U.S. Ninth Circuit - The FindLaw 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Seattle Cops Lose Ninth Cir. Appeal Over Use of Force Policy

A civil rights class action claim filed by over 100 Seattle police officers was dismissed by a lower federal district court in 2014, and has now, finally, had that dismissal affirmed by the Ninth Circuit. The officers were challenging whether new policies regarding the use of force were constitutional under the Second Amendment. Though arguments were held in May, the decision has just issued.

The new use of force policy was the result of a 2012 federal consent decree requiring a special master be appointed to independently assess, create, and implement a use of force policy. In doing so, a policy was created that stresses de-escalation over force. After the policy was approved and implemented in 2014, this challenge followed.

What's the Problem?

Officers asserted that the new policy put them at risk of injury and filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 alleging a deprivation of the Second Amendment right to bear arms. However, both the district and appellate courts found these arguments unconvincing.

The new policies were specially crafted in order to stop the rash of excessive force issues that plagued the city's police department and the public. Generally, the goal is to limit the use of force to only those times when it is actually necessary. For each weapon, requirements are laid out for when its use is appropriate. While this may sound challenging or restrictive for officers, the policy does recognize that officers will always have to make critical split second decision.

Intermediate Scrutiny Applied and Satisfied

As the Ninth Circuit explained, the appropriate level of scrutiny to apply to find out whether the new policies cut constitutional muster is intermediate. Not only did the appellate court affirm the test to use, but it also affirmed that the city had a reasonable reason for implementing the policy and thus satisfied the necessary level of scrutiny.

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