News & Politics

Why Seattle Is Likely to See More Riots and Violent Crime

AP/Reuters Feed Library

The Seattle PD blotter for last Wednesday night reads like a month’s worth of crime, but without any bookings at the end.

At about 9:00 p.m. a group of about 150 people gathered at Cal Anderson park.  The group roamed about the Capital Hill neighborhood, doing massive amounts of property damage, looting, shooting fireworks, and committing arson.

Individuals from the group broke the windows of a business in the 1400 block of East Olive Way and then started a fire inside.  Seattle Fire was called to extinguish the fire.

The group then went to the 1500 Block of 11 Avenue, breaking more businesses’ windows along the way.  Individuals then broke into a business, took merchandise, and put it in middle of the street where they lit it on fire.

The group went to Broadway and Madison, where individuals used baseball bats and pipes to break windows at a store.  They threw fireworks into the store and then began looting.

The group headed to the area of Summit and Madison where they damaged property at two banks.

After leaving the banks, the group returned to Cal Anderson Park and then dispersed.

No arrests were made.  No officers were injured.

Things are probably about to get worse. The worst of the recent urban riots tended to take place on weekends. The mayor and city council have banned several of SPD’s non-lethal crowd control methods, including the use of flash-bangs and pepper spray.

When you ban the non-lethal methods you leave only methods that are lethal for the rioters, or lethal for the police officers — or no crowd-control methods whatsoever. Non-lethal tools work — San Antonio police successfully used flash-bangs to save the Alamo from a large march a few weeks back, without injuring anyone or compromising security.

On Thursday, Seattle PD Chief Carmen Best sent the following letter to the mayor and city council, outlining the consequences of their ban on non-lethal tools.

SPD has confirmed with the City Attorney’s Office that the City Council ordinance banning the use of less lethal tools – including pepper spray – commonly used to disperse crowds that have turned violent, will go into effect this weekend as written.

I am sending this notification for the purpose of ensuring I have done my due diligence of informing Council of the foreseeable impact of this ordinance on upcoming events.

It is a fact that there are groups and individuals who are intent on destruction in our City. Yes, we also have seen weeks of peaceful demonstrations, but two recent events (Sunday, July 19th and Wednesday, July 22nd) have included wide-scale property destruction and attacks on officers, injuring more than a dozen, some significantly.

This weekend we know that several events are planned across the city that will foreseeably involve many of the same violent actors from recent days. There is no reason not to assume we will continue to experience property destruction, arson, looting, and attempts to injure additional officers throughout the weekend and beyond.

With this Council ordinance, we hear loudly and clearly that the use of these less-lethal tools by SPD officers to disperse crowds that have turned violent have been completely banned by City Council.

Under these circumstances, as created by Council, we cannot manage demonstrations as we have in the past. If I am not allowed to lawfully equip officers with the tools they have been trained to use to protect the community and themselves, it would be reckless to have them confront this level of violence under the current legal restrictions imposed by Council.

Some have asked why officers are not arresting those engaging in criminal behavior, as officers do every day, and as they have in recent protests. If it is safe to do so, and even when it places their lives in danger, our officers always directly address criminal behavior. They do this, however, when they know they have the tools shown to allow the safe use of their policing powers. This Council ordinance denies them access to these tools that have been an essential part of their court-approved tactics.

We have clear, court-mandated procedures for arresting individuals, grounded in the principles of deescalation. SPD’s de-escalation principles are premised on the expectation, consistent with policy and best practices, that officers have the full array of approved tools. In large crowds, there is no safe way for officers to effect arrests when their colleagues do not have the tools necessary to protect them.

As City Council’s legislation goes into effect, it will create even more dangerous circumstances for our officers to intervene using what they have left – riot shields and riot batons.

For these reasons, SPD will have an adjusted deployment in response to any demonstrations this weekend. The Council legislation gives officers no ability to safely intercede to preserve property in the midst of a large, violent crowd. Allowing this behavior deeply troubles me, but I am duty-bound to follow the Council legislation once it is in effect. If the Council is prepared to suggest a different response or interpretation of the legislation, I stand ready to receive it.

Additionally, while the Ordinance by title suggests a limitation to crowd management purposes, the language of the Ordinance, in its blanket prohibition on the procurement and ownership of such tools, effectively eliminates these tools as available less-lethal options across the board. The bill clearly bans OC spray at any rally, demonstration or other event, despite if it turns violent.

Emphasis added. There’a bit more at the link, but you get the gist. Chief Best is telling Mayor Durkan and the city council that they’re about to get people killed. But police officers won’t be among the casualties if Chief Best can help it.

Mayor Jenny Durkan and the city council have voted to take non-lethal tools out of the hands of police, which is in effect a vote for violence, property destruction, and anarchy. So that’s what they’re more likely to get now. We’ve seen the consequences of this before, recently.

Good luck, Seattle. Elections truly do have consequences.

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