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SPD to Implement New First-in-the-Nation Ruse Policy, Setting Clear Standards to Allow Effective Operations, Prevent Abuse

Seattle – Today, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell announced the implementation of the nation’s first policy governing the use of police patrol ruses. This policy, developed by the Seattle Police Department (SPD), was informed by a robust stakeholder process led by Seattle’s Office of Inspector General for Public Safety (OIG). Mayor Harrell directed SPD to develop a new policy governing the use of ruses after cases in 2018 and 2020 undermined public trust and confidence.

“Effective public safety requires community buy-in, and this new policy is an important step to build understanding with the public, demonstrating that for SPD operations to be successful, they must be paired with a commitment to unbiased, constitutional policing,” said Mayor Harrell. “This innovative new policy will lead to better police work thanks to the voices of many, including the media who brought attention to this tactic, community members who called for guidelines to match our values, and Seattle accountability and police leaders who developed a plan to make that vision real.”

Under existing laws, officers are permitted to use a ruse – a statement an officer knows is not true – in limited circumstances. High profile cases in 2018 and 2020 that undermined public trust led elected and community leaders to call into question the lack of specific guidance on when ruses could be used and to what extent.

“I stood with Mayor Harrell to call for the creation of a first-in-the-nation ruse policy following not only the Proud Boys ruse but also an especially egregious incident several years ago, and the OPA recommendations that resulted,” said Councilmember Lisa Herbold (District 1, West Seattle & South Park). “When the OPA makes a policy recommendation, SPD has the responsibility to consider the recommendation and implement it. This is one measure of a responsive accountability system.  I thank Converge Media as well; it is their questions that resulted in the OPA launching an investigation when OPA couldn’t identify body camera video from the officers who had claimed to be tracking the Proud Boys.”

The Ruse Policy recognizes that while this tactic may be necessary in specific situations to support public safety, the need and conditions for its use should be strongly and clearly defined. The new ruse policy sets substantial guardrails around the use of ruses, limiting the use by patrol officers to five scenarios.

The policy defines appropriate uses of ruses for de-escalation and investigation, while also creating clear accountability through requirements for documentation, supervisor approval, and protections for juveniles. The policy prohibits ruses broadcast via mass media or false promises regarding prosecution, as well those that plainly “shock the conscience.”

“The Seattle Police department engaged in an in-depth review on the use of ruses, facilitated by the Office of the Inspector General,” said Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz. “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.”

Significant input informing the policy’s development was generated through series of roundtable discussions with accountability experts and law enforcement stakeholders led by OIG, the City office charged with independent civilian oversight of police policies and practices. Additional insight supporting policy development came from the OIG Sentinel Event Review that examined SPD’s response to protests in 2020 – a response which included the use of a ruse.

Based on research in the policy development process and discussions with the Major Cities Chiefs Association, this is the first such city policy on patrol ruses in the United States, continuing Seattle’s long tradition of public safety innovation rooted in accountability and a commitment to building public confidence.

“It is gratifying to have a first of its kind policy addressing the use of deception by patrol officers. This policy is the culmination of a collaborative effort between SPD, OIG, and a variety of stakeholders who came together to discuss complex issues around community trust and the use of ruses and deception by police,” said Inspector General for Public Safety Lisa Judge. “I am grateful to ACLU Washington, Innocence Project, the Public Defender Association, the Community Police Commission, the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission, who, among other stakeholders, joined OIG and SPD to develop recommendations that informed this policy. We acknowledge that more work must be done in the arena of using deception in investigations and interrogations, but this is a big first step forward in providing guidance and guardrails around using ruses – a particular concern raised by the Seattle community.”

The policy will continue to be evaluated and refined based on the now required documentation and new data. The policy also provides an objective standard by which officers’ conduct can be evaluated, creating a framework to hold them accountable when violations occur.