The Seattle City Council this week approved Seattle Police’s use of $2.325 million in funding from the United States Department of Homeland Security to purchase equipment including advanced body armor, vehicle barricades, “tactical robots,” and new surveillance and night vision technology, plus tactical training for Seattle and area law enforcement.
The approval follows a previous authorization for the Seattle Fire Department to accept $750,000 in Homeland Security funding as the Seattle City Council last year delayed approving SPD’s use of the funds “until the members of the Council’s Public Safety and Human Services Committee could conduct a more detailed analysis of SPD’s plan to spend the UASI funds,” according to the council’s brief on the decision.
The spending will cover “program management and sustainment; citizen preparedness and outreach; contract analysts; equipment and training to respond to acts of terrorism; and mass care shelter planning with the Human Services Department,” according to the council’s brief on the approved proposal.
A full roster of the spending plan is below.
The approval comes as Seattle officials are still coming to terms with the aftermath of the 2020 Black Lives Matter and anti-police protests and SPD’s flawed response to the demonstrations. Many findings have shown that SPD’s actions and use of tactical and crowd control gear added to and often sparked dangerous and damageful unrest.
Included in the $2.3 million in line items signed off on by the council this week are SPD plans to purchase equipment including $175,000 “advanced ballistic protection” armor “for active shooter response,” $300,000 in “readily deployable vehicle barricades” to be used to protect “soft target” locations “easily accessible to the general public and relatively unprotected, making it vulnerable to attack,” and $160,000 for a “Binocular Night Vision System Enhanced Clip-On Thermal Imager.”
“When dealing with radicalized domestic terrorists, special teams need information quickly to identify threats and locate victims to minimize loss of life,” the defense of the SPD line item reads.
The spending will also include tech for Seattle’s neighbors. Plans for two “Regional Tactical Robots” will deploy one new unit in Seattle and another in Tacoma. The robots are equipped with “manipulator arms and firing circuits” and “can assist with opening doors, searching, placing charges, and providing situational awareness through audio and video feeds, mitigating risks to both department personnel and community members.” The “Firing circuits” are used “to remotely detonate charges placed to gain entry into an area by a robot.”
The funding also will power SPD beyond new gear and gadgets including $240,000 for planning with Homeland Security across the region, $147,000 to pay for a regional manager, and $500,000 to pay for analysts at the “WA State Fusion Center” program “to detect, deter, and prevent terrorist attacks.”
“This is accomplished through open information sharing with appropriate stakeholders,” the SPD line item notes.
Seattle Police has a spotty record for successfully deploying the tech it purchases with Homeland Security grants. In 2013, SPD was forced to ground two drones purchased with the funds over privacy concerns even though officials said the drones would be tightly controlled, regulated, and would not be used to conduct random surveillance. A $5 million federal Homeland Security grant also powered controversial cameras placed along the waterfront — and beyond. Two years later, CHS reported on these federal surveillance cameras installed along 23rd Ave. Federal funding for gunshot detection surveillance in the Central District was also pursued under the Ed Murray administration. Current Mayor Bruce Harrell has said he would support the technology’s use in the city.
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