(The Center Square) – The Seattle Police Department is implementing a new policy that establishes clearer guardrails for the use of ruses.
Under the new policy, patrol ruses – which are defined as statements an officer knows is not true – can only be used under five circumstances: for the furtherance of de-escalation, to calm a person, prompt the safety of any person, for scene management, or to bring potentially violent situations to a peaceful resolution.
The policy also allows patrol ruses to be used for investigative purposes, but only where there is reasonable suspicion of a crime.
The Seattle Police Department is prohibited from using patrol ruses for any investigations of misdemeanor property crimes and they can not be broadcast over radio, social media or any other mass media format.
Patrol ruses may not involve any officers making or implying promises regarding prosecution or filing decisions. The new policy also bans any patrol ruses “that shock the conscience.”
Seattle police officers will have to consult with a supervisor before using a patrol ruse for investigative purposes when it is considered reasonably practicable.
Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell directed the Seattle Police Department to develop a new policy governing the use of ruses after citing high-profile cases in 2018 and 2020 that undermined public trust.
In 2018, a Seattle police officer’s ruse contributed to the suicide of a hit-and-run driver. The officer falsely stated that the subject had likely killed someone, which the Seattle Office of Police Accountability said “shocked the conscience” of the driver involved.
In 2020, officers created fake radio traffic about armed “proud boys” members heading to the CHAZ Zone in an attempt to lure protestors away from the area during the George Floyd protests.
“This first-in-nation policy balances the legitimate use of deception, especially for de-escalation and the safety of all persons, with supervision, documentation, and clear prohibition of ruses that compromise public trust,” Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz said in a statement.
Seattle cites research in the policy development process with the Major Cities Chiefs Association to deem the new ruse police as the first such city policy on patrol ruses in the U.S..
The ruse policy also provides an objective standard that evaluates officers’ conduct, in order to create a framework to hold them accountable when violations occur. Documentation will include what the patrol ruse was, why the patrol ruse was used, if the patrol ruse was effective, and the supervisor who was consulted, if used for investigative purposes.
The city said that the ruse policy will continue to be evaluated and refined based on the now required documentation and new data.
The new ruse policy goes into effect on Wednesday.