On August 14th, Seattle police cleared Cal Anderson Park a homeless camp and protesters who occupied a park building and distributed food to the homeless.
A week later, officials referred a hungry person who lived outside to the protesters, who had started distributing food again in the park – the only place officials could think of where that person could get help.
The incident, caught on camera during the arrest of a homeless man for alleged theft of Bartell’s shoes and candy and other items from Walgreens, is a contradicting attitude in a city where the park’s homeless camps and protesters have been repeatedly removed since last summer were.
The park was cleared again 11 days after the person was arrested.
The Seattle Times Homeless Project is funded by the BECU, Bernier McCaw Foundation, Campion Foundation, Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, Raikes Foundation, Schultz Family Foundation, Seattle Foundation, Starbucks, and the University of Washington. The Seattle Times retains editorial control over the content of Project Homeless.
The Moment provides a snapshot of a city plagued by a homelessness crisis during a pandemic, a law enforcement agency grappling with local and national race and class settlements, and officials unsure of where the street people are going should direct.
“We are trying to provide services to him, but there are no services to reach him,” said an officer during the recording who later complained to his colleague about demonstrators after the arrest.
The video and audio recordings of the body cam show Seattle police officers Mika Harmon and Patrick Walters responding to reports of shoplifting on August 21, “Start knocking you down.”
After a few minutes have passed and they approach the park, Harmon says they have arrived at Cal Anderson – which Harmon describes with a mundane term.
Last summer, Cal Anderson Park became the scene of nightly anti-policing protests after protests broke out across the country over the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The protesters repeatedly occupied a park building to distribute food and clothing to people living in the park.
City officials said they evacuated the park last summer over safety concerns such as fires in the park and damage to buildings. Throughout the summer, a group of protesters who met in the park most nights sometimes broke windows and lit fires elsewhere in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.
These protesters, as well as people who were homeless and lived in the park, were evicted from the park three times last year after police disbanded the Capitol Hill Organized Protest Zone (CHOP) that was gaining a foothold in the park and on the blocks around the East Precinct.
“Isn’t that nice,” says Harmon as they drive through the park looking for the suspect, and continues with an obscene comment: “This should be (expletively) confiscated. It’s like this – it’s such crap. For Example, if we start to put the hammer on them (expletively) … yes, so that’s the park. “
It is unclear who she was referring to.
Walters whispers to remind them that they will be recorded.
“Oh, I don’t care,” says Harmon. “I’m already on the chopping block. No, I’m just kidding. “
Seattle Police Spokesman Sgt. Randy Huserik said the officers’ comments had been forwarded to the Office of Police Accountability and the Seattle Police were unable to provide details.
Huserik stood by the officials’ decision to send the arrested person to the park for church services.
“We provide services to those who request / need them and guide them to the closest available services as the officials did in the circumstances,” Huserik said in an email.
Around this time, on August 21, officers discovered a shoeless person on the sidewalk in a second police car that was being sent to shoplift. This person had been interviewed by one of the officers in another shoplifting report the day before. You handcuff the person. Harmon takes body spray, comb, and razor off the sidewalk and returns them to Walgreens Safety.
“How come you keep shoplifting?” Harmon asks the person on the sidewalk. “Is it just not money?”
“I have no money or any way to make it,” the person says.
Harmon also asks if the person has been referred to LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion), a program that aims to provide social services to people who commit low-level crimes due to poverty, addiction, or homelessness. Later in the footage, another colleague tells Harmon that the program is “finished” and will not be funded the following year.
That’s not the case. It is possible that the officer was referring to changes to the program where referrals could be made by members of the community rather than just the police.
“I am not aware of any conversation that the city would not continue to finance or support [Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion], especially on the council, ”said Andrew Lewis, a member of Seattle City Council.
At various points in the recording of the arrest, the handcuffed person appears confused and speaks in unrecognizable sentences.
The officials propose a mental health court but say they would have to put the person in jail in order to connect to these resources. In March, King County’s executive Dow Constantine announced that the county prisons would not accept bookings for nonviolent crimes such as theft in an attempt to reduce the prison population during the pandemic.
However, a spokesman for the Seattle Municipal Court made it clear via email that a person does not need to be jailed to connect with the Mental Health Court.
“Kind of limited,” says Harmon, before officials ask if their suspect was in the park and recommend that they get clothes and food there.
“Are you going to let me go?” The person asks before a woman who is recording officers with her phone asks if she can pay for the shoes to have the person go handcuffed.
Harmon explains that the woman has to clarify this with management and not with the police.
“We’ll just take him to the station, we’ll do our papers and then we’ll get rid of him,” Harmon says to the woman who is making the video. “We’ll try to tell him to go there. Because he really needs services. “
“We don’t have a lot of options right now,” says Harmon.
Officials appear to be recognizing the impact of the pandemic on homeless services. With limited accommodation in shelters and the suspension of many daily services, few resources have been and still are available for thousands of people who live outside and have nowhere else to go.
Kelsey Nyland, a spokesman for the mayor’s office, emailed the Seattle Times that the Seattle Police Department “is trained and can refer vulnerable people who need services to providers who can meet their needs,” including LEAD, the Health A team – a team of firefighters and social workers who can respond to emergency calls – or mental health professionals in the Seattle Police Department.
In a follow-up email, Nyland said that “the incident also underscores the number of times our police are put into situations that can best be managed by a social worker”.
“A police officer does not and should not expect to be trained as a social worker,” said Nyland. “This is a great example of a situation where an alternate response or co-response model works best, and the city is working on alternative responses such as expanding Health One and investing in community-based security services.”
Nyland also said: “It is clear that officials approached this incident not from what is consistent with the city’s ongoing policy on Cal Anderson, but rather from what meets the immediate needs of individuals for food and shoes would cover the fastest. “
In this case, the officers inform the handcuffed person that food and clothing are available in the park.
“Having the closest resources in Cal Anderson speaks less of the city’s policy of keeping the park safe and clean and more of the need for deeper and ongoing investment in services for communities at risk,” said Nyland.
Harmon later complained about the protesters who showed up on the scene.
“They just want to scream and scream, but they don’t want to hear any information,” she says.
“The shoes aren’t the problem,” she says. “It’s the constant stealing. It’s like a big picture. We are trying to give him services, but there are no services to reach him. “