Former SPD chief offers new details on why East Precinct was abandoned last summer

May 25, 2021, 8:36 AM | Updated: 11:09 am
Seattle police East Precinct...
SPD's East Precinct in June of 2020. (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Nearly a year after the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct was temporarily abandoned last summer, former Chief Carmen Best has provided further insight into the decision making that took place behind the scenes.

Seattle police remove concrete barriers outside East Precinct

In early June, sources confirmed to KIRO Radio at the time that preparations were underway to secure the East Precinct on Capitol Hill, remove sensitive materials, and potentially abandon the building. Days later, SPD left the precinct entirely, and protesters moved in, setting up barricades and forming what would later become known as the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest.

Days and weeks later, questions began to swirl over who it was that gave the order to clear out the precinct building. That saw Best issuing a statement saying that it was not her decision, and that the city had “relented to severe public pressure.”

Mayor Jenny Durkan issued a similar denial, stating that she had not directly ordered officers to leave the East Precinct either, and that the decision was made by “SPD frontline commanders on site.”

Speaking to former British police officer Jeremy Ratcliffe earlier this week for his “Reducing Crime” podcast — and first reported by KUOW — Best expanded on how things played out behind the scenes, reaffirming that she had at no point ordered officers to leave the precinct.

She instead appeared to confirm Durkan’s original assertion last summer, that it was frontline commanders at the scene who ultimately gave the order, going on to note that hours before the precinct was abandoned, she had even told an assistant chief over the phone not to clear the area.

“I said, ‘Well, listen, we are not going to evacuate that precinct,’” Best described to Ratcliffe. “Those were my last words. She hung up, I hung up. A couple hours later, they evacuated the precinct. I’m like, ‘what happened?’ It just wasn’t clear exactly what transpired.”

SPD interim chief: ‘We are a safe city’ despite concerns over police staffing

According to Best, commanders were “told by the fire department that our building, which has contiguous walls, if it gets set on fire, it’s going up quickly,” fueling concerns that Mayor Durkan ordering the removal of barriers a block away from the precinct would lead to protesters attempting to set the building aflame.

“We’d already had the one precinct in Minneapolis that had been burned,” Best said.

During a protest later on in the summer, demonstrators did eventually attempt to set fire to the precinct building, using what appeared to be quick-dry cement to seal one of the exits. Days later, SPD installed 6-foot-tall concrete barriers that remained in place for months.

These new details also paint a broad picture of additional information the public may very well never end up seeing, given that text messages from that period from Durkan, Best, Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins, and at least three members of SPD’s command staff have all since gone missing.

The city attorney’s office told the Seattle Times in early May it is “still ascertaining” how Best’s texts went missing, while Scoggins was said to have been “locked out of his phone because of password issues.” Texts among members of SPD’s command staff from last June allegedly went missing due to “password and device management software problems,” while Durkan’s office said she had inadvertently set her phone to automatically delete text messages after 30 days.

The concrete barriers in front of the East Precinct were removed in early May, and replaced with less intrusive temporary fencing to allow for pedestrian access to the surrounding sidewalks.

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Former SPD chief offers new details on why East Precinct was abandoned last summer