Report: Experimental police tactics backfired with anarchists

Report: Experimental police tactics backfired with anarchists »Play Video
Police chase after vandals who smashed windows in Downtown Seattle during May Day protests on May 1, 2012. (Photo: Joshua Lewis)

SEATTLE -- Masked anarchists ran wild in Seattle's streets last May Day, and now nearly a year later we're learning why police command allowed the violence to run unchecked for so long.

Seattle Police Chief John Diaz places the blame not on rank-and-file officers, but on the commanders who tried some experimental tactics that only left the troops confused.

Officers had been forewarned about anarchists up-ending May Day, and now a pair of reports break down what went wrong with how officers responded.

"I'm not totally sure why the report took so long, and that issue in and of itself goes to the transparency issues we do have," said Seattle City Councilman Bruce Harrell.

Instead of lining the streets, Seattle Police had its officers hang back but that backfired and let vandals run wild. Black-clad protesters used the large May Day crowd as cover to wreak havoc through the downtown core.

From Westlake Park, they moved south, bashing cars and breaking windows. Then they headed for the federal courthouse where marchers lobbed firebombs and battled the city's costumed superheroes.

Seattle police were still hanging back as masked suspects rushed down 6th Avenue and attacked Nike Town and several other stores.

"Clearly an issue of command," Diaz said. "This had nothing to do with the rank and file. They were extremely well disciplined in how they handled themselves."

As property damage spiraled, Assistant Chief Mike Sanford jumped in wearing plain clothes but had to be rescued by his own officers.

While no one was seriously hurt, an independent review found the restrained response by officers "damaged the credibility of the police department" and led to the "appearance of inability to protect the downtown."

Business leaders say police need to do better.

"The police department has a great record before May Day of running events very safely and we'd like them to do that in the future," said Kate Joncas with the Downtown Seattle Association. "And we think the report does a good guideline on how to achieve that."

Harrell said the report was not about embarrassing the police department. "It's not about a gotcha. It's about planning and strategic thinking as we move forward."

Councilmembers will have the chief come back in two weeks to give a full accounting of the May Day reports.