This year has brought unprecedented demonstrations to our region, posing new challenges for our community and the Seattle Police Department. Our department has itself been the focus of many of the ongoing protests about inequities in criminal justice, violence in law enforcement, and SPD’s own response to demonstrations.
Over the past four months, our department has undertaken significant changes to our practices regarding demonstrations. These changes are based on feedback from our accountability partners in the Office of Inspector General, Office of Police Accountability, and Community Police Commission – but also community voices we have heard loud and clear. Among the many changes are:
- Recognizing the visible presence and appearance of officers at a demonstration can impact interactions with a crowd, and reducing the department’s presence, when safe and feasible
- Taking additional measures to provide media, legal observers, and protest medics safe avenues to carry out their important roles
- Working to de-escalate whenever it is safe and feasible
- Improving means of conveying public safety messages to large crowds
- New strategies to address individuals taking unlawful actions in otherwise lawful crowds
Every member of SPD joined the department to take on the responsibility of protecting this city. We are your police department, and we take seriously our role in supporting and protecting you. As our department reconfigures our response to demonstrations, we also need your help.
Our mission is to protect peoples’ constitutionally-protected right to free speech and assembly, without regard to content or affiliation, while assuring the protection of life, property, and civil liberties of gathered groups and other members of the public. First and foremost, know your rights. If you believe your rights have been violated by a member of this department, we would urge you to contact the Office of Police Accountability. We would also ask you to be aware that the following acts create the largest life-safety issue for demonstrators, other members of the public, and officers:
- Marching on freeways
- Blocking traffic, which can impact critical routes for first responders, including the fire department’s ability to get to critical fire and emergency medical calls, and transport patients to the hospital. The city and our department will always work with event leaders to provide safe routes for demonstrations
- Throwing items—rocks, bottles, fireworks—at any person or property
- Interfering in an arrest or interfering with officers’ efforts to address crimes
- Breaking windows or shattering glass bottles
- Intentionally starting fires or deploying any incendiary devices, including Molotov cocktails or flares, can have unintended consequences. Fires can spread quickly and pose a significant life safety risk to residents, businesses, protesters and first responders.
We will continue to listen and work with our community to ensure constitutional, fair, and effective policing in Seattle. We know we have more work to do, and we hope you will join us in our efforts to support free speech, peaceable assembly, and public safety in our city.