THE point must be noted that a harsh review of the Seattle Police Department’s handling of the 2012 May Day mayhem does not fault the front-line supervisors and cops on the street.
They performed well in the absence of modern training or preparation for crowd management — and in the virtual absence of an identified commander, a command presence and command capacity to adapt and respond to events that trashed parts of downtown.
The review by Michael R. Hillmann, a former deputy police chief who retired in 2008 after 42 years with the Los Angeles Police Department, has a curious echo to the Department of Justice report that found use-of-force issues among a handful of officers.
Both findings raise fundamental questions about police management, supervision and training. The question hangs in the air: Who is in charge at the Seattle Police Department?
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Hillmann credits supervisors and line-level officers with being well-disciplined during the mayhem last year, and praises their attempts to follow confusing mandates. If anyone acted independently, it was in the absence of command direction.
Planning for an appropriate police presence and response started late, and the muddled results were not widely shared or understood. Command responsibility was belatedly shoved back and forth across the table like a stale doughnut.
Adequate resources were not assembled or deployed. Police officers were not rallied together early on May Day to share information or organize for an overt presence in advance of the crowds gathering.
Commanders were not prepared, with direct consequences on the streets of Seattle. In the absence of command leadership and presence, the review is generous with praise of the admirable professionalism and restraint shown by officers.
They even had to rescue one commander from his own stumbling charge into the crowd.
Kudos go to the mobility and adaptability of the department’s Bicycle Unit. Huge credit is given to the forethought of a West Precinct officer and deputy city attorney for drafting an emergency proclamation signed by Mayor Mike McGinn that afternoon.
Professionally confident of their orders and directions, the police quickly brought the worst of the rampage to a halt. And the department gets credit for helping peaceful protests to proceed.
The report also suggests ordinances to limit the kinds of clubs and weapons that can be brought to public assemblies. Yes indeed, protesters, make a point, but do not menace the public.
The men and woman of the Seattle Police Department need and deserve leadership, resources and training worthy of their commitment and dedication.