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Originally published May 2, 2012 at 9:31 PM | Page modified May 2, 2012 at 10:30 PM

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Mayor praises police response

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and Police Chief John Diaz appeared together at a news conference Wednesday, and the mayor praised police for restraint in planning for and dealing with May Day violence in downtown Seattle.

Seattle Times staff reporters

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Seattle officials are sorry for the downtown property damage wrought by anarchists and vandals roaming through the May Day protest and march, but the mayor and police chief are pretty pleased with the end-of-the-day result: no injuries among protesters, the public or police.

Only a few arrests were made amid the mayhem, which erupted shortly before noon, but Police Chief John Diaz said the department anticipates more, perhaps many more. The chief announced a task force of detectives with experience in video evidence will comb through department and news footage; use technology to identify offenders; and arrest and charge them. That tactic was used to real effect by police in Vancouver, B.C., after the Stanley Cup riots in 2011, the chief said.

Diaz appeared alongside Mayor Mike McGinn at a news conference Wednesday at the department's West Precinct. McGinn praised police for restraint in planning for and dealing with the violence — smashed store and car windows, small fires and slashed tires — cut short after the mayor signed an already-prepared emergency order that allowed officers to confiscate anything they believed could be used as a weapon.

McGinn and Diaz stood beside a table arrayed with the harvest: bags of rocks, hammers, chains, crowbars, wooden staffs tipped with bolts, shields and large sheet-metal barricades cut with ragged edges.

"These are lethal weapons," police Sgt. Paul Gracey said. "I'm not sure why anybody would carry these to a protest."

The Downtown Seattle Association asked a similar question in a letter to McGinn and City Councilmember Bruce Harrell, who oversees public safety.

Business group upset

The business group, upset at police response, wondered why vandals were allowed into the downtown core at all.

"We believe it is appropriate and necessary for the city to conduct a thorough review of yesterday's events and actions to ensure the city is best prepared to prevent potential future efforts to cause chaos and destruction of property in Downtown," association President Kate Joncas wrote.

She said the attacks were clearly well-planned and were no secret, having been "discussed on websites well in advance."

"Given these facts," Joncas wrote, "we believe it is important to consider what additional actions could have been taken given the available information to restrict the ability of these individuals from entering downtown with sticks, hammers, spray paint and other devices that were used to cause significant damage to property."

Even before the letter, Diaz and the mayor said there would be a thorough review of the department's response, with an eye toward learning from mistakes and countering the ever-more sophisticated tactics of violent protesters.

Assistant Chief Mike Sanford, addressing that issue, said he hoped violence would not become routine during every legitimate demonstration in a city with a proud history of civil disobedience and protest.

"We hope not," Sanford said. "Seattle's better than that."

McGinn said police moved against the vandals as quickly as the law allowed. He said he was briefed by police and legal counsel Monday night about the need for a possible emergency order that would let police confiscate potential weapons. A 2009 court ruling — involving the illegal confiscation of a flagpole from an anarchist protesting at Cal Anderson Park — made clear that police cannot seize potential weapons until they are used. "There has to be a finding that the free-speech use of something like this is outweighed by public safety," the mayor said.

The order that McGinn signed Tuesday afternoon had been prepared the previous night at the suggestion of police Capt. Joe Kessler, who was overseeing the response, the mayor said.

The mayor also said that, while police were concerned about property damage, their priorities were public and officer safety.

City Councilmember Nick Licata, who has been critical of the police response during past civic disobedience, said he had received no complaints from the public about police conduct Tuesday.

"The police seemed to be using extraordinary restraint," Licata said. "I didn't see them using batons to swing at people; I saw them using batons to push people away. For the most part, what I saw was police trying to stop people from smashing windows."

TV videos sought

The chief said police and prosecutors were preparing subpoenas requesting extensive videos of the vandalism from TV stations, which could be used to identify suspects.

The state's "reporter shield law" limits law-enforcement access to unpublished material gathered by journalists, but three network-affiliated TV stations contacted Tuesday said that with a subpoena they would turn over footage that already had aired.

Holly Gauntt, KOMO-TV news director, said one clip the station aired shows a black-clad protester changing into street clothes. "There's one shot we have where you can clearly see the guy," she said.

After other riots, police have used social-media sites to help identify suspects. Facebook, Tumblr and other social media became a repository for snapshots and videos last year in Vancouver after a three-hour riot that followed the Canucks' defeat in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup hockey finals.

A task force analyzed more than 1,600 hours of video and thousands of photos, eventually charging 85 people, Vancouver police Constable Jana McGuinness said. The first riot-related conviction came in February.

Not all the broken windows in Seattle were downtown. McGinn said he was awakened when someone threw a fist-size rock through a dining-room window at his Greenwood home early Wednesday.

"Apparently these guys didn't confiscate all the rocks yesterday," he said, gesturing to police. "Because a couple of them made it up to Greenwood."

Mike Carter: 206-464-3706

or mcarter@seattletimes.com

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