Chief Houck Outlines Police Department Response to 8 Can't Wait
Posted on 06/11/2020

To the Newcastle Community,

Let me please start by saying what happened to Mr. Floyd on May 25th was illegal, horrific, tragic, etc. Please know that what you all saw on that video in NO WAY reflects the ideals of anyone on the Newcastle Police Department. We know that trust, your trust, the community's trust, is something we need to earn, that it is not just given to us because of the uniform we wear. In that, we also ask that mistrust not be placed on us either based on the actions/inactions of officers halfway across the country. We work hard every day in the community to build that trust. We go through more training than is required by the state in an effort to keep us from being in situations like that. Since this tragic incident I have received multiple emails, phone calls, and questions from folks regarding our policies and what we are doing to prevent that from happening here. Below is my attempt to explain them. I am not arguing that we are perfect. I am just trying to succinctly answer and help educate anyone with questions. Everything I write about below is available to the public online and has been well before this incident. We are not trying to keep it a secret from anyone. We are proud of the work we do here in Newcastle.

NPD knows we must continually work to gain and maintain the community’s trust. We strive to treat everyone in a fair and objective manner. NPD follows the LEED principles: Listen, Explain with Equity and Dignity. We do our best to use de-escalation techniques and try to avoid using force. Our officers receive 40 hours of Crisis Intervention Training with an annual mandatory refresher, which prepares them to assist people in crisis for emotional, developmental or behavioral health reasons. Additional de-escalation training teaches our officers techniques to calm tense encounters to reduce the potential for use of force. NPD officers are also lucky enough to receive eight hours of implicit bias training, instructed by Dr. Bryant Marks from Morehouse University. This training is intended to make us aware of how to counter our own implicit biases and not let those biases impact our policing.

We hear the frustration, fear, and concerns of our community, especially minority members of this community. We share the same frustration and anger and will continue to work hard to build and maintain community trust and treat all people – regardless of race, age, gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs – with equity, fairness, and dignity. We commit to continuing to do our best every day by demonstrating our values through our actions.

One of the more popular questions and letters is regarding 8 Can’t Wait. Below you will find how we, the Newcastle Police Department/King County Sheriff’s Office already follow these guidelines. These are taken directly from the 923 page KCSO general orders manual which can be found here

I have also received a widely distributed form letter demanding the Demilitarization of the Newcastle Police department. The demands are italicized, bold, and all caps just as they were received by me. As with the 8 Can’t Wait, I will try to address and inform folks on what NPD has done/is doing to address these concerns.

Please use the drop down menus below to see our full response and actions.

I thank all of you for the concerns that have already voiced and the questions that have been asked. I welcome you to contact me with more of either. Please contact me at Jason.houck@kingcounty.gov.

Sincerely,

Jason Houck
Chief, Newcastle Police

8 Can't Wait

One of the more popular questions and letters is regarding 8 Can’t Wait. Below you will find how we, the Newcastle Police Department/King County Sheriff’s Office, already follow these guidelines.

1. Ban chokeholds & strangleholds: Members shall not make any physical application or maneuver to the neck region that restricts blood or air flow (i.e., choke holds, sleeper holds, carotid submission holds, lateral vascular neck restraint, etc.), except as a last resort to protect the member(s) or others from an immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury. Any and all variations of these maneuvers may be considered deadly force when applied to the neck region. (Chapter 6.00.050)

2. Require de-escalation: When safe and feasible members shall use de-escalation tactics in order to reduce the need for force. De-escalation is a deliberate attempt to minimize or avoid the use of force to resolve a law enforcement incident using communication, tactics and actions. Examples of De-escalation goals include calming agitated subjects, providing additional time for responses, and positioning to reduce risk. (Chapter 6.00.025; this chapter includes more on techniques and other factors that may be considered with non-compliant individuals, such as medical conditions.)
**As described above NPD officers already go through an initial 40 hours of de-escalation training and a shorter, but required refresher training each year with the option of attending another full 40 hour class.

3. Require warning before shooting: Clear direction and verbal commands shall be given when feasible. (Chapter 6.00.005) **It is my hope that you can understand there are times when this is not always feasible. Officers are forced to make split second decisions at times. While we would love to never be in a position to have to make that decision, the reality is we very possibly could be.

4. Requires exhaust all alternatives before shooting: Members shall exhaust every reasonable means of apprehension before resorting to the use of deadly force. (Chapter 6.00.045)

5. Duty to intervene: Failure to report a member’s possible misconduct (including excessive or unnecessary use of force against a person) may result in discipline up to and including termination. (Chapter 3.03.015)

6. Ban shooting at moving vehicles: Members shall not shoot at a moving vehicle, unless: a) deadly physical force is being used against the member or another person by means other than a moving vehicle; or b) the moving vehicle poses an imminent and identifiable threat of serious physical harm to the member or others from which there is no reasonable means of escape. For the purposes of this section, members shall attempt to move out of the path of an oncoming vehicle, if possible, rather than discharge their firearm; and shall not intentionally place themselves in the path of an oncoming vehicle and attempt to disable the vehicle by discharging their firearms. Members shall not discharge their firearms at a fleeing vehicle unless a member reasonable believes, and can articulate reasons therefore, why the necessity for immediate apprehension outweighs the danger to the public that is created by discharging a firearm. (Chapter 6.00.045)

7. Require use of force continuum: Sheriff’s Office members shall not use either physical or deadly force on any person except that which is reasonably necessary to effect and arrest, to defend themselves or others from violence, or to otherwise accomplish police duties according to law. KCSO has also adopted polices for the use of less lethal weapons. Less lethal weapons are tools designed to assist deputies to gain control of a physically resistant, or aggressive or violent subject(s) who poses a threat of physical harm to themselves, to the deputy(s) or to other persons or property. Less lethal weapons have been adopted for use by the Sheriff’s Office but are not intended to be a substitute when lethal force is necessary. Sworn personnel shall successfully complete training on less lethal weapons prior to using them. All applications of less lethal weapons shall conform to the principles outlined in the training and certification program, consistent with the RCW definition of necessary force (RCW 9A.16.010) and the Use of Force Policy (GOM 6.00.000). (Chapter 6.03.000)

8. Require comprehensive reporting: It is the policy of the Sheriff’s Office to promptly report and to thoroughly investigate any use of force or critical incident. Whenever a member uses deadly force, physical force, a Conducted Electrical Weapon (TASER), chemical agent or Pepper Spray, reporting is mandatory by the member using force and any member witnessing the use of force. Failure to report the use of force, when required, is a violation of this policy. Supervisory notification and supervisor response to the scene is required for all incidents outlined in this policy unless expressly exempted. (Chapter 6.01)

Demilitarization

I have also received a widely distributed form letter demanding the Demilitarization of the Newcastle Police Department. The demands are italicized, bold, and all caps just as they were received by me. My responses follow in plain text. As with the 8 Can’t Wait, I will try to address and inform folks on what NPD has done/is doing to address these concerns.

There MUST BE A CLEAR AND ENFORCED use-of-force continuum that details what weapons and force are acceptable in a wide variety of civilian-police interactions. This was addressed above as part of the 8 can’t wait and requiring a use of force continuum.

The officers in the Newcastle Police Department MUST BE REQUIRED to exhaust every other possible option before using excessive force. The issue with this is that it states before using EXCESSIVE force. If the force used was excessive, there is a problem no matter what options were tried before that. Policing is a dangerous job. We are trained that if other tactics like de-escalation do not work, we use the LEAST AMOUNT of force necessary to protect others, ourselves, and make a lawful arrest. Unfortunately there are times when officers are put into Deadly Force situations which this may have meant to say.

The officers in the Newcastle Police Department MUST BE REQUIRED to give a verbal warning to civilians before drawing their weapon or using excessive force. Again I don’t like the word excessive force as that is something PD should never do. As discussed above we receive training in de-escalation tactics and have a use of force police that demands “when feasible” we give warnings before using any of our weapons. The key issue here is “when feasible.” While we would love not to have draw our weapons at any point in our careers and or have the time to deescalate all situations, the reality is that is not always feasible. I am sure you have seen real videos, not movies, of police shootings that show there are times when giving such a warning is not feasible. This is also described above in 8 Can’t Wait with policy numbers.

The officers in the Newcastle Police Department MUST BE REQUIRED to report each time they threaten to or use force on civilians. That policy is already in place as described above in the 8 Can’t Wait with policy numbers.

The officers in the Newcastle Police Department MUST BE THOROUGHLY VETTED to ensure that they do not have a history with abuse, racism, xenophobia, homophobia/transphobia, or discrimination. NPD has the luxury of basically 2x vetting people. KCSO hires them and does a very good job vetting hires, everything from background reviews to psych exams then we get to choose form those folks to work here in Newcastle. We are able to use performance evaluations, IIU history, etc., to select the officers working here in the city. I have done that and I think we have a great representation of the community we serve with a different make up of genders, races, etc.

The officers in the Newcastle Police Department TRAINED TO PERFORM and seek necessary medical action after using excessive force. Again I will expect that the force we use was not excessive, but either way, as mentioned above we are required to seek medical attention anytime we use any force on someone and there is a visible injury or complaint of pain. Specific policies cited above in the 8 Can’t Wait.

There must be an early intervention system enforced to correct officers who use excessive force. Additionally, an officer receiving more than three complaints must be terminated. Keeping an officer with more than three complaints against them is UNACCEPTABLE. All use of force incidents even one where there is no complaint by the person the force was used on, as well as all complaints in general ( Speeding, courtesy, etc..) are reviewed by the internal investigations unit, a unit I was a Sgt. in for 2 yrs so I know and have confidence they are properly investigated. There is progressive discipline for officers found to have committed policy violations/received sustained complaints. That progression can escalate quickly much like our use of force. Depending on the level of complaint the level of discipline adjusts too. Meaning 1 sustained speeding complaint won’t result in the same discipline as 1 sustained courtesy complaint which won’t be the same as 1 sustained excessive use of force complaint. Those could go from a written reprimand for the speeding to termination and charges for the use of force, so not all things can be handled the same.

Statistics have indicated that by enforcing these policies, there is a significant decrease in civilian complaints and injury due to excessive force. If any of the policies are not currently in place, then what is being done to ensure that they are going to be enforced in the near future? What can I do, as a concerned citizen, to set these policies in motion? This is already being done here at NPD, but I encourage you to report anything you feel might be a violation of policy.

I also want to increase the level of trust between the police department and the community. To establish trust, there has to be transparency. I would like to see the Newcastle Police Department collect and report data on civilian deaths that occurred in custody and as a result of an officer’s use of excessive force. The data should be broken down by demographics and should showcase the race, gender, sexuality, and religion of the civilians. Allowing the public access to this information will show us where we, as a community, fall short. Myself and all NPD officers try every day to be in the community building relationships and trust. We try to do this in many different ways. Everything from our general interaction with the public to bringing cakes to kids on their birthday while they are cooped up inside because of the quarantine, to making funny PSA video to show that we are human. We try very hard to build trust as we know it is earned, not just given. I can tell you that NPD has NEVER had an in-custody death. However the KCSO does keep these statistics and can provide this information through their Public Disclosure Unit.

Body Cams, Police Contract

Other topics that may be on your mind:

 

BODY CAMS: The City of Newcastle contracts with the King County Sheriff’s Office for its police services, and therefore the Newcastle Police follow the policies of the King County Sheriff’s Office. King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht has shared her support for officers wearing body-worn cameras and has taken steps to make a budget request for them during King County’s 2021-2022 budget process.  When those are approved, I will strive to make Newcastle one of the first group of deputies those cameras are assigned to. Please contact King County Executive Dow Constantine or your local King County Council Member.  In Newcastle that would be Regan Dunn.  Here is a link with a map as well as contact info for all King County Council members https://www.kingcounty.gov/council/councilmembers/find_district.aspx if you would like to voice your support for body-worn cameras. The City of Newcastle is supportive of this change and will be actively working with King County to see that this budget request is approved.

 

The King County Executive’s Office negotiates the police guild contract (labor contract) with the King County Police Officers’ Guild. Any recommendations for the police officers contracts would be best addressed by contacting King County Executive Dow Constantine’s Office. The Guild Contract includes negotiated agreements on working conditions and oversight by the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO). The current contract for the King County Police Officers’ Guild expires at the end of 2021; negotiations are scheduled to begin in the middle of next year.

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