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From Odd Fellows to Cal Anderson Park, the rise of private security on Capitol Hill

An Iconic Global SUV on patrol

Seattle has not yet seen large groups of amateur militia coming into the city from around the region to make a right wing stand against protesters. The groups here — and especially on Capitol Hill — are professionals.

The city’s parks department has now added to the influx, hiring private security to patrol Cal Anderson Park this week following another police raid and camp sweep.

It doesn’t always go well.

Jaguar Security opted to leave the park on Tuesday evening as the large crowd of protestors was not responding to requests to disperse, and continued to harass the security guards,” a Seattle Parks spokesperson tells CHS.

The department says it and Seattle Police “will continue to reassess the situation regularly.”

SPD, meanwhile, says it does not coordinate with the private companies but police are contacted about threats occasionally. The official line: SPD does not engage in “operational efforts or coordinating resources” with any private company, a department spokesperson tells CHS.

Even without SPD’s help, the companies working on Capitol Hill continue to grow. There is a need for a trained security force beyond police, Joseph Spiro of security firm Iconic Global says.

The recent deadly violence in Kenosha and Portland has come, in part, because poorly trained, armed individuals are putting themselves in dangerous situations, Spiro said.

“There’s a big difference between intention and training,” Spiro said.

CHS reported here in June on the arrival of Iconic Global on Capitol Hill during CHOP as the private “high threat protection” team became part of the conflicts in the area as it worked to protect what Spiros said was a set of client properties and businesses.

In August, we reported on the increased presence of private security in the neighborhood and a clash between private guards and protesters that required police to rush in.

There is concern from many including Capitol Hill business owners and property owners CHS has spoken with that there is little difference between the armed militia members seen in cities like Kenosha and the wave of private security entrepreneurs

Others have welcomed the groups.


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Craig Swanson of Redside Partners, a firm that manages several Capitol Hill properties including the Odd Fellows Building at 10th and Pine, says he has been so satisfied with Iron and Oak’s presence, he hopes the firm remains “a long term” part of the neighborhood.

“To the extent that their services, are needed, we’re excited to have them part of the community,” Swanson said.

The small company has certainly made itself at home. Office space inside the historic Odd Fellows — also home to businesses including the Century Ballroom and Molly Moon’s Ice Cream — has been turned into the “IAO command center,” owner Aleksandr Butowicz says. And he boasts of the Pan-Tilt-Zoom camera setup he has in place atop the masonry building overlooking Cal Anderson Park. It is there, Butowicz says, to keep an eye on protesters — and the police.

“They look up at roof lines just like anyone else,” Butowicz says of SPD, “and the PTZ’s are huge, even four stories up. A civilian might assume they just see regular surveillance cameras, but the cops know what they are, and navigate accordingly.”

If that kind of approach to a relationship with the police sounds different, it’s because Butowicz’s company is different. Iron and Oak, Butowicz points out, is nothing like the armed militia in Minnesota and he says the company is also unlike Iconic Global.

For starters, Iron and Oak is not licensed as a security company in the state of Washington limiting the kinds of actions it can take. Butowicz says Iron and Oak personnel are also armed with pepper spray paintballs not bullets.

Hired guards outside the Ferrari dealership on 12th Ave (Image: Matt Mitgang)

“We actually used to carry no weapons whatsoever,” Butowicz said in one of several long text messages he has sent to CHS about his work over recent weeks. We’ve edited some of the messages for clarity.

“No OC, tasers, batons – nothing. Up until the last few weeks, we’ve always been able to either talk our way out of the problem (most of the time), or handle it with hands only. We’ve never caused a serious injury to a person we’ve been hands on with, and that’s most certainly by design in our training systems.”

But now pepper ball guns have been added to the Iron and Oak mix when standing guard at the Odd Fellows and, increasingly in the field trailing the smaller, faster moving groups of demonstrators active on the Hill in late summer..

“We shifted because my staff are usually outnumbered 10-15 to one.”

Butowicz says there are other differences. He is there, he says, to support the protest movement. His first presence at CHOP was running the team of “Red Shirt” medics.

The Odd Fellows headquarters now also makes room for a “Red Shirt Trauma Medics SPC.”

Iron and Oaks’ place on the edge of the security industry doesn’t bother Swanson at Redside who says he hired the company on the recommendation of a business tenant. That service put Butowicz inside the world of demonstrators and activists that has collided with day to day life around Capitol Hill. And it has set Iron and Oak in an interesting place, he says.

“Understand man, everyone competing against us in the security community hates us,” Butowicz said. “We were so able to undermine SPD with only a red t-shirt, some gauze, and Facebook (no Twitter), that the community bought us an office. Our space in Odd Fellows is crowd funded.”

The state is wishy washy at best about what constitutes a “security service.”

“The services provided by a private security guard are not detailed in state law. Federal law does describe the services provided by a private security guard,” a spokesperson for the Washington Department of Licensing tells CHS. “Usually, a private security guard license is required when providing contracted security guard services as defined under federal law.”

“I don’t care what they call themselves,” Swanson said. “From our perspective, they provide security for the Odd Fellows Building.”

Anybody who hires Iconic Global, however, is looking for something more. Armed and easily mistaken for police or military, the team has been a presence during nearly every moment of nearly every protest, demonstration, and Molotov cocktail around the East Precinct.

Spiro told CHS last month that his teams had also recently switched tactics, begging to follow protests and marches because it became difficult to track the groups. Demonstrators active on Capitol Hill late this summer have been less and less likely to allow video streamers or media in their midst. The security teams following the crowds can radio other Iconic Global personnel to alert them when a client property might be threatened. The tracking, Spiro acknowledged, brought new tensions to the relationship between the security teams and the marchers. “We’re not instigating with them,” Spiro told us in August. “Our presence does make them feel that way.”

The full security operation — Iconic Global is, indeed, licensed to provide security services in the state — is a costly endeavor. Spiro says the licensing, gear, weaponry, and finding qualified, licensed staff is only part of it. Insurance is hugely expensive.

“If I had to, I’d up my license to armed overnight,” Butowicz of Iron and Oak explained. “That’s only a couple hundred bucks. But my insurance will go from $17,000 per month to almost $80,000 per month. I’d have to close.”

The costs, Spiro acknowledged are piling up after months of service on Capitol Hill. The future of his business and his clients is a concern and Spiro says Iconic is “exploring alternative means of protecting our clients in a more long term/financially maintainable fashion.”

The end goal for Iconic Global is unclear. The end of the protests would mean the end of this particular stream of revenue for the company. Spiro said that wouldn’t put Iconic Global out of business and there is plenty of other security work for the firm. But, for now, patrol on Capitol Hill is a good deal for his clients.

“While maintaining a security presence can be financially straining, having your windows smashed out on a nightly basis can be, too.”

Butowicz’s Red Shirt medics have also been a presence during the months of protest

Back inside Cal Anderson, Seattle Parks says it hired Jaguar Security “to provide a presence in the park overnight” and that the company is still intended to be part of securing the area from campers and protest gatherings.

“We were working with them on a night-to-night basis, as we reassess daily the security needs for Cal Anderson Park,” the Seattle Parks representative said.

Butowicz in the Odd Fellows Building, meanwhile, sees no end game. Iron and Oak is here to stay and ready to take on more work in the neighborhood.

“My employees have been walking the park for a week now, in full uniform,” Butowicz writes in a pitch about his company sent to media this week. “We have been integral in the fire intervention efforts in the neighborhood, and are currently the only company that will be able to do this job without endangering either park goers, or our employees.”

“We can service this in a respectful and nonviolent manner, from an office directly within the community being served,” he writes.


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Pam
Pam
6 months ago

This is beyond fucked up. Vigilantes stepping into a power vacuum left by the City leadership. This is straight 3rd world militia right now. The minute the city let SPD pull out of the station and let CHOP happen this was the inevitable outcome.

The area around pike pine, if this continues will be a wasteland this time next year. I’m not over reacting. If you live and work here you see this happening every single day and it’s not getting better, it’s getting worse.

What is the city’s plan here? They clearly have none. The entire area is descending into anarchy.

TurnCalAndersonIntoADogPark
TurnCalAndersonIntoADogPark
6 months ago
Reply to  Pam

We have two options.

The first is that we double down on repression: more cops, more mercenaries, more militia until every protestor is either in jail or too scared to speak up and the poor are afraid to walk the streets.

The second option is that we can stop investing in violent repression and start investing in the community to fund housing, mental health, green jobs and the arts until everyone has a place to live, a job, and enough dignity that they don’t feel compelled to steal or rage in defiance at the state.

Choose the world you want to live in.

Matt Powers
Matt Powers
6 months ago

That’s an awesome plan! We should also cut spendings on cancer and heart diseases treatments and let those who are already sick die off but focus more on preventative care – to make sure the young ones eat healthy and exercise so they are less likely to get sick later in life.

Like the plan huh?

No argument that we need to invest in mental health and programs to get troubled communities out of poverty, but that doesn’t mean we should stop protecting innocent citizens and businesses from violent offenders and stop prosecuting them for crimes, regardless of the reasons why they became violent.

RWK
RWK
6 months ago

Your second option, while important, will take a very long time to implement. Meanwhile, businesses and public property must be protected from the far-left radicals who are laying waste to the area, with impunity as far as any consequences.

This need for private security makes me sad, but it is reality for now.

Glenn
Glenn
6 months ago

I’ll take door number one Monty.

AngryModerate
AngryModerate
6 months ago

Two options eh? Two party system has you thinking in only binary terms?

csy
csy
6 months ago

Soooo…crime will go down across the city if we spend more $$$ on green jobs and the arts?

OldSkoolCapitolHill
OldSkoolCapitolHill
5 months ago
Reply to  Pam

The city leadership did not authorize the police to evacuate the East Precinct. The police did that on their own. I was there. I was there every damn day. I’ve had a business here since the 1990’s. I live and work on Capitol Hill.

The police? They just left. The Mayor and City Councel people were absolutely shocked and surprised and had no idea. This has been stated a hundred times. Ironically the police and the more radical Protestors decided it was better political optics to blame the city leadership. But that is a lie. They had no idea.

Blame the police. It was their petulance and over reacting that created that entire mess.

And no. The pandemic is causing the collapse of businesses. Not the protests. And crime has not gone up appreciably. That is another lie. Crime is STILL lower than it was in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

Crow
Crow
5 months ago

Pike/Pine seems back to COVID normal. Had dinner at NUE last night, very relaxing, I really enjoyed it. I hope the CH restaurants make it, they seem busy now with the outdoor dining and the nice weather. Crime doesn’t seem to be an issue at least in the evening.

Alocal
Alocal
6 months ago

I guess SPD did the math and decided it was cheaper to build a concrete wall.

Given the downtown in retail business I can’t imagine who can afford to pay these guys ?

Max
Max
6 months ago

I think it’s great the “red shirt medics” have a legally-organized entity behind them. Anyone who receives improper treatment has a right to seek substantial monetary damages for malpractice from a person presenting themselves as a medical professional which is essentially impossible to do when you’re being treated by some rando in a black hoodie who will only identify himself as Garth.

Aleksandr Butowicz
Aleksandr Butowicz
6 months ago
Reply to  Max

Max,

That is *exactly* why I put them under license. If you have a problem with my services, you know easily where to find me.

Best,
Alex – RSTM/IAO

Jordn
Jordn
5 months ago
Reply to  Max

Many medics are trained and know very much what they are doing. While some might be in over their head, I would trust them with pretty much any situation. Several I have meet are nurses and other sorts of front line responders. I don’t know about these “red shirt medics.” Also, malpractice suits against a street medic are rather poor taste and I have never heard of them happening. It would make more sense to sue SPD or King County Sherrif for the injury than the person volunteering to help them after being injured.

OldSkoolCapitolHill
OldSkoolCapitolHill
5 months ago
Reply to  Max

No one presents themselves as a “medical professional” any more than you would on a hiking trail if you found someone wounded and you knew COR, first aid, and had a kit.

Nobody there is doing surgery. Just basic CPR, first aid and conveying people to hospitals or ambulances.

Because police were not letting ambulances in to protest areas or Medic One wouldn’t authorize EMT to enter what cops had classified as riots. The HAD to have basic medics on hand.

dftl
dftl
6 months ago

The Idiocracy is almost in full-swing.

James
James
6 months ago

Good to know which businesses to avoid…jeeez. ACAB includes private security.

Capitalism is Fascism
Capitalism is Fascism
6 months ago
Reply to  James

Totally. Why should someone protect there private property and business? Fascists!!

over it
over it
6 months ago

The security folks are held to higher standard of accountability than the police (no qualified immunity for them) and they certainly are held to higher level of accountability than the ENDD folks, who have absolutely no accountability model at all.

Max
Max
6 months ago
Reply to  over it

No, not really.

Qualified immunity is only one component of accountability; a loud and sexy one that comes into play rarely.

Private security are not subject to:

– Open records requests for their correspondence, emails, records or procedures,
– Public monitoring of radio transmissions,
– Bodycam wear requirements,
– State or city-mandated training standards,
– Pre-employment criminal background checks,
– Pre-employment psychological screening,
– Potential pension forfeiture for malfeasance,
– Departmental restrictions on the use of bladed weapons,
etc, etc.

GregM
GregM
6 months ago
Reply to  Max

So…cops are better then?

C Doom
C Doom
6 months ago

I took a buzzfeed quiz, “Which dystopian hellscape are you.”

Dave
Dave
6 months ago

I might have missed it, but is there a way to see which businesses are part of the group contracting with Iconic Global?

Max
Max
6 months ago
Reply to  Dave

No, private militias – like any private company – are under no legal obligation to reveal their clients or customers.

There are no FOIA or Open Records requests with private militias.

There are no bodycams.

There are no training standards, pre-employment background checks, and they don’t use public safety radio frequencies that can be monitored.

Welcome to Thunderdome.

RWK
RWK
6 months ago

I was walking by the Seattle Hebrew Academy (on Interlaken Dr E) yesterday, where there was some kind of special event for the kids going on. There was an armed security guard and his vehicle at the entrance driveway….not sure which company. I don’t know why this was necessary, but apparently the school admin thought that it was. It’s a sad world we are living in now.

MO
MO
6 months ago
Reply to  RWK

Sadly, the presence of private security is pretty standard these days for larger Jewish community events that are visible to the public, especially following the 2006 shooting at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle and 2018 murder of 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

JR
JR
6 months ago
Reply to  RWK

The Synagogue has had an armed guard since before the riots. Kinda sensible when consider the past 1000 years.

OldSkoolCapitolHill
OldSkoolCapitolHill
5 months ago
Reply to  JR

No. The synagogues have had private security for over a decade because of crazy right wing racists and terrorists have attacked synagogues and Jewish community centers. It has nothing to do with the riots.

Kyl
Kyl
6 months ago

Iconic Global has been know to weaponize SUVs by attempting to hit protesters on the sidewalk. I certainly believe that their “presence” behind the wheel of a vehicle attempting to hurt and maim is instigatory.

Adam
Adam
6 months ago

As much as all this infuriates me, we’re getting the government we deserve. We had a chance last November to elect some sane people to city government and we decided to double down.