Inspector general’s report recommends changes in police protest tactics

SEATTLE — A newly released report from Seattle’s inspector general says police should emphasize communication over confrontation when it comes to handling protests.

The inspector general divided the summerlong protest into five separate time frames, then asked both community members and Seattle police officers to share perspective from both sides of the barricades.

The first report and its recommendations focus on the turbulent first few days of the protest at the end of May and the beginning of June.

“Those were really significant days that set the tone for much of what was to come in the summer,” said Lisa Judge, Seattle’s Inspector General for Public Safety.

The sudden pepper-spraying of a child is one of the events seared into many memories. Peaceful protesters were bewildered and angered. Judge says that protesters didn’t know officers were trying to arrest someone who had just returned to the crowd after being hostile to police a half hour before, and ducked out of the way of the pepper spray.

“Better communication about what they were doing and why maybe different decision-making about the need to make that arrest at that time, or doing it in a different way,” Judge recommended.

Another recommendation was to create more physical space between police and protesters. That might have helped to defuse the Pink Umbrella confrontation on Capitol Hill.

“They were right there in each other’s faces. And I think, you know, nobody engages in their best decision-making or does their best thinking when they are being confronted at such close, close proximity,” Judge said.

The inspector general’s report also reviews the downtown unrest that resulted in a police officer trying to arrest someone by putting a knee on their neck — the same maneuver that killed George Floyd.

The report recommends that officers consider whether a difficult arrest at that moment is truly necessary.

“Should their focus be on trying to capture and arrest as many as they can catch, or should it be on dispersal of the looters and perhaps, securing the store, just getting people out of there?,” said Judge.

Both advocates for police reform and police officers themselves helped to write the recommendations.

Judge said, “One of the pivotal recommendations in the report is a shift in philosophy on the part of SPD about whether their charge is to manage and control protests, or I think more appropriately, whether it’s to facilitate protests in a safe way.”

KIRO 7 asked Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz for his response to the recommendations. He deferred comment, but said he’d have more to say Friday.