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SPD issues statement on ‘lessons learned’ from Seattle May Day 2012

Spotted on a Capitol Hill utility pole this spring (Image: CHS)

Spotted on a Capitol Hill utility pole this spring (Image: CHS)

As the one-year anniversary of Seattle’s 2012 May Day riots rolls around, the Seattle Police Department has released a statement saying the same mistakes that happened a year ago won’t happen again. “All employees assigned to future demonstrations need to have clearly defined expectations, equipment appropriate to the task at hand and the training necessary to deliver effective public safety services during dynamic, rapidly evolving events,” Sean Whitcomb, head of SPD’s public information unit, writes.

An independent report on the May Day incidents commissioned by SPD concluded that many in the department were unsure of their role as the protests arrived — even as briefings on the use of undercover officers and planning for the deployment of pepper spray continued:

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An internal memo leaked following the 2012 riots criticized Chief John Diaz and the department for its response and tactics as thousands of marchers took over downtown Seattle. The memo documented SPD’s use of undercover officers assigned to infiltrate the gathering crowds and what it described as poorly planned deployment of officers as violence broke out. The day was marked by chaotic scenes including assistant chief Mike Sanford stumbling into a crowd of protesters without riot gear.

(Image: Alex Garland with permission to CHS)

(Image: Alex Garland with permission to CHS)

An ongoing media effort to identify and capture suspects from the day’s violence and vandalism resulted in a handful of charges. Meanwhile, an FBI probe of Portland anarchists’ connections to the May Day protests in Seattle was revealed late last year. Investigations and repercussions related to those activities continue to play out.

The independent report concludes that SPD needed to adopt “21st Century” law enforcement objectives including improved principles of crowd management and working with community stakeholders. It also recommends earlier planning for potential violence, improved “media strategies” and more restricted use of pepper spray.

Here is the SPD statement released Tuesday including links to an internal report on the May Day riots and an independent report commissioned by SPD:

Lessons Learned From May Day 2012

Written by  on 

We are committed to providing public safety services so that people can lawfully assemble without fear and disruption. In order to better prepare for future demonstrations, we produced our own after action report to review our response to criminal behavior that occurred on May Day 2012. We simultaneously commissioned an independent and external after action report.

Both reports noted that our officers performed professionally throughout the multiple events that day.

However, there was confusion regarding event expectations. The lack of clarity had a negative impact on our response when a brief period of intense and orchestrated violence erupted.

We acknowledge that all employees assigned to future demonstrations need to have clearly defined expectations, equipment appropriate to the task at hand and the training necessary to deliver effective public safety services during dynamic, rapidly evolving events.

We are working to ensure that the experience gained from May Day 2012 is applied to May Day 2013 as well as any future events our city faces.


Hillmann After Action May Day 2012

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13 thoughts on “SPD issues statement on ‘lessons learned’ from Seattle May Day 2012

  1. Pingback: Blotter | Car2Go hit and run charges delayed, Broadway brawl pistol theft, Harborview mugging caught on video | CHS Capitol Hill Seattle

  2. Contrary to what is repeatedly reported, violence during that incident was not widespread. Note the lack of reports of personal injury.

    This 20-minute episode, committed by a few dozen people midway through an entire day of peaceful demonstration by many hundreds of people, consisted almost entirely property damage, and outside of a few personal vehicles, none of it was directed anywhere that has led Seattleites to shed a tear. Windows were broken at the properties of rapacious corporations and at an abandoned courthouse. As a result, the United States government have since engaged in a witch hunt, dragging people who were not even in the state of Washington at the time of the incident before a grand jury to question them about their political affiliations. Several of those people refused to answer those questions and endured five months in a federal prison—tortured for weeks with solitary confinement—while the feds attempted unsuccessfully to coerce them into speaking, before a judge ordered them released last month.

    What we’re seeing with this report is part of a power struggle between upper-level management at Seattle Police Department, amplified by mayoral candidates Bruce Harrell and Mike McGinn competing over who can convince the public that he is more likely to get our rogue police department under control. Sanford at SPD attempted to handle a large demonstration in a manner far preferable to previous SPD actions—“a `hands off approach’ to crowd management, including `no enforcement, invisible deployment’ and no use of pepper spray, the report said.” Kessler and the rest of the old guard refused to cooperate, sabotaging the operation and supporting the status quo: widespread constitutional violations on the part of our peace officers.

  3. Phil, I agree with you that the SPD investigations since last May have been somewhat overzealous. But it sounds to me like you are minimizing and excusing the illegal activities of significant property damage. Do you think that such damage is OK because a corporation is “rapacious”? How does that have any impact whatsoever on what those corporations do? And don’t you think those responsible should be identified and prosecuted?

  4. Bob: I don’t mean to minimize, but to counter the exaggeration of it. There was not, as the Seattle Times reported, “widespread violence”. The only report of harm to people of which I’ve heard was a reporter who was struck in the face. It’s deeply misleading to refer to property damage as “violence.”

    When my car was stolen years ago, the police could barely be bothered to take a report. When a downtown windows are broken, federal investigations are initiated.

    I don’t think breaking Bank of America’s windows is okay. I think it’s less concerning than if a company who hadn’t been judged too big to accept the consequences of its actions had its window broken. I think Seattleites are far less concerned about a few windows broken at “too big to fail” (a.k.a., above the law) banks, at sweatshop shoe outlets, and at an unused courthouse than they would be if windows were broken at homes or at the businesses of our neighbors. I, personally, think the drunken behavior surrounding football games is more troubling than people busting bank windows on May Day.

    The warrant The Stranger got unsealed showed that the feds had sufficient evidence to identify the vandals well before they continued to drag people before the grand jury to interrogate them about their politics and those of their friends.

    • I think that breaking windows, or other forms of vandalism, is not OK regardless of what business occupies that building, because not only is it ineffective in getting “rapacious corporations” to mend their ways, but also because it turns ordinary citizens against the political “activism” espoused by those who engage in such illegal activity. It is a slippery slope to think that such vandalism is more acceptable/less concerning for certain types of businesses than others….where do you draw that line?

      It could be that the unsealed warrant shows the feds had enough evidence to identify the vandals (that is just your opinion), but identifying them and later convicting them are two different things. The federal prosecutor must have felt he/she needed more evidence to get a conviction, and that’s why the grand jury was convened. However, for those who refused to testify and were then incarcerated, I think that some form of home detention would have sufficed.

      • Bob: I agree that breaking windows is not okay. It is also far less concerning than harm to people. It is a bit less concerning when the windows of a multinational corporation that has been declared above the law are broken then it would be if someone’s home or my neighbor’s business had its windows broken. It is misleading to refer to breaking of windows as “widespread violence.”

        Have you read The Stranger’s coverage of the grand jury investigation? From the sound of what you’re writing here, it seems likely that you have not. The questions these people—who were out of state during the incident—were asked were not about vandalism; they were about political ideology. It is McCarthyism, and it is not okay.

  5. The rioters were throwing explosives at the courthouse, which DID have a security guard manning the gate because the courthouse is not “unused”. They could at least see one person who they were threatening the lives of, and there were at least roughly half a dozen armed agents of the federal government inside.

    Considering that, in addition to the molotovs being thrown, there were cement-filled flagpoles wrapped in razor wire being swung around, I think it is safe to assume that those involved in riot committed violent acts that justified the witch-hunt.

    That said, I know little about the prosecution of those rioters who were identified. I would not be at all surprised if the large companies whose property was damaged excessively influenced their treatment. No city wants to seem weak when tax revenue is at stake, unfair as that may be for people like Phil who get their car stolen and get little attention from the police.

    • John, could you please cite the source of your claims? As far as I know, the “incendiary devices” often described as being used in this incident were not bombs that explode, but “smoke bombs”. And I don’t recall the SPD’s show-and-tell session afterward displaying any razor-wire-wrapped poles.

      Again: The court documents revealed as a result of The Stranger‘s investigation showed that he feds had ample evidence to identify suspects well before they called in people to question them about their political ideology and about those of people they might know.

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