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The Seattle Police Department needs to find a better way to interact with anti-police demonstrators, including allowing officers to express solidarity with protesters marching against police brutality and racism, according to the first in a series of detailed critiques of the department’s response to protests and riots.

The city’s Office of Inspector General for Public Safety report on local demonstrations that arose after the May 25 death of George Floyd in custody of Minneapolis police, said the department needs to do more to ensure officers at protests don’t show contempt for the people whose rights they’re supposed to be protecting, regardless of fatigue and stress.

The review committee, made up of SPD representatives and community members, found that officers who were sympathetic to the protesters and condemned Floyd’s death felt constrained from saying anything by the department’s code of conduct that requires political neutrality on duty. That silence was interpreted by the crowd “as an alignment with, or at least a refusal to refute, the police brutality that was the source of the protests,” the Seattle Times reports.

“The Panel felt that ‘taking a knee’ or standing publicly against police brutality … was a show of support for fair and just policing, and something SPD officers should do without reservation,” the OIG found.

In all, the OIG panel offered 54 recommendations in a 122-page critique of the department’s response to the first of what the panel identified as five distinct waves of riots and protests that rocked Seattle during the summer and fall of 2020. The report focuses on the response to the first three days of demonstrations downtown, May 29-June 1, when officers used pepper-spray, tear gas, batons and other weapons against thousands of protesters after vandals in the crowd broke windows, looted, and stole guns from patrol vehicles before burning them.

The OIG specifically stated the department should move away from the concepts of “crowd control” and “crowd management” to one of “crowd facilitation and crowd safety.”

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