Seattle police chief: Officers responding to 'autonomous zone' with caution
Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best said that the department is looking to city officials to negotiate with 'CHOP' leaders about returning the East Precinct to police
Sara Jean Green
SEATTLE — Videos posted to social media early Monday show a group of protesters toppling a chain-link fence outside an auto repair shop in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, after the business owner reportedly called 911 repeatedly to report a break-in and fire but no police officers responded to the scene.
A message left for John McDermott, the owner of Car Tenders in the 1700 block of 12th Avenue, was not immediately returned Monday. The location of the shop, between East Olive and East Howell streets, appears to be just outside the boundaries of the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP), previously known as the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, centered around the Seattle Police Department’s now-closed East Precinct on the corner of 12th Avenue and Pine Street.
KIRO 7 TV reported that McDermott called 911 to report the break-in and that he and his son detained a suspect, who stole money and keys, and set a fire on the front counter that McDermott and his son quickly doused. According to the TV station, McDermott called 911 more than a dozen times and said police never showed up and armed protesters insisted they release the suspect, which they did to avoid potential violence.
Seattle police Chief Carmen Best, speaking outside Seattle police headquarters Monday afternoon, said police had received a 911 of someone breaking windows with a hammer and the caller reported that his business was on fire.
“The officers responded to the call and they observed the location from a distance. They did not see any signs of smoke or fire or anything else and they did not see a disturbance. The officers did not observe, from the report that I read, anything they perceived as a threat to life safety and they did not go in,” Best said.
A supervisor attempted to contact the business owner, but the call went to voice mail, she said. Best said she viewed a video of the incident shortly before Monday’s news briefing and police will follow up with the business owner.
Though CHOP has been described over the past week as a cop-free zone, Best said that is not the case and officers have written multiple police reports for crimes reported in that area in the past 48 hours. Dispatchers and officers are coordinating with crime victims or callers to meet police on the edges of the CHOP boundaries, she said, adding officers will go into the CHOP area if there are threats to life safety — for instance, if someone is injured or there’s a report of shots being fired.
“There is no cop-free zone in the city of Seattle. I think that the picture has been painted in many areas that shows the city is under siege. That is not the case,” Best said.
Later in the briefing, the chief said officers are responding to the CHOP area with caution:
“We do not want to escalate, under the current situation, any potential danger to the community and put them unnecessarily in harm’s way,” Best said.
The Police Department is looking to city officials to negotiate with CHOP leaders about returning the East Precinct to police, she said. In the week since police carted off equipment and boarded up the precinct’s windows, police response times throughout the East Precinct have tripled, according to Best.
“It’s taking three times longer to get there,” she said of the police response to 911 calls in the area roughly between Interstate 5 to the west, Lake Washington to the east, Highway 520 to the north, and Interstate 90 to the south. “We can’t continue in that vein. It’s really untenable.”