More than nine months after the May Day protests that erupted in violence and vandalism, the head of the Seattle City Council’s public-safety committee is pressing for the results of the Police Department’s after-action report on how it handled the demonstrations.
“While I fully understand our Police Department is very busy and this kind of after-the-fact analysis may not be the highest priority, I think it is imperative that we have this Report as we prepare for this year,” Councilmember Bruce Harrell wrote in a letter to Mayor Mike McGinn.
Harrell requested McGinn’s help in providing the long-delayed report, which the department initially promised to produce during the summer before an explosive internal memo touched off questions about how the department prepared for the protests.
Since then, the department has continued to work on the report and hired a former Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) deputy chief to conduct an independent review.
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Harrell, who is running for mayor in this year’s election, noted in the letter that he had sent five emails to the Police Department between Sept. 10 and Jan. 7 seeking an update on the after-action report.
“While my impression is the general feedback has been very positive regarding the Seattle Police Department’s performance, I think we can all agree that our goal is to continually improve,” Harrell wrote.
The lag in producing the report far outstrips the time it took to produce reviews of the Police Department’s handling of the widespread protests during the World Trade Organization (WTO) meetings in 1999 and the Mardi Gras riot in 2001 — both of which involved more extensive violence.
Police issued a 75-page after-action report on WTO four months after the meetings. The report praised some of the response but acknowledged a litany of mistakes that left the department unprepared and outmaneuvered by well-organized protesters.
In the case of Mardi Gras, in which a 20-year-old man was killed and more than 70 others injured, the department issued a report about five months later. The report admitted shortcomings in planning, deploying of officers and ensuring that police knew which officers were in charge.
A day after the May Day protests, McGinn and Police Chief John Diaz praised the police, expressing pleasure that no injuries occurred. But a downtown business group questioned whether additional actions could have limited property damage when an increasingly violent noontime rally left store and car windows smashed.
McGinn’s spokesman, Aaron Pickus, said the mayor’s office received Harrell’s letter only late in the day on Monday even though it is dated Jan. 25.
At this point, Pickus said in an email, there is no set date for completion of the after-action report.
The May Day report originally was assigned to a West Precinct commander involved in the operation, but later the job was taken away and handed to Assistant Chief Paul McDonagh, head of the Special Operations Bureau.
Diaz said in July that the switch occurred because of the large scope of the protests and the department’s use of new tactics in the May Day response.
Sources in the department described the move as highly unusual and suggested that Diaz was engaged in damage control.
Diaz acknowledged in July that he had received a memo raising “serious concerns” that flawed planning contributed to the May Day violence.
He declined to discuss details in the memo or identify who wrote it.
But a department source said the memo was written by Capt. Joe Kessler, the commander of the West Precinct at the time of the May Day events who now oversees the Southwest Precinct. The Police Department has yet to release the memo among hundreds of pages of records provided to The Seattle Times in response to a public-disclosure request submitted on Aug. 23.
Assistant Chief Mike Sanford unveiled a novel plan a week before the protests that, while reasonable on paper, never had been subjected to testing or training, department sources previously told The Times.
Sanford oversaw the Patrol Operations Bureau at the time, but since has been placed solely in charge of the department’s “20/20” reform plan, which calls for 20 reforms over 20 months to address the Department of Justice’s findings that Seattle officers had routinely used excessive force and displayed evidence of biased policing.
His May Day plan hinged on the use of undercover and plainclothes officers mingling in the crowd to identify troublemakers, while uniformed officers remained on the periphery to make arrests if needed, the sources said.
Sanford was warned that not enough officers were assigned to the protest, a problem that was exacerbated by a decision to stagger May 1 roll calls at different times and locations, according to the sources.
When vandalism broke out, a command van moved into place to deploy supervisors and officers, the sources said. But Sanford, wearing a white shirt, dark pants and dress shoes, and without visible police identification, sprinted past the van and into the crowd, diverting officers clad in riot gear who pulled him from hostile protesters.
The independent review is being conducted by Michael Hillmann, the former Los Angeles police official who as a deputy chief in that department wrote a blistering report on how the LAPD mishandled planning, tactics, communication and command during a 2007 May Day demonstration.
A Seattle police spokesman, Sgt. Sean Whitcomb, said Hillmann planned to interview about 15 people, including Sanford, Kessler and McDonagh.
Also to be interviewed was Kate Joncas, the president of the Downtown Seattle Association, which was upset at the Police Department’s May Day response and called for a thorough review.
Hillmann’s review is “independent and is separate” from the after-action report, Pickus, the mayor’s spokesman, said in an email.
That review is part of the Seattle Police Department’s commitment in the “20/20” plan to reform demonstration-management practices, Pickus said.
Seattle Times staff reporter Mike Carter contributed to this story, which also includes information from Times archives.
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org