Seattle Police Department Chief Carmen Best slammed the city council on Thursday for creating a “dangerous” situation for officers by attempting to ban the use of pepper spray and other items often used to control crowds.
Earlier this month, Seattle police cleared out a downtown occupied zone that had been set up by protesters in June.
That’s something the Seattle City Council already supports, having signaled that it wants to cut the police budget by 50 percent.
The council also passed an ordinance last month banning police from using pepper spray and blast balls, among other tools, though a federal judge on Friday temporarily blocked the law from going into effect, according to The Associated Press.
On Thursday, prior to the judge’s decision, Best wrote to the council to warn it “of the foreseeable impact of this ordinance on upcoming events.
“It is a fact that there are groups and individuals who are intent on destruction in our City. Yes, we also have seen weeks of peaceful demonstrations, but two recent events (Sunday, July 19th and Wednesday, July 22nd) have included wide-scale property destruction and attacks on officers, injuring more than a dozen, some significantly,” she wrote.
“This weekend we know that several events are planned across the city that will foreseeably involve many of the same violent actors from recent days. There is no reason not to assume we will continue to experience property destruction, arson, looting, and attempts to injure additional officers throughout the weekend and beyond.”
She then noted that the use of “less-lethal tools by SPD officers to disperse crowds that have turned violent have been completely banned by City Council.”
Best said she will not send police officers into the streets if they cannot defend themselves.
“Under these circumstances, as created by Council, we cannot manage demonstrations as we have in the past,” she wrote. “If I am not allowed to lawfully equip officers with the tools they have been trained to use to protect the community and themselves, it would be reckless to have them confront this level of violence under the current legal restrictions imposed by Council.”
Best tried to explain crowd control to the council, saying that “[i]n large crowds, there is no safe way for officers to effect arrests when their colleagues do not have the tools necessary to protect them.
“As City Council’s legislation goes into effect, it will create even more dangerous circumstances for our officers to intervene using what they have left — riot shields and riot batons,” she said.
“The Council legislation gives officers no ability to safely intercede to preserve property in the midst of a large, violent crowd. Allowing this behavior deeply troubles me, but I am duty-bound to follow the Council legislation once it is in effect,” Best wrote.
“If the Council is prepared to suggest a different response or interpretation of the legislation, I stand ready to receive it.”
A July 10 letter from Best to Democratic Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan showed the potential impact of the 50 percent budget cuts that council members have said they seek, which includes slicing the budget in half for the remainder of 2020.
“These 2020 cut scenarios by the Council are political gestures, however, not realistic or rational solutions,” she wrote, noting that the 2020 cut “represents a 100 percent cut in the total budget for the fourth quarter.
“The only way we can achieve that level of cut within the last four months of the year is to terminate or transfer approximately 1,100 employees — or over 50 percent of our total workforce. This would leave us with about 630 deployable sworn members in the department.”
Best then informed Durkan that such a level is even less than the current number of officers assigned to patrol the city.
As for the council’s concept that police officers are not needed, Best said violent incidents appear out of nowhere and that “I see no feasible option where non-sworn individuals respond to and investigate these tragedies.
“Additionally, no one knows when a mass casualty event is going to happen. When one thinks about the mass shooting at 3rd and Pine earlier this year, and how officers rushed in and saved lives, I cannot imagine what would have happened if there had been half the number of officers available to respond.”
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