The University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School announced today the recommendations from a Sentinel Event Review (SER) of the protests that took place in Seattle during the summer of 2020. The SER was conducted by the Seattle Office of Inspector General (OIG) and was facilitated by, and used processes developed by, the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice. The SER was a community-focused approach, bringing together a diverse group of community members and SPD representatives to identify opportunities for systemic improvement.
“Last summer, the SPD – like many police departments across the country – faced the challenge of how to support First Amendment rights to protest while ensuring the safety of communities during the mass demonstrations that erupted across America in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd,” said John Hollway, Associate Dean and Executive Director of the Quattrone Center, who specializes in conducting SERs in criminal justice. “Many of those protests, in Seattle and elsewhere, escalated to violence between protesters and police and substantial damage to public and private property. With the help of the Quattrone Center, the SER panel sought to understand the many factors that combined to allow those undesirable events to occur, and to design recommendations for changes to how SPD conducts crowd events in the future that will prevent legitimate protests from escalating into violence and property damage. In this way, SER seeks to heal the rifts caused by the protests, as well as the rifts that caused the protests in the first place.”
The SER began with a review of the protests by OIG’s data team, including uses of force, property damage, civilian complaints, and injuries to officers. As a result of that review, OIG divided the protests into five waves of activity. This report is the analysis of “Wave 1,” covering protests that occurred between May 29 and June 1, 2020. Additional reports on the subsequent waves will follow later in the year.
“OIG was committed to creating a systemic review of the 2020 protests that was community-centered. The result was community members and stakeholders working alongside OIG to implement a review process with a focus on peace and reconciliation,” said Seattle Inspector General Lisa Judge. “Digging deeply into what occurred, honestly acknowledging harm and trauma, and truly engaging in critical self-analysis is the only way to emerge with sufficient understanding to change what we at the City do in ways that are responsive to community. Through this process of analysis, understanding and growth, we can come together to ensure safe, free expression of speech, and just actions by the police who serve our community.”
The SER panel (including a diverse group of community members, SPD officers of different ranks, and the Inspector General) identified 54 recommendations designed to improve SPD’s response to protests in the future. They fall into five main areas:
- Community Legitimacy – Addressing the gap between what SPD may be permitted to do by law or policy (“structural legitimacy”), and what its officers need to do to meet the standards of justice expected by community (“perceived legitimacy”);
- Communication and Community Engagement – Improving the ability of SPD to communicate with communities and with protesters – not just during, but before and after protests;
- Situational Awareness – Acknowledging the need for SPD to change its mindset when responding to protests where the police themselves are the focus of the protests, moving from a mindset of crowd control to one of crowd facilitation and crowd safety;
- Tactics and Equipment – Improved tactics during crowd events, and understanding how arrests or uses of force on individuals committing low level offenses can result in the escalation of tensions rather than calming a crowd; and
- Officer Wellness and Training – Prioritizing officer wellness, recognizing that the long shifts and hostile environments that police encounter during protests can take a toll on officers that can have lasting undesirable consequences on their professional behavior and beyond.
A copy of the full report can be found here.