THE MARDI GRAS RIOTS resulted from "a failure to command," according to a report released last week by the Seattle Police Guild.
"They were on top of the sunken ship garage," said guild president Mike Edwards of police commanders watching the violence unfold before them in Pioneer Square last February. "They had the same viewpoint that many citizens throughout the city and the region had, saw these events unfolding, and took no action."
The police department's own report released two months ago found the same tactical flaws—commanders ordering officers to stand and watch as 70 people were injured, property was destroyed, guns were fired, and one person, Kris Kime, was killed. The department says the guild report isn't needed; it's already working to never repeat those mistakes.
Still, it was important for the guild—which is considering taking a confidence vote on Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske— to add its voice to the critical chorus, despite political overtones. The guild press conference seemed timed to gain spin from the Kime murder trial, just getting under way, and next week's mayoral election. Mayoral hopeful Greg Nickels has already said he'll review Kerlikowske's contract, and election rival Mark Sidran has given the chief a lukewarm endorsement. The guild's report could provide the winner with firing fodder—amazingly, the review found that the chief even "stifled the decision-making process."
And after all, though Kerlikowske has accepted blame for Mardi Gras failures, what has that meant? He's still chief, still at the same rank and pay. A lesser officer might be disciplined or fired. Not only are the Mardi Gras mistakes grievous in light of the injuries and death, but what justification can there ever be for cops not to protect and serve while dozens of citizens are relentlessly being assaulted?
It's old, familiar news in another way, too. The guild's report says the chief and commanders showed "continued failure" to lead. A mayoral review of the mishandled 1999 World Trade Organization riots said then-Chief Norm Stamper was "virtually absent from any role of leadership." He, of course, is the man Kerlikowske replaced.