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The Police Battle Themselves

by Paul de Armond

Though the police didn't realize it, the protester's plan had shut down the WTO
The competing strategies of the Direct Action Network and the AFL-CIO put the police in the classically disastrous position of dividing their forces and inviting defeat in detail. The AFL-CIO rally and parade was planned in conjunction with the police, and although it would not require much more in the way of security than any other parade, it still demanded adequate coverage both for the rally and along the parade route. The security requirements at the WTO conference site were subject to considerably more uncertainty. The DAN organizers had participated in lengthy negotiations with the police and had made their blockade strategy known, at least in general outline. DAN had repeatedly and publicly stated that their goal was to "shut down the WTO." Mayor Schell and Chief Stamper were faced with the difficult decision of allocating forces against two different opponents using markedly different strategies.

4th & Pike Confrontation By 9:10AM, "crowd-control efforts were encountering difficulty," according to Washington State Patrol Chief Sandberg. She placed troopers throughout Western Washington on alert. The day was barely started and the police plan was already beginning to break down.

The Secret Service, responsible for the security of federal and visiting government officials, discovered that the streets between the Convention Center, the adjacent hotels and the Paramount Theater -- a distance of up to five blocks along some routes -- were closed by protesters. "It hadn't taken long for things not to be working very well." said Ronald Legan, the special agent in charge of the Seattle office of the Secret Service.

Though the police didn't realize it, the Direct Action Network plan had achieved its goal -- they had blockaded the streets and shut down the WTO.

According to the agreed-upon script, the police would now arrest the protesters. Unfortunately, the protesters had been so successful at blockading the area around the convention center that police couldn't move. It makes no sense to arrest someone if you can't remove them from the area.

SPD Capt. Jim Pugel, who commanded the force in the streets, later said he had too few officers to make mass arrests. The next phase of the protest plan was to hang on to the streets as long as possible. Since the police remained stationary for the most part, other than slowly moving single vehicles through the crowds, there was little for the protesters to do but enjoy themselves with chants, singing and drumming. The overall mood was festive, rather than hostile. The protesters had won, though it was too early for anyone to know that for sure. Until several hours after dark, the Direct Action Network would control all movement in triangle of streets under blockade.

Strategic surprise doesn't occur in the field, so much as in the mind of the opponent. The longer it's delayed, the more complete its effects. In the case of Mayor Schell, the surprise and disbelief would dominate his actions until late afternoon. By 9:30AM, the police command post was being inundated by reports from the streets that control of the situation -- meaning the ability to move police and delegates through the streets -- had been lost.

The divisions between the rival commanders began to widen as the morning wore on. "This was not an integrated command structure," King County Sheriff Dave Reichert said. "While everybody was at the table, it was made clear that the rest of us were relegated to supporting roles. Seattle was running the show."

The criminal element in the Seattle Police
There was a wild card in the police pack: The segment of the Seattle Police Department which actively sought to disrupt the chain of command and force the initial confrontation with demonstrators into chaos. To put it bluntly, these officers comprise the faction within the police department which has been most threatened by Chief Stamper's reforms -- the criminal element. "Organized crime is the continuation of business by criminal means," says Dr. Phil Williams, international expert on organized crime. And criminal business, just like legitimate business, requires the active support and participation of law enforcement.

In the late 1960's and early 1970's, Seattle went through a series of scandals involving organized crime and police corruption. The popular view of organized crime as an "underworld" operation, totally divorced from everyday business and politics was seriously challenged by the work of William J. Chamblis, a sociologist at the University of Washington. Chamblis' study of organized crime in Seattle, On the Take: From Petty Crooks to Presidents showed that "crime is not a by-product of an otherwise effectively working political economy, it a main product of that economy. Crime is in fact a cornerstone on which the political and economic relations of societies are constructed." Rather than a "few bad apples," corruption is the normal state of affairs. Chamblis' work and other research on shows that "organized crime really consists of a coalition of politicians, law-enforcement people, businessmen, union leaders and (in some ways least important of all) racketeers."

Seattle's police history has been as colorfully sordid as any other American city's. The criminal economy of drugs, prostitution, gambling, and the financial apparatus which such large-scale businesses require is no different in Seattle than elsewhere. From Seattle's beginnings around the "Skid Road" leading at the Denny sawmill to the current flap over police "misconduct," police morale has been a reliable indicator of the level of corruption. Recently, morale has been low, which means that the crooked cops have been on the defensive. The focus of the criminal element's displeasure has been Chief Stamper and his Senior Leadership Team -- or as the department's rank and file pronounce it, the "sluts." The criminal element seeks to embarrass Mayor Schell and Chief Stamper and appoint a new chief more favorable to the criminal business establishment.

The initial approach by the opponents of police accountability was the circulation of mutinous talk regarding the "softness" of the official strategy for dealing with the demonstrators. In October at a crowd control training session, Assistant Chief Ed Joiner had answered questions about protester violence by saying that there was nothing to worry about and the protests would be non-violent. SPD Officer Brett Smith and others claim the FBI and Secret Service had briefed King County Sheriff's officers training to intervene in the protests to "fully anticipate that five to six officers would be lost during the protests, either seriously injured or killed," as Smith told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter Dan Raley. When Officer Smith and others spoke with their commander about the stories coming from the King County police, they were told not to spread rumors. It appears likely that statements predicting violent attacks were part of the Sheriff's training and it is certain that the predictions were hysterical and provocative.

The success in undermining Chief Stamper's command depended on the breakdown of law and order in the streets. Whose law and what order was the question. If the Mayor and police chief could be maneuvered into declaring a civil emergency, then the regional, state and federal agencies would be able to enter the conflict and the hard-liners strategy would prevail for a while.

NEXT: The Battle Engaged

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Albion Monitor February 29, 2000 (

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