Report: Seattle police must modify less-lethal weapons policies

A review of police action during civil unrest in 2020 offered 26 recommendations, such as restricting use of tear gas


By Amanda Zhou
The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — The Seattle Police Department must rebuild trust with the community, improve its communication with protesters and modify its use of less-lethal and chemical munitions in a crowd, according to the second in a series of detailed critiques of the department's response to racial justice protests in downtown Seattle in 2020.

Seattle's Office of Inspector General for Public Safety on Monday released its second "Sentinel Event Review" report, examining the local demonstrations that arose after the May 25, 2020, murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

The first report, released in July 2021, focused on SPD's response during the first three days of demonstrations downtown, May 29 to June 1, and found that SPD needs to find a better way of interacting with anti-police demonstrators.

In the newest report, the OIG panel offered 26 recommendations in a detailed, 73-page review and critique of the department's response during the six-day period between June 2-7 when protesters gathered at SPD barricades around the East Precinct and police deployed tear gas and blast balls.

Officers in some instances used weapons in ways that "deviated from policy," eroding trust between SPD and the community, the report said.

"Without working with protesters to understand their goals and work toward a mutually agreed upon solution, the department continued to make tactical decisions that did not de-escalate the situation," the report said.

The panel, made up of SPD representatives and community members, recommended the department change its use of less-lethal and chemical munitions against crowds, especially in residential areas, though the report noted panelists were not able to agree on what force options are appropriate for crowd facilitation.

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Some panelists argued having options like tear gas reduces the need for more aggressive tools like batons to disperse a crowd, while others disagreed, the report said.

One recommendation called upon SPD and the City Council to restrict the use of tear gas to only "full-scale riot situations involving violence" and advised not using weapons like tear gas "solely in defense of property."

Another recommendation said SPD and the Seattle Fire Department should coordinate with civilian medics ahead of protests to establish a plan to care for injured or incapacitated people.

The report stated the barriers erected around the department's East Precinct became "hot spots" for conflict that escalated tension with protesters. The review committee also acknowledged officers had been working extended shifts without time off for 11 consecutive days by June 7.

There were four events between June 6 and 7 during which SPD tried to prevent protesters from approaching the East Precinct and protesters questioned SPD's legitimacy in erecting barriers, according to the report. The two-day period accounted for the most arrests, protest-related uses of force and protest-related Office of Police Accountability cases in the time examined in the report.

Those incidents include when SPD arrested a person accused of shining a laser into the eyes of an officer; two use-of-force complaints in which protesters allege an SPD vehicle crossed the barricade and struck a protester while an officer allegedly shoved another out of the way; when a man was shot after a gunman drove into the crowd; and when officers deployed blast balls, injuring a person sitting behind a dumpster and striking another person "standing peacefully."

The panel also examined the effects of tear gas on residents living adjacent to the precinct.

The Office of Inspector General will release its next report addressing the period between June 8 and July 2, and the events that occurred while the Capitol Hill Organized Protest and Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone were established.

(c)2022 The Seattle Times

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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