Seattle police officers will only enter the so-called autonomous zone if they receive calls concerning “significant life-safety issues,” Mayor Jenny Durkan said.
Those 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,” according to a statement from the office of Durkan, a Democrat.
A group of activists took over an area comprising multiple blocks in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington state’s largest city earlier this month.
Video footage showing fights, people being mobbed, and robberies of businesses in and near the area has circulated widely online as city officials resist calls to use force to deal with the situation. When one shop, Car Tender, was stolen from Sunday night, police officers never responded in person despite being called repeatedly.
An internal message circulated to police officers last week displayed a map showing the autonomous zone in red.
Officers shouldn’t respond to calls within the red zone “unless the response is to a mass casualty event,” such as an active shooter incident or a structural fire that’s likely to endanger lives, the message stated.
If responding to a mass casualty event, officers “should muster with a supervisor outside that zone” to evaluate whether it’s feasible to respond and develop a plan.
Police Chief Carmen Best said Monday that officers are responding when they get a call “that’s an important emergency 911 call.”
Officers did respond to the phone calls from Car Tender, which experienced a break-in, but refrained from approaching the area, Best told reporters at a press conference.
“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. “The officers did not observe, based on the report that I read, anything that they perceived as a threat to life safety, and they didn’t go in.”
“We do not want to escalate under the current situation any potential danger to the community and put them unnecessarily in harm’s way,” she added.
Durkan and other city officials reached an agreement with occupiers that included major concessions, including replacing temporary barriers with concrete ones that shut off some streets to traffic.
A street next to Cal Anderson park will remain closed, Durkan’s office said. “This street is now home to the Black Lives Matter street art,” the statement said.
Occupiers in return agreed to allow the re-opening of 12th Avenue to vehicles in a shift that reduces the size of the zone from six city blocks to three.
The area taken over by activists was initially known as the “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone” but was recently changed to the Capitol Hill Organized Protest, or CHOP.
“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.”