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Improving Police Response to Protests

October 24, 2022

The Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice has released recommendations based on a Sentinel Event Review of the Seattle PD’s response to protests in 2020.

The Seattle Office of Inspector General (OIG) has released recommendations made by a diverse panel of community members and Seattle Police Department (SPD) representatives who are conducting a Sentinel Event Review of the SPD’s response to protests that unfolded in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and continued throughout the summer of 2020. The SER is being moderated by The University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School’s Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice.

SER Methodology

To thoroughly understand how the protests in Seattle escalated from peaceful expressions of First Amendment freedoms into moments of violence, physical injuries to protesters and police officers, and widespread property damage, OIG divided the protests into five waves of activity. The recently released report is the analysis of “Wave 3,” covering events between June 8 and July 1, 2020. These dates span the existence of the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ), also known as the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP), a period in which protesters occupied several square blocks of the Capitol Hill neighborhood, creating a “police-free” zone.

The panel previously released a report analyzing “Wave 1,” covering protests that occurred between May 29 and June 1, 2020 as well as a report analyzing “Wave 2.” A final report covering Waves 4 and 5 will follow later.  

Wave 3 of the SER was a community-focused approach, bringing together a diverse group of community members and SPD representatives to identify opportunities for systemic improvement. It was conducted by the OIG and facilitated by, and used processes developed by, the Quattrone Center. Panel deliberations were co-facilitated by the Quattrone Center and PointOneNorth Consulting, an organization specializing in peacemaking and conflict resolution.

“The Sentinel Event Review process being used at OIG has shown a unique ability to look at complex social justice events like the protests that occurred in Seattle after the murder of George Floyd,” said John F. Hollway C’92, Executive Director of the Quattrone Center.  “By bringing together a diverse group of community members and Seattle Police Department officers at all levels of the Department, the SER has enabled a deeper understanding of community needs and provides a road map of practical, recommendations to improve SPD’s response to protests that are implementable by SPD and will better serve the community. We’ve seen this process heal rifts in other communities caused by undesired outcomes in criminal justice, and OIG and SPD should be commended for their dedication to this process.”

SER Panel Recommendations

The SER panel identified 34 recommendations designed to improve SPD’s response to protests in the future. They fall into six main areas:  

  • Community Legitimacy – Addressing the gap between structural and perceived legitimacy, and acknowledging the need for SPD and the City to continuing fulfill their duty to provide essential safety despite criticism and anger from the community;
  • Situational Awareness - Acknowledging the need for SPD to change its mindset when responding to nonhierarchical styles of protest movements and to protests where the police themselves are the focus of the protests, and to help minimize the negative impact of emergencies or civic disruptions on uninvolved community members.
  • Communication – Improving the ability of SPD to communicate with communities, protesters, and other City agencies to continue provision of services during emergencies and civic disruptions.
  • Tactics – Improving tactics during crowd events to ensure appropriate and effective responses to non-hierarchical and occupy-style movements and understanding how tactical decisions impact community legitimacy and trust. 
  • Decision Making – Ensuring transparency and accountability byimproving decision making processes and establishing control processes to clearly define authority and responsibility, particularly when decisions will impact access to City services and public safety.
  • Planning – Establishing protocol to maintain the provision of public services and public safety, even when police precincts or other critical infrastructure cannot be used by the City.

“The Wave 3 report is particularly unique as it looks at an ‘occupy-style’ protest as opposed to other forms of protests seen during the summer of 2020,” said Hollway. “The question of how a community provides public safety in an area where police presence has been rejected by the community is challenging, and the SER provides some important insight into how Seattle and other cities can respond to that challenge.”

Seattle Inspector General Lisa Judge said, “OIG developed this SER process to create systemic change in policing through dialogue and mutual understanding. Previous SER reports focused on SPD actions impacting the protests, but this report covering the period from the evacuation of the East Precinct through the CHAZ/CHOP occupation offers very different lessons for the City as a whole, not just SPD. We learned about: 

  • what can happen when government abdicates its role in providing safety and critical services;
  • the importance of communication—between the City and community, internally between SPD leadership and officers, and between City departments;
  • the dangers of siloed decision-making and planning; and, 
  • the importance of truthfulness and transparency with community.” 

Read the full report.