Seattle police officers will only enter CHOP if matter of 'significant life-safety,' mayor says

Seattle police officers have agreed to only enter the Capitol Hill Organized Protest, or the CHOP, to respond to “significant life-safety issues,” according to the mayor’s office.

“The Seattle Police Department’s definition of life-safety issues may include an active shooter incident, an assault, a structure fire, significant medical emergency (i.e. heart attack, stroke, trauma) and other incidents that threaten a person’s life safety,” the office of Mayor Jenny Durkan said on Tuesday.

City officials and organizers occupying the area previously called the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, or the CHAZ, reached an agreement to remove temporary roadblocks set in place by protesters and replace them with concrete barriers, reducing the size of the zone from about seven city blocks to just three.

SEATTLE REACHES DEAL WITH 'CHOP' TO REMOVE TEMPORARY ROADBLOCKS, REPLACE WITH CONCRETE BARRIERS

“While there have been inaccurate and misleading depictions of the CHOP from the President and some national media, the City believes first amendment activities can continue while also maintaining public safety and allowing access for residents and businesses who operate in the area,” the mayor's office said in a statement.

Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best has visited the site “multiple times” as city officials, residents, business owners, and protest organizers continue conversations about fulfilling community needs, including hygiene, sanitation and safety, the mayor’s office said.

The Seattle Department of Transportation began at 6:30 a.m. on Tuesday to remove a tent barrier at 10th and Pine Street and replace it with a sturdier concrete barrier to improve public safety. The concrete was topped with plywood crowns to be decorated by protesters.

Under the agreement, 12th Avenue was converted into a one-way lane on the south side of Pine Street in order to “accommodate a protest zone in the west lanes and allow access and movement of vehicles in the east lanes.” An alley access zone was also set up on the South side of Pine between 11th and 12th to allow for apartment building access. 

“Minor changes to the protest zone will implement safer and sturdier barriers to protect individuals in this area, allow traffic to move throughout the Capitol Hill neighborhood, ease access for residents of apartment building in the surrounding areas, and help local businesses manage deliveries and logistics,” the mayor’s office said. “Additionally all plans have been crafted with the goal of allowing access for emergency personnel including fire trucks.”

Tents remained camped out around the “community garden” created by protesters in Cal Anderson Park, according to the Seattle Times. The area adjacent to the park on Pine between 10th and 11th – where protesters created Black Lives Matter street art – will remain closed, the mayor’s office said.

SEATTLE BUSINESS OWNER NEAR PROTEST ZONE DETAINS ROBBERY SUSPECT, POLICE NEVER SHOW UP DESPITE 911 CALLS

On Monday, Chief Best denied that Seattle was “under siege,” after a business owner, whose auto repair shop sits on 12th Avenue, about a block outside the CHOP’s perimeters, called 911 over a dozen times to report that someone had broken in, stole cash and car keys and attempted to light the building on fire.

“There is no cop-free zone in the city of Seattle,” Best said Monday, according to the Associated Press. “I think that the picture has been painted in many areas that shows the city is under siege. That is not the case.”

John McDermott, the owner of Car Tender, said his son detained the suspect Sunday night, but police officers never arrived to bring him into custody, and they were forced to let the man go when a crowd of armed protesters broke down their fence and swarmed the car lot.

“The officers responded to the call and they observed the location from a distance. They did not see any signs of smoke or fire or anything else and they did not see a disturbance,” Best said.

She said dispatchers and officers are coordinating with crime victims or callers to meet police on the edges of the occupied area and officers will go in if there’s an urgent situation.

Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins, Seattle Department of Transportation Director Sam Zimbabwe, and Seattle Public Utilities General Manager Mami Hara have been on site every day, according to the mayor’s office. In a meeting with the CHOP organizers over the weekend, Scoggins discussed proposed changes to the occupied zone to keep both protesters and residents safe.

“Sidewalk access to every resident, to every business, that’s important,” Scoggins said. “I understand the protests, I understand the point. I’d recommend change the footstep, change the landscape.”

Seattle police pulled back from several blocks of the city’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, abandoning the East Precinct after clashes with people protesting the death of George Floyd, who died in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25. Protesters have called for the precinct to be converted into a community center, but Best said over the weekend she's determined to ensure officers are once again present at the building on the corner of 12th Ave. and Pine Street, a strategic spot for responding to 911 calls.

“Over the last two weeks, Mayor Durkan has prioritized meeting with community leaders and demonstration organizers, heard their concerns, and is committed to enduring systemic changes to reimagine what policing looks like in Seattle and to addressing systemic racism,” the mayor's office said.

In the past month, at least three people in separate incidents have driven at an accelerated rate toward protesters blocking access to city streets, according to KUOW-FM. Before the CHOP/CHAZ was formed, Nikolas Fernandez, 31, allegedly sped toward a crowd of demonstrators on June 7 in his black Honda Civic, shooting one protester in the arm who attempted to stop him.

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The mayor’s office has credited “community voices” for recent changes in Seattle Police Department protocol on mourning badges and body cameras and leading the state to move towards creating a Statewide Independent Investigation for officers who use deadly force.

Before the CHOP formed, Durkan said she committed to investing $100 million directly into creating a community-driven Black Commission.

“The City recognizes that more must be done, and the Mayor and department leaders are committed to that work."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.