Seattle's annual May Day march for worker and immigrant rights is just one week away.
In light of last year's May Day riots, the Seattle Police Department's lethargic response to said riots, and today's damning Seattle Times article stating that SPD deliberately withheld a report critical of the police response to the riots, a suitably chastened cadre of SPD brass sat before the city council's public safety meeting this afternoon to cross their hearts and swear that last year's May Day debacle won't be repeated. (Promise!)
- Brendan Kiley
But first, outgoing Police Chief John Diaz and Assistant Chief Clark Kimerer, among others, had to sit through an hour of scathing questions and comments about police competency from city council members.
"We had multiple warnings that [May Day 2012] was going to be really bad," council member Tim Burgess said, and yet the department suffered from "lack of planning, lack of resources, lack of supervision, a failure to train consistently and reinforce that training… why does that keep happening? We should have the expectations that that wouldn’t keep happening. That the department would learn from those experiences and that wouldn’t keep happening."
SPD couldn't put a dollar amount on the property damage incurred during last year's smash-up but officers made eight arrests for property damage, while another five investigations are ongoing.
With regards to the three independent reports scrutinizing police response to last year's May Day riots—one of which was reportedly withheld from reporters by the police—committee chair Bruce Harrell noted, "I don’t see how we can say with a straight face that this was open and transparent and collaborative. Am I missing something?"
Followed by another volley from Burgess: "[Last year we had] a lack of overt police presence, an 'invisible presence'. Is that our strategy this year, to have an invisible presence?"
No, responded various commanders within the department. Definitely not. No sir! "High visibility is going to be a better approach," Chief Diaz said. "We are going to model professionalism."
To that end, Captain Chris Fowler explained to the council members that SPD completed a May Day "rehearsal" in mid-March. They've also met with business owners and May Day rally organizers to discuss the march route and property damage concerns. In addition, 870 officers have taken an eight-hour class on crowd control management and tactics. Officers also have new specific directives guiding when they're allowed to pepper spray people, although to be honest, they're not very comforting. "The two ways it’s allowed is in specific crowd-control management [like when a riot breaks out] or when an officer feels threatened or in an emergency situation," explained Fowler.
"Our number one goal is for people to safely express their first amendment rights," he added.