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Seattle Siege: Learning From the Chaos

As one officer close to the incident said, "This is what happens when your command structure and city management do not plan ahead and refuse to pay attention to known negative intelligence."

April 01, 2000  |  by Joseph Henderson

The confrontation at the hotel happened between 7 and 7:30 a.m. Tuesday. Because of orders from the mayor and chief, Seattle officers on the line, for the most part, were not allowed to help the delegates.  Seattle's primary plan was to allow protesters to block the intersections, then make mass arrests.  Later SPD officials told the media that they had been "misled" by the protesters.

By the end of that first day, the Secret Service told Seattle officials to gain control or they might cancel President Clinton's scheduled visit.

With that, Mayor Schell declared a state of emergency in the city on Tuesday at 5 p.m. This allowed him to impose a curfew, receive help from the Washington National Guard and establish no-protest zones.

But earlier in the day he declined an offer to call up the National Guard.

Planning, Logistics and Deployment

In an effort to learn what went right and what went wrong, POLICE spoke with several officers and command staff from various agencies, including the Seattle Police Department. All told POLICE their reason for speaking out is not to criticize, but instead to share what had been learned.

Pierce County Sheriff's Department's (PCSD) Major Tom Miner, South Hill Precinct Commander, was in the Seattle Police Operations Center for three days during the incident. He was able to point out some things he though created some of the problems that came up during the week of the WTO. Major Miner is well known as a proponent of the Incident Command System (ICS) and an expert in the field. He is responsible for one of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) teams that responded to the Oklahoma City bombing, as well as many other natural and manmade disasters.

"There were too many command posts, decisions and problems that were not being communicated well or efficiently," said Miner. "There was little if any preplanning for general logistics."

He said it was very evident that there had not been adequate planning for the violent nature of some of the protesters and that the general intelligence seemed to have been ignored. "The plan was too demonstrator friendly, it allowed room for protesters to abuse officers and cause unnecessary property damage."

KCSO Sgt. Noel Fryberger agreed with Miner. Fryberger, originally at Boeing Field, said he had to hastily move his platoon to help in downtown Seattle. "We were told we were going in to make symbolic arrests."

But that didn't happen as they were thrown directly into the fray.  "Logistics were very bad and SPD needed a contingency plan, a plan for the proper use of additional resources they called upon," Fryberger told POLICE.

He went on to say that as a direct result of his department's planning and training, the sheriff's office came through the WTO well. KCSO eventually ended up sending in three Hard Platoons to help SPD, as well as various other deputies for general uses.

A "hard platoon" consisted of two squads of 15 deputies, two sergeants and a captain. Fryberger did say that you are going up against 30,000 people," but the fact that King County had done considerable realistic training in crowd control and less-lethal force "helped significantly."

Seattle Police Officer Kyle Kizzier, a fiver-year veteran, added that the first day-Tuesday-they were badly outnumbered. About logistics, he said, "The first day we were given perishable food, with no place to store it, no plan was in place for portable radio battery replacement, and the rules kept changing.

"It was frustrating." When given the food they were told, "this is it, take care of it." Kizzier went on to say that at his particular location, in front of a condo, the citizens were very helpful, allowing officers to come in to the building for very short breaks later in the day. That was when they discovered much of their food had gone bad. Officer Kizzier said he believed they could have used more training.

"We needed more drills.  Most officers that worked on the line only received minimal training," Kizzier told POLICE. "SPD did not take the protests and what might happen seriously enough."

At one point, a protester contacted him and told him they were ready to be arrested, telling him protesters planned on several hundred being taken into custody. He told his sergeant, but the word came back to not make arrests. Officer Todd Novisedlak's shift started at around 3 a.m. at Seattle's South Precinct. He said when he arrived at work, basic riot gear was being handed out. He and his partner, along with about half of the other officers reporting to work, were being formed into a "soft platoon."

Novisedlak told POLICE, "We were told that we were going downtown to intercept some radicals at about 20 hotspots until about 6 a.m. (Tuesday), at which time we would be replaced by hard platoons."  By his definition, a soft platoon consisted of patrol officers and a hard platoon consisted of the higher level trained and better equipped officers.

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