The Seattle Community Police Commission (CPC) held a town hall Tuesday evening to discuss proposed changes to the Seattle Police Department (SPD) use of force and mass control guidelines.
The policy changes are part of an annual review that the department must carry out in accordance with the consent decree.
The livestream panel discussion brought together representatives of the SPD and activists from the community. Many of them said the proposed changes were nowhere near enough as the SPD continued to have the ability to use crowd control ammunition, such as explosive balls and pepper spray, during demonstrations, and did not make a clear standard when an assembly was deemed illegal can be.
Many of the community members who spoke said they ran out of ammunition during the summer protests following the death of George Floyd by police.
“It sounds like extrajudicial punishment in many ways when you all decide who deserves the use of violent punishment,” said panelist Nikkita Oliver, co-executive director of Creative Justice. “We have to negotiate our right not to be blown up or sprayed with pepper or whatever other potentially lethal weapons are involved in this policy.”
While there is no mention of tear gas in the policy changes, other ammunition is allowed, including pepper spray, explosive balls, and 40mm sponge-tipped projectile launchers.
Pepperball launchers – high pressure air cannons that fire projectiles that release a pepper irritant – have been added to the list of ammunition held by the police.
The launcher was added to “deal with isolated acts within a crowd without having to use force against the rest of the crowd who are doing nothing wrong,” according to deputy chief Lesley Cordner.
Commissioners were quick to stress that the changes also did not meet their recommendations that the SPD should ban the use of ammunition to control the crowd, including tear gas and explosive balls against demonstrators.
“We have been pushing for a ban on gas balls since 2016. In August we re-issued our latest recommendations to ban tear gas and other weapons used to control crowds,” said Commissioner Alina Santillan. “As it appears [SPD] increase the size of their arsenal. “
However, police claimed that both their presence at protests and the ability to use ammunition were necessary in case something went wrong.
“Policies need to be able to say ‘But what if this happens?’ and then be able to answer, “What should the officers do then?” said Becca Boatright, SPD’s chief legal officer. “How do you create demonstrations that can pose a real security threat to life?”
Community organizers who participated in protests against racial justice this summer expressed skepticism that the policy change would actually change the behavior of officials at demonstrations.
“I know some people may have the best of intentions writing these guidelines, but as for your officers on the street, some of them are just so happy to use these weapons to gain control and power,” said Travonna Thompson-Wiley of the Black Action Coalition.
The CPC said it will accept public comments on the proposed policy changes by January 31st. The full guidelines can be found here.