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An apology from SPD? Panel concludes multiyear review of Seattle Police response to CHOP and 2020 protests

Oct 16, 2023

What July 25th, 2020 looked like on Capitol Hill

A panel representing community, Seattle Police, and neighborhood businesses and organizations analyzing the 2020 protests in Seattle and the flawed police response to the waves of demonstrations and unrest that embroiled the city and made Capitol Hill a flashpoint in the Black Lives Matter and police reform movements has concluded its work with a call for city leaders to issue "a sincere, public apology."

"Panelists agreed on the importance of rebuilding trust and understanding between community and police to discourage the othering and dehumanization of each group by the other," the report reads. "Of particular importance was emphasizing differentiation of crowd members and avoiding assumptions about crowds as monoliths, especially where this created unwarranted defensiveness and fear in SPD."

The final report from the Office of Inspector General for Public Safety-led group was issued last week and concludes a multi-year examination that broke the protest periods into four waves starting with the initial flash as the city joined with protests around the country over the police killing of George Floyd.

While the previous reports focused on the establishment of the occupied protest area on Capitol Hill and the abandonment of the East Precinct, the new report looks at how the police response changed after the East Precinct was "reestablished" and covers three key dates of protest and police response in the period from July 3rd to October, 2020:

The conclusions? Seattle Police made the same mistakes in its heavy-handed, overly dangerous crowd control strategies and response with communication failures playing what the panel said were especially large parts in the damaging events as protesters fought back and set fires in solidarity with crackdowns in Portland.

The previous third report was issued in October covering the period of June 8th to July 2nd, 2020 when then-Mayor Jenny Durkan and Chief Carmen Best ordered the CHOP occupied protest area around the East Precinct cleared.

The "Wave 3" report continued the themes of earlier analysis showing an overwhelmed Seattle Police Department hobbled by chain of command issues and antagonistic and dangerous crowd control strategies, documenting a cloud of "deception," "intentional manipulation of protestor fear," and irresponsible acts from the mayor down to SPD that eroded trust and made it nearly impossible for the city to effectively communicate with protesters. The panel's report said acts of mistrust set the stage for critical communication errors by the city and mistrust by the community and protesters that contributed to the violent and dangerous conditions that developed around the protest area, leading to deadly shootings, and the July police sweep that ended the protest camp, burying important issues around race and equity that remain unaddressed.

"Lying to the community in this way was not only contrary to policy, but it was also a poorly considered tactic contributing to the tensions," the third report concluded.

The new "Wave 4" effort wraps up the analysis with a smaller scale report in which fewer panelists participated and the final scope of the effort was sliced back.

In the new report, the panel says it has decided it will not continue with the previously planned "Wave 5" analysis looking at the transition of the protests and demonstrations starting late in 2020 and continuing into 2021 to be more fully dominated by anti-police efforts beyond the original Black Lives Matter impetus.

(Images: Tom Walsh @twalsh875 with permission to CHS)

The panel included Seattle Police representatives including Assistant Chief Eric Barden and SPD chief operating officer Brian Maxey. From Capitol HIll, Tracy Taylor from Elliott Bay Book Company and Big Little News represented the neighborhood and business communities along with Donna Moodie from the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict.

The Wave 4 report comes as Seattle Police and the city are preparing to finally unwind federal oversight of the department over use of force and bias issues as officials say years of reform have worked to improve policing in the city.

As for that "sincere, public apology," it is unclear how Seattle Police might address the recommendation.

The full Wave 4 report including a summary and conclusion the multi-wave process is below.

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Seattle Police Office of Inspector General for Public Safety George Floyd East Precinct Mayor Jenny Durkan Chief Carmen Best East Precinct Wave 1 Wave 2 Wave 3 Wave 4 Wave 5 Assistant Chief Eric Barden Brian Maxey Tracy Taylo Elliott Bay Book Company Big Little News Donna Moodie Capitol Hill EcoDistrict CHS SPRING SUBSCRIBER DRIVE subscribing to CHS