ear and was not presenting a threat to the 27-year-old officer, hired in 2008. His knife had a 3-inch blade — one that is legal under the Seattle Municipal Code.

Seattle has 556 officers who respond to 911 calls and more than 1,250 sworn officers, City Council members were told earlier this year.

At the training facility Wednesday, Deputy Chief Clark Kimerer, who is heading the firearms review board for the Williams shooting, said 422 officers will be armed with Tasers by the end of the year.

Department officials also outlined their program to avoid racial profiling, which includes video simulations that required officer participation.

In one scenario, an off-duty African-American officer is stopped by someone from her department who doesn’t realize she’s a cop. Two other African Americans are riding with her when she missed a stop sign.

The woman has a verbal confrontation with the officer, who doesn’t immediately divulge his suspicions for stopping her. The woman is arrested at gunpoint after she gets out of the car when the officer is waiting for backup.

In a later review with a superior, the arresting officer said he’d been on alert for a similar car in connection to a crime, and explained the signs that made him suspicious. But the officer gave some signs of racial profiling — which weren’t appropriate, Seattle training officers later told reporters.

The outcome of the video sequences can change during the scenario based on the reaction of officers.

Kimerer said the department wants to send another 60 to 80 officers through critical -intervention training in the next six months, and by the end of the year all 1,800 Seattle police employees will have completed racial diversity training.

Before the confirmation of John Diaz as Seattle’s police chief, some community leaders expressed outrage at recent racially charged incidents.

During an April 17 incident, Gang Unit Detective Shandy Cobane was caught on camera telling a detained man he would “beat the (expletive) Mexican piss” out of him and stomping the man, who was later released. Hate crime charges were not filed, and the case remains under department review.

In June, Seattle police also faced criticism after a video was broadcast showing South Precinct Officer Ian Walsh punching a 17-year-old who was later charged with assaulting the officer.

Diaz was confirmed with an 8-0 City Council vote.

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