Seattle has seemingly reached a new height of political correctness, this time mandating that suspects are referred to as “community members.”
In a move that offends many officers who deal with violent suspects in Washington’s rainy city, the term is reportedly traced to Blue Team, an online use of force reporting system that handles other aspects of policing records as well.
The sentiment of the officers can easily be reflected in the case of Damarius Butts, who was killed by police after he opened fire on police during an armed robbery last month. In the use of force incident reports, police were required to refer to Butts as a “community member,” not a suspect.
“I think this is all in an effort to make sure our report writing sounds politically correct,” Seattle Police Officers’ Guild Kevin Stuckey said. As a member of the guild, Stuckey is one of the few officers who is not forbidden by department policy to speak out without supervisor approval.
“I don’t think you should have a broad stroke like that and call everybody the same thing,” he said. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with calling someone who is a victim a victim, or calling someone who’s a suspect a suspect.”
Meanwhile, Blue Team’s use of “community member” to describe suspects in use of force incidents -which officers take offense to- seems to be a software issue more than that of any personal policy issue- or so the department says.
“The change appears to be part of a routine update by the software developer, which services more than 600 law enforcement agencies worldwide,” department spokesman Jonah Spangenthal-Lee said. “The department’s force review section has not received any inquiries about the change.”
But the explanations don’t always match up. When pressed for questioning by KIRO-7, Seattle Police Chief Operating Officer Brian Maxey claims the changes are for accuracy, as “suspect” or “citizen” may be misleading if the person in question did nothing wrong or is not a legal US citizen.
“We don’t know or inquire about citizenship status, so labeling someone a citizen is arbitrary,” Maxey said.
At least through 2010, use of force forms used the terms “suspect” and “subject.” Blue Team was adopted after Department of Justice oversight of the department took hold, leading “citizen” was coined for use-of-force reports. Now, the acceptable term is “community member.”
The use of PC terms doesn’t just start with the police department, either. In the Department of Corrections arena, inmates have been referred to “students” instead of “offender” since last fall.
“The term ‘offender’ does have a negative connotation and significantly impacts a broad group of people and communities,” Acting DOC Secretary Dick Morgan wrote in an internal department memo. “Times change, and so does our language. It takes time to change habits but I encourage all of you to make an effort. Start by referring to individuals by their names (if you don’t already), practice replacing or removing the word ‘offender’ from your communication and presentation to others.”
Meanwhile, “students” sit in Washington prisons, having been convicted of rape, murder and other crimes, potentially to be released and re-offend as “community members.”
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