Seattle mayor vows change on police ruses after police use fake radio chatter

SEATTLE — Seattle’s new mayor, Bruce Harrell, is vowing to change how the police department uses ruses — or hoaxes — in their operations.

This comes after a probe found the Seattle Police Department exchanged fake radio transmissions about the Proud Boys during the already emotionally-charged 2020 racial justice protests.

“Unacceptable. Completely unacceptable,” Harrell said during a press conference on Wednesday, talking about how long it took for the ruse situation to come to light.

“We’re going to work with (city) council and the police department to figure out what that process looks like, and to make sure this kind of situation under my administration doesn’t occur,” Harrell said.

The police chief says a lot went wrong during that time.

“What we saw a year and a half ago, while I wasn’t the chief at the time, was very traumatizing to the community. It had a lot of traumatic impacts and I have to apologize for those impacts we created,” said SPD Chief Adrian Diaz.

The ruse happened the day after a man drove into protesters outside the East Precinct and shot someone, and officers vacated the building.

In scanner records from June 8, 2020, several officers discussed monitoring a group of Proud Boys protesters — some armed — around City Hall. They later said the group appeared to be heading toward Capitol Hill looking for confrontation, but none of the chatter was true.

Archived scanner audio from the website Open MHZ captures some of the chatter. Independent journalist Omari Salisbury shared the audio, some of which was documented in the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) report.

“We’re going to be the one taking my group down around City Hall to monitor the group of the Proud Boys gathering right now,” one officer says.

“They may be looking for somewhere else for confrontation … I did hear they’re going to start heading that way toward Cal Anderson. I’m going to follow in the rear and have you guys parallel,” an officer says.

OPA launched its investigation after Salisbury first brought up his concerns to the group in November of 2020.

The report details interviews with a captain at the time, who said the purpose of the ruse was to “make it look like we had more officers out there” and get a crowd or protesters to separate “and get them into other areas, that allowed us the flexibility and the ability to operate,” the captain said to OPA, per the report.

The captain said he didn’t know officers would be mentioning the Proud Boys in the ruse.

Now Mayor Harrell says he’s working with City Council to build oversight, including when a ruse can be used and how the tactic must documented.

“We need to make sure we don’t have rank-and-file, one solo person making a decision that could be as audacious as the one we saw in this particular situation,” Harrell said.

Ruses are often used in capturing child sex crime suspects, but city council is considering limitations to the practice.

“Because it’s more of a misinformation campaign rather than one-on-one deception, it’s raising the question whether or not ruses being used in a crowd control situation should be dealt with differently,” said council member Lisa Herbold, who chairs the public safety committee.

Harrell says he’s also starting the work of rebuilding trust with people of the city.

“We have to value transparency,” Harrell said. “I can tell you what we’re going to do going forward — we’re going to be honest,” he said.

“How can we can restore trust? It’s going to be a long process, but I am committed to making sure we do that,” Diaz said.

OPA investigators concluded that police mentioning armed Proud Boys groups made a volatile situation even worse, saying in the report, “Given all of the above and based on the known facts and circumstances at the time, OPA believes that the use of the Proud Boys in the misinformation effort was an improper ruse that violated policy.”

However, investigators said the two SPD employees who committed violations have already left the department.