Seattle Police Department evolves in handling protests that turn violent
SEATTLE — The Seattle protests over the grand jury decision in Ferguson, Mo., put local police to the test.
On Monday night, when violence broke out during what had been peaceful protests, police officers, behind a wall of bikes, pushed protesters back in what some say is becoming the cutting edge of crowd control.
“I think it’s a tactic that works extremely well,” said Jim Fuda, who served with the King County Sheriff’s Office and is now a security consultant working around the world. Fuda believes Seattle police are leading the nation in handling protests that turn violent.
“Fortunately or unfortunately, this area has had an opportunity to deal with a lot of protests, and we’ve learned from our past mistakes.”
One of those mistakes may have been the 2012 May Day protests, when marchers with makeshift weapons tore up the downtown shopping district.
A scathing independent review found the Seattle Police Department was not fully prepared for the violence and the command staff did a bad job of communicating. So police changed up their game.
During the past two May Day protests, they took charge of the streets, with a larger presence and a different plan.
"They follow alongside to make sure everything’s going to be OK" said Fuda. "But if there’s an incident, a faction of that breaks off and takes care of the problem, deals with it."
The bikes become walls to move crowds where police want them. When protesters don`t move, they are hit with pepper spray and flash grenades. Police say the plan has cut down on property damage, and injuries.
It can resemble a war zone at times, with smoke, and sparks lighting up the downtown area, but Fuda says police are using their best techniques to keep the most people safe.
"Violence, justified or not, is never pretty. This is necessary force to break up an incident as it’s escalating, and it just needs to be done."