This afternoon Mayor Durkan, SPD Chief Best, and SFD Chief Skoggins were scheduled to hold a press conference at 4:15 to discuss the ongoing demonstrations in response to last week’s police killing of George Floyd. However, that play went awry when thousands of protesters showed up at the location at 4pm and demanded to speak with the Mayor. After consulting in private with the organizers of the march, Durkan, Best and Skoggins went outside and addressed the crowd. Q13 has video of the event. Durkan promised the demonstrators that she would meet with their representatives, as well as with the CPC, tomorrow afternoon at 3pm to discuss next steps in police reform and how the community can be more involved.
The press conference finally got underway around 5:45. It began, unusually, with a 30-minute speech from Durkan discussing her views on police reform, the death of George Floyd and the injustices the country has inflicted upon the Black community, and some specific changes she and Chief Best will try to move forward right away in response to issues raised over the past few days. You can watch the entire press conference on Seattle Channel, and I highly recommend at least watching Durkan’s speech (regardless of whether you tend to agree or disagree with her). Personally, I’m surprised that the speech was delivered at a press conference and not in a scheduled address to the city as a whole.
Here are notes from the press conference.
- Chief Best has requested, and Mayor Durkan has agreed to, a curfew from 9 P.M. to 5 A.M each night through Saturday morning. “We take a lot of care before we ask for a curfew,” Best emphasized, but she said that she has a responsibility to use every tool she can to keep the city safe. The curfews have come under fire for being ineffective — especially since they are not being enforced. Acknowledging that she gives her field commanders discretion over enforcement, she said that she needed to have “the fallback” in case the situation required it.
- After continuing criticism over police officers wearing “mourning badges,” a band recognizing fallen officers that is traditionally worn until the memorial service for the officer is held but which covers up the badge number, Durkan said that she and Best will work with officers to find a compromise so that mourning badge bands may still be worn by officers but badge numbers will be visible. Durkan and Best did not announce a timeline for the change.
- Another ongoing area of criticism over the past few days is that officers’ body-cams have been turned off during the protests. This is actually official policy, codified in an ordinance passed by the City Council at the urging of the ACLU, so that the police are not gathering surveillance footage of people legally exercising their First Amendment rights. But Durkan said today that she will be asking the City Council to revisit the issue and consult with the ACLU and the Community Police Commission to see if adjustments to the policy should be made.
- Demonstrators have also alleged that during the protests SPD officers have deployed “flash-bang” grenades and tear gas without first giving a warning to disperse as required under city law and in the SPD policy manual. When asked about this today, Best clarified that the law and policy say that advance warning to disperse must be given “when feasible to do so,” and that they and the OPA are reviewing video footage of incidents to determine if warnings were given and whether they should have been given the circumstances.
- The Office of Police Accountability (OPA), which investigates complaints of police misconduct, has received over 12,000 complaints so far stemming from policing of the demonstrations over the past four days. Durkan said that she is committed to ensuring that the OPA and its sister organization the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), have all the resources they need to thoroughly investigate complaints.
- Following up on a suggestion from Steve Miletich at the Seattle Times, Durkan said that she is looking at ways to bring the Community Police Commission (CPC) and SPOG, the police officers’ union, together to start a process of reconciliation between officers and the community. SPOG has come under fire for taking a hard-line position in contract negotiations with the city that rolled back some accountability reforms that the City Council had codified in the city’s police accountability ordinance (and to be fair, the Mayor’s Office has come under fire too for allowing SPOG to negotiate those rollbacks).
- In a similar vein, with a new round of contract negotiations with SPOG about to commence, Durkan acknowledged that the community has expressed a desire to have a greater say in those negotiations and she will set up a process to allow that to happen.
- Next week Mayor Durkan will publish her proposal for a revised 2020 city budget, given the significant revenue shortfall caused by the COVID shutdown. When asked today whether she will be looking at cuts to the SPD budget as suggested by some demonstrators, Durkan responded that it would be difficult given that most of the department’s budget is salaries. However, she did say that she has asked every department to find savings, while prioritizing three areas: COVID-related response, basic services, and serving the community.
The City Council will be holding a special meeting tomorrow (Wednesday) at noon to discuss the weekend’s events. The agenda will include a community panel, a presentation from SPD on the timeline of events and its response, and an overview of the police accountability system from the OPA, the OIG, and the CPC.
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