Seattle police chief says May Day failings 'an issue of command'

SEATTLE -- Seattle Police Chief John Diaz took some pointed questions from the City Council Wednesday over his handling of the May Day riots last year.

Diaz admitted, “It’s fine to celebrate success, but it’s more important to heed the lessons of failure.”

And there were failures.

According to an independent review of police actions during May Day last year, while rioters were clearly prepared for that event, Seattle police were not fully prepared.

The review, authored by former Los Angeles police Deputy Chief Michael Hillmann, said Seattle police officers were confused about how to respond when a mob scene broke out and rioters began targeting downtown windows and cars. Officers interviewed also said leadership was lacking. At one point, Assistant Chief Mike Sanford rushed into the crowd to make an arrest and had to be rescued.

“It was clearly an issue of command; it had nothing to do with the rank and file,” said Diaz. “They (officers on street) were extremely well-disciplined in how they handled this.”

City Councilman Bruce Harrell, chairman of the council's Public Safety Committee, said, “The purpose of the report was to learn from what we didn’t do right, and certainly we didn’t execute the plan and develop the plan as well as we should have.”

Among the findings: Department planning did not begin early enough to provide effective deployment and clarity of strategies, resulting in what was ultimately described as conflicting crowd management strategies and confusing direction.

There are 38 recommendations in the report, and Diaz said many of them, like better riot training, are already being done.

With May Day less than a month away, Diaz believes this time his force is ready.

“The goal here is to let everyone peacefully protest, and at the same time protect people’s property and safety,” he said.