Seattle Police Department questioned about May Day tactics by city council member Bruce Harrell

Wednesday May 6th, 2015

City Council member Bruce Harrell, chair of public safety, civil rights, and technology was joined by council members Licata and Bagshaw to discuss the “May Day events and the demonstrations and the pubic safety response as a result of that”. Members of the public signed up to make public comment and their audio can be heard below. SPD commanders Steve Wilske and Chris Fowler were also on hand to answer questions and you can hear them beginning at the 36:10 mark.

Audio Recoring: May Day Police Response – Public Comment, City Council Members Harrell, Bagshaw, Licata, and SPD Commanders Wilske and Fowler 150506_0088

I’ve taken a few excerpts from the audio recording and quoted them below.

“My philosophy mirrors the department philosophy…We will do everything we can to facilitate peoples peaceful expression of first amendment free speech rights but we will immediately respond if there are acts of violence against any person or acts that constitute significant property damage. This philosophy was transmitted to every officer that worked this event from me to Captain Fowler to them in specific order that that is our philosophy on this event.” – Wilske

Incident Commander was Chris Fowler

Asked for and received assistance from Bellevue PD, the Valley team or Valley unit, (Tukiwila, Renton), King County Sherriffs office, University of Washington – Steve Wilske (No mention of Port of Seattle Police)

Chirs Fowler spoke on the anti-capitalist march, he arrived at 6pm.

“between 75-100-150 individuals gathered inside the park wearing what we would consider um anti-capitalist um anarchist, whatever the terminology may be used…it was masks, it was head coverings, um and a lot of the signs, black flags. Just a much larger group of people in that vein, that I had seen before certainly not since the WTO, not being pejorative with that statement…” – Fowler

“the mood of this crowd appeared to be more potentially confrontational” – Fowler

“Our first goal is to support and enhance a peaceful march for the protesting and first amendment, free speech rights, which is how we ended up initially deploying, to support that.” – Fowler

“The crowd became assaultive, the officers made the arrest at that point and they started hitting the officers with sticks and at about that point on the crowd  changed from one of a demonstration into what I termed eventually a riot.”- Fowler

I saw was marchers just marching and I saw what looked like a police officer on a bike ram them…I’m just telling you honestly what I saw. It looked unprovoked, and then after that, I’ll call it sort of a tackling if you will, it was like a ramming, then several other officers did it, and then all melee broke out and there was pepper spray. Things went completely sideways.” – Harrell

“…That seemed like the first act of violence, the first act of unfairness, followed by melee and I don’t know what provoked that and I have a hard time understanding that otherwise…” Harrell

“Not being there, and I haven’t talked to specific officers, but there was probable cause to arrest that individual, and again, the philosophy is always been in peaceful protest, but when people commit acts of violence or serious property damage, then we want them to take action and make that arrest. Those officers at the scene developed that probable cause. They quickly formed an appropriate plan to manage arresting that individual based on the configuration of the crowd. They made that arrest. They surrounded the arrestee, and the officers who were doing that physical arrest, making it safer not only for them but for the rest of the crowd.” – Fowler

“I guess what I’m having a hard time understanding, is why that was the chosen path to arrest. It seems like that created a melee… He wasn’t in the present act of committing a crime, he wasn’t running away, he wasn’t hiding, and it seemed like we could have been a little smarter on our approach…” Harrell

“Wouldn’t you agree that a person on a bicycle, trying to arrest someone while on a bike, from behind, is…it does seem a little idiotic” – Harrell

“The officers determined based on what had gone on up to that point, based on the assault on the officer and based on the crowd size which at that point was approximately 500 to 700. That that was the most tactically reasonable and safe way to make that arrest.” – Fowler

(The crowd grew from 150-500 in 30 minutes?)

If someone is willing to assault a police officer, I think it’s reasonable to infer that they would assault other people…The arrest that immediately followed the assault makes sense to me for the officers to arrest that person and prevent any future violence.” -Wilske

“Our department are said to be the experts on deescalation, the experts on smart policing, reasonable force,…there seems to be a better way to approach this” – Harrell

“On the use of flash bangs…there doesn’t seem to be an established policy on the use of flash bangs… what is the instruction on how to use, what are we telling our force on the use of flash bangs” – Harrell

“We don’t use flash bangs, what we use is what’s called a blast ball” – Wilske

“…We have specially trained officers on the department, it’s fairly limited number. We do annual training, our lead trainer in this is a nationally recognized expert in the use of these tools or less lethal devices. The training consists of a power point presentation and classroom instruction, a test to ensure you have proper knowledge of when and when not to use it, and a practical test to show that you can deploy it properly….These are small numbers of hand picked officers…” – Wilske

40 officers are trained to use blast balls, 28 are trained to use “blue tipped impact sponges” or 40mm launchers aka “direct impact, which just means it specifically targeted a particular person” – Wilske

“Does the training suggest you can just throw it up in the air? These devices are hitting people. Is that consistent with the training our officers are trained to do… Are they designed to be thrown in the air, at people, or on the ground?” – Harrell

You try for open areas, but again, people can move, so you try for open areas around people, but then again, people can move.” – Wilske

“When they hit people, is that inconsistent with our policy? – Harrell

“The blast ball is not intended as a direct munition against an individual. It’s intended to manage crowd control situations.” – Fowler

“The other one is a direct impact munition which is aimed at an individual.” – Fowler

Bruce Harrell also asked for exact numbers for “blue tipped impact sponges” fired and “blast balls” used. The SPD doesn’t have immediate information regarding those exact numbers.

“Up until the bike incident, I don’t think we used… blue tipped impact sponges or blast balls…after the bike incident, things went sideways” – Harrell

“…1. What is the policy for using impact sponges, what is the proximity, how many did we use, same thing with the blast balls….More importantly is, it seems like all this occurred after we decided to make an arrest on one person… What’s the smartest use of force?” – Harrell

“All use of force are going to be reviewed” – Wilske

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