SPD Chief Best Addresses Reports of Officers Removing Badges, Suspends Use of Tear Gas for All But SPD SWAT Team

by Carolyn Bick

In a press conference addressing an update to crowd control tactics, particularly the use of tear gas, both Mayor Jenny Durkan and Seattle Police Department Chief Carmen Best said in a response to a question from the Emerald about on-the-ground reports of officers removing badges on the evening of June 4 that they had not heard of this happening.

Best said in the June 5 press conference that she has “been out routinely on the line” with her officers, but had not seen that occur or heard of any instance of officers removing badges. She said that the SPD had to “be careful that as we hear rumors, we evaluate them, and that if there is any supporting evidence of that that we are following up.”

Two people responded to The C is for Crank’s Erica C. Barnett’s tweet about Best’s response with tweets that included pictures. Both were taken on June 3, but appear to corroborate reports of which the Emerald became aware. One shows an officer without an apparent badge, as well as another officer whose badge is covered up by a black strap. The other shows two officers whose badges are covered by black tape, and whose names do not appear to be readily visible.

Durkan urged people with those concerns to file a complaint with the Office of Police Accountability, which already has at least 14,000 pending complaints.

The Emerald also asked about multiple reports on Twitter about officers deactivating body worn cameras. Durkan said that the body worn video policy was put in place under previous Mayor Ed Murray. She said that, at the time, civil liberties groups did not want peaceful protests to be recorded. She said that “those civil liberty concerns are still valid,” but that “we have changed as a city, and people’s expectations have changed.” She said that the SPD is “ready to turn those cameras on,” but that she will be asking the Seattle City Council in cooperation to examine whether or not that policy needs to be updated.

In her remarks prior to the Emerald’s questions, Best announced that she would be suspending the use of CS gas, also known as tear gas, for at least 30 days, pending recommendations from the Office of Police Accountability (OPA), Office of Inspector General (OIG), and the Community Police Commission (CPC), as well as other outside experts regarding SPD’s crowd control policies. If the team requests more time, the suspension will be extended, Durkan said. 

However, the SPD’s SWAT team will retain the ability to use tear gas at the direct approval or order of Best herself or a deputy chief she has designated to make decisions. She said that there had been “no incident on record” since the WTO Protests of 1999 that tear gas had to be used in Seattle, until May 30.

Best’s announcement came after the release that morning of a joint recommendation letter from OPA, OIG, and CPC. In the letter, the three offices recommended that the SPD cease use of tear gas. The letter stated that tear gas is not only dangerous, due to its deleterious effects on the respiratory tract and what that could mean for people, during the current novel coronavirus pandemic, but also because SPD officers are not properly trained in its use.

But tear gas was not the only crowd control tactic the three offices took issue with in the letter. They also brought up the use of flash bangs, which they said were not safe for use around protestors, particularly in light of the SPD’s use of force against protestors. When asked by Komo4’s Patrick Quinn about why those will be allowed to be used, both Best and Durkan said that they had not seen that request or heard about it. Both said that the SPD’s crowd control policies would be reviewed.

Carolyn Bick is a journalist and photographer based in South Seattle. You can reach them here and here.

Featured image: Police officers wait, during the protest on May 30, 2020. (Photo: Susan Fried)