Ex-Seattle Police Chief: "Militaristic" response to 1999 WTO protests was big mistake

And that other police departments have, distressingly, failed to learn from his mistakes.

Is he right? Have America’s police forces learned nothing of value in the past 12 years about how to handle political demonstrations or anything else?

To answer the chief’s question of “why,” because I don’t like the idea of protestors being able to shut down a city whenever they feel like it. This isn’t France. That said, a lot of law enforcement agencies probably do need to take a good look at how they deal with crowds and provide their officers with better training on how to defuse or at least to avoid the escalation of violence.

There are programs in place to train officers in effective crowd control. Many years ago on the Discovery Channel (or TLC when you could still learn stuff on that channel), there was a show whose topic was crowd control and law enforcement. They had some news footage of a small protest somewhere in California (there was a beach) with two officers arresting a few people for spraying graffiti on something. One of the organizers for the protest was waiving a piece of paper at the officers saying that they had a permit for their gathering. The officer was basically telling her to get lost or she might be arrested for interfering with his duties or something. While this was happening the crowd started gathering near the officers. The expert they had on the show said that the situation probably would have been defused very quickly had the officer made it clear that the persons were under arrest for reasons unrelated to the protest. While this won’t work in every situation (this was nowhere near as big as the Seattle protest), and while it might not have worked in this situation, it was a good example of how the officers did nothing to calm the crowd and may have agitated them.

I am pretty sure it was never a case of police ignorance to begin with. Long before WTO the police departments across the nation(not all, but most) had told us they were embracing the concept of community policing.

IMO America has become a police state. There are individual cops who do not like this, but in general the attitude has become very authoritarian rather than authoritative. So I think it is less a matter of failure to learn than it is deliberate indifference.

:confused: I’ve encountered the phrase “community policing” before, always to mean something less heavy than before.

Yes; from my understanding of the term militaristic cops with an us-versus-them attitude towards the public are the exact opposite of how the term “community policing” is usually meant.

By and large I think the response to the current OWS situation in New York has been pretty rational. I’ve read very little about how it has happened in other cities, my understanding is in Oakland things got pretty violent. Without knowing about that situation I can’t say who is at fault there.

In New York, the city is still letting people peacefully protest, however when the city told them they could no longer turn a public park into their private residence and dismantled their residential structures some of the OWS folks in New York got violent.

From what I can tell the police in NYC have been mostly restrained. I don’t know why I even waste time, but when I say mostly restrained that means I’m aware of whatever minor incidents (pepper spraying people for no reason etc) that you’re getting ready to link. The protesters are still being allowed to carry on their protests, but they aren’t being allowed to live on public ground.

That isn’t new law, that’s old law. It’s been that way since I’ve been alive, ask anyone who tries to setup a permanent camp in a National Forest, you will be asked to move once every X number of days precisely because it isn’t seen to be in society’s interest for individuals to turn small portions of the forest (public land) into private residences.

I think the way the NYPD has handled stuff in New York has been very responsible. They have had throughout the operations over the past few days the highest ranking officers of the department there to command the officers, which I think does wonders at preventing officers from getting out of control. Even the property they confiscated has mostly been put into storage where it can be reclaimed (it’s basically a lie they burned all the OWS people’s books and personal possessions.)

Let’s keep this in mind:

-It is illegal to permanently camp on public property in most places, this is because otherwise it would essentially be taken over by people wishing to convert parcels of it into private property.

-It is illegal to block traffic by standing in the road

-It is illegal to trespass on private property

-It is illegal to refuse to vacate a city park in line with commands from law enforcement who are executing valid and legal court orders (the New York courts affirmed they had permission to go in and dismantle the camps.)

We live in a society of laws, the laws are made by our elected officials. We live in a society in which we as a society have chosen to establish police forces to enforce those laws. I just don’t see how we can fault the police for well, enforcing the law in a reasonable manner.

I do agree with the Seattle Police Chief, overly-militaristic operations would inflame crowds and cause serious problems, not to mention political backlash. A prominent example is the Bonus Army during the Great Depression. Herbert Hoover sent the military in there, and they executed a cavalry charge along with infantrymen with fixed bayonets at the Bonus Army’s camps. Public outcry was significant, and it most definitely contributed to Hoover’s massive electoral defeat.

I don’t believe what we’re seeing is a “militaristic response” in New York. What we’re seeing is the restrained, orderly use of police power. We’ve given the legitimate use of force to a certain body, in this case the police department. Sometimes when that force is being used it won’t be pretty, especially when the protesters are rioting, stabbing police officers in the hand and things of that nature. However by and large I think the NYPD is behaving in an exemplary manner in the past few days. Again, I don’t defend the lone officer who pepper sprayed a few people very early on in the OWS stuff for essentially no reason. But the officers the last few days are executing legal orders from the civilian leadership of the city, I’d be far more worried if they weren’t doing this, because that would essentially be the police force saying it was not responsible to the civilian government.

It’s akin to the difference between authoritarianism and authoritativeness.

Community policing means that the police get to know the neighborhood as a good neighbor would, talk to the people about police concerns, listen to the people’s concerns and try to just get along, in my own words of course.

This is opposed to a bunch of guys who just ride around in cruisers, jump out and yell shut up and intimidate and just make arrests.

I am saying the police had already told us they had learned the heavy handedness lesson ***before *** WTO, so why are we asking whether they learned their lesson? They already told us they know the lesson, so they must have been ignoring it.

I may be pulling this off-track, so if you consider this a hijack, feel free to tell me off, however…

When Ithink of Authoritarian policing, what comes to mind is not Community Policing (as mentioned, that’s the opposite), but things like no-knock raids, property confiscation, and so forth. Some police departments have outright murdered people in no-knock warrants, with no punishment. They’ve used them on the wrong houses, used them for nonviolent offenders, and used them now and then “for practice.” They’re not going to be 100% perfect about identifying themselves and giving people a chance to react safely because the very point of such a raid is to act quickly. There WILL be times when people get confused, react erratically (particularly if they’ve been asleep) or outright make mistakes in a split second, and that applies to both cops and targets.

When officers do this, they risk getting shot, and I’m none too sympathetic for them. Even a criminal has a certain right to defend his home. If someone barges in to my home shouting, I will damn sure pull a weapon before I understand the situation, precisely because home invasions are a very deadly for a crime. And when the police choose to act like perps, they deserve to be treated as such. I recognize there may be situations where it’s the least risky option. Yet it remains incumbent on the police to justify high-risk operations.

On the topic directly at hand, I agree with Odesio. Demonstraters, even the most peaceful ones, do not get to take over a city any time they like. It’s not about anning political speech or free assembly, but allowing everyone else to freely assemble, too; the government has a duty to protect that as well. As such, large demonstrations in public have a responsibility to keep their noses clean. If they won’t, the government is fully justified in moving them off. If they resist, or turn violent, they will be moved off by force. There is nothing morally wrong in that. You have the right to peaceably assemble; you do not have to right to frighten citizens, kidnap others or prevent them from moving about, and damage public or private property in order to air some childish greivance (and your greivance becomes childish at exactly the moment you begin doing so).

“When a policeman enters a situation, he is in contol of that situation” is never going to change.

But my clear, grim memory of WTO was of the police being uanble to contol their own goddamn selves: when a few anarchists started smashing and torching, everyone became a target for agressive police action. Not just marchers: people exiting their places of business were gassed and clubbed, a mom on side streets with kids in her car had the nozzle of a tear gas cannister shoved in her window and shot into her face. When they “cleared the intersection,” the police deliberately herded the crowds out of commercialareas (mostly empty stores and offices) into residential areas, then gassed the entire atmosphere, with no concern for the people in their homes.

It wasn’t only the Seattle police, with their larger training budget: police from smaller surrounding suburban towns came to help, with no training and less coordination; just “ride to the sounds of the guns!”

MP’s from Fort Lewis came, trained mainly to handle drunken young men in top physical condition. The next week I overheard one of them seeking to impress women in a laundromat: “I used my dummybegood stick… you know: wap! Dummy be good, Wap, Dummy be good!.”

Your convictions about supressing mob rule may be entierly correct, but it is hard to accept its realworld applications.

Sometimes it does change . . . but the situations where it does are rarely desirable. Sometimes they are desirable, but the system the police are defending has to be a pretty fucked-up one, like Gaddafi’s or something, before you can say that; then resistance to the cops might lead to a highly desirable revolution. Otherwise, resistance to the cops usually heralds either an aimless riot or a profit-crime wave. Unless, like the 1968 Dem Convention in Chicago, the unrest in the streets is the whole political point – “The Whole World Is Watching!” – then it might be worth doing.

You guys didn’t think all those Patriot Act grants to state and local police were actually for fighting foreign terrorists, did you?

The right to dissent – in a meaningful way – is supposed to be something sacred in this country. It’s just that we never seem to like it when it happens. :eek:

I think the reaction of the police in New York City varied quite a bit.

One interesting incident, there was a retired Philadelphia police captain, Ray Lewis, who joined the protests. He held a sign that was neatly lettered, “NYPD DON’T BE WALL STREET MERCENARIES.” He wore his police uniform too.

I think his critique of the NY cops performance was enlightening. He said the “bull rush” he had seen NYPD unleash on one group of protesters that were blocking traffic, had been uncalled for. He said police “are not supposed to” use violence unless it’s a) to protect someone’s life or to b) protect them from being hurt." Capt. Lewis felt the cops should’ve negotiated.

Capt. Lewis was himself arrested but he said the NYPD treated him (and his fellow arrestees) with moderation and professionalism.