Seattle’s interim police chief called a press conference Saturday to announce “a new policy of arresting and prosecuting people who vandalize or damage property during protests,” KIRO TV reports — but the Seattle Times says it is not clear what has changed after Chief Adrian Diaz’s weekend announcement:
Holmes wasn’t at the news conference and in a statement, his office said misdemeanor policies are the same. No documents to outline any enforcement changes were immediately available. “We only learned about it after the fact,” Dan Nolte, a city attorney’s spokesperson, said regarding the hastily called news conference.
The Times reports Diaz told reporters “he has wanted to crack down on property destruction for months, and that in his opinion, violent protesters and vandals aren’t promoting a cause.”
The chief’s message comes following more national headlines about unrest in Seattle after groups burned a flag and broke glass in an Inauguration Day protest targeting federal facilities and a handful of chain businesses including Amazon and Starbucks. There were three reported arrests.
Monday, some activists also marked Martin Luther King Day in the city by splitting off from thousands of marchers to block I-5 in protest. The Washington State Patrol made arrests during the blocking protest but the King County Jail refused to book the suspects due to current restrictions in place to reduce the number of people being held during the ongoing pandemic.
Diaz’s announcement follows months of so-called “direct action” protests targeting the East Precinct and the Capitol Hill neighborhood as tensions have remained high between anti-police activists and SPD in the wake of the summer’s Black Lives Matter protests. Plywood covering the windows of the walled-off precinct is one symbol of the ongoing uncertainty. In the days leading up the inauguration, the wood coverings suddenly came down in what the mayor’s office said was “the first step” in also removing the huge cement barricade wall surrounding the building. But the plywood reported went back up at some point. CHS hasn’t been by to check this week if the coverings are up — or down.
Meanwhile, protest activity has waned but continued around the East Precinct and, increasingly, in other areas of the city.
The department faces ongoing criticism after more findings of improper conduct by officers during the summer protests — though no officers have been disciplined from the findings and most of the thousands of complaints received about the use of force and crowd control tactics have not been sustained by investigators.
Diaz is also facing pressures over the behavior of his officers and their cultural and political disconnection from the city they serve. Earlier this month, an issue over officers not wearing face masks during the ongoing pandemic blew up into a public relations issue for the department. And there are now five SPD officers under investigation for their attendance at the January 6th events in Washington D.C. that culminated with a mob storming the Capitol.
SPD veteran Diaz took over the department in September following the resignation of his boss Chief Carmen Best. At the time, Mayor Jenny Durkan said a search process to select Best’s permanent replacement would start early this year.
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