To relieve the overburdened and understaffed Seattle Police Department, the Seattle City Council wants to use civilian park rangers instead of sworn officers to direct traffic at major public events.
Although Seattle Police Department interim chief Adrian Diaz agrees that using cops to do this job “tires our officers” and “impacts all of our operations,” as he mentioned in the Public Safety Committee last week, the Police officers have been slow to embrace the state and local efforts to lessen this burden on departments. However, your stated reasons for caution are unfounded.
Chief Diaz clashes with the city council over traffic enforcement
In a latest attempt to slow that policy, Chief Diaz last week pushed back on the council’s plans, claiming, “There are some legal requirements that we need to be a part of due to Homeland Security requirements that a certain radius needs to be safe.” be.”
After multiple requests for clarification over the course of a week, the department refused to identify the specific “legal requirements” that weighed so heavily on Diaz.
While there are some potential obstacles, which I will discuss later, no one from the Department of Homeland Security, the state legislature, or any of Seattle’s stadiums has been able to point me to a law or code that “requires” local law enforcement. traffic cone.
DHS “Requires” Cops to Be Traffic Cones – Or Do They?
DHS publishes two regulations related to safety at major public events. Both point to local law enforcement as one possible avenue to ensure security, but neither specifically requires venues to choose uniformed police officers as their only means of ensuring security.
According to a federal law called security lawLarge venues typically develop their own security plans and then consult with a local DHS Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) program specialist to assess and certify the plan.
CISA publishes a list of recommended course of action venues should consider when developing these plans, but none of these proposals carry the weight of a legal requirement. Instead, the agency categorizes proposed guidelines as “strongly recommended,” “recommended,” or “recommended.”
Paying a police officer for direct traffic is considered “recommended” best practice, but the agency offers no guidance on the scope of this detail in its public-facing materials. Because each stadium and its surroundings have unique security concerns, venues are instead making this decision on a case-by-case basis.
As part of this process, the venue—not the Department of Homeland Security—determines the number of officers it needs for each event’s security plan in its contracts with the police department.
The other possible DHS requirement, which is not actually a requirement here, includes a Security and Resiliency Guide published by the DHS Office for Bombing Prevention to assist venues in preventing terrorist attacks.
This guide recommends that venue security personnel set up a security perimeter to keep prohibited items away from the stadium gate or other areas where people congregate, echoing Diaz’s language about securing a “certain radius” around stadiums. However, the same recommendations explicitly recognize that securing this perimeter does not necessarily have to involve law enforcement officials.
According to the guide, a security perimeter can be “a physical barrier with access points” or a virtual barrier “erected by the presence of appropriately trained personnel or security experts”.
While it seems reasonable to have an on-site law enforcement presence to respond to an active gunman or bomb threat, no DHS policy requires uniformed officers to direct traffic.
A vague state law raises questions
While the DHS “requirements” may not provide clear rules for the number of police officers needed to staff at major events, a vague state law could disrupt the council’s plan to take this important but menial task off the plates of highly qualified officers , still hinder.
That State Law makes ignoring an order from a “traffic or police officer” a misdemeanor. However, the law does not specifically limit the authority to issue these orders to someone with a gun and badge.
Last year, that confusion prompted Sen. Rebecca Saldaña (D-Seattle) to introduce Senate Act 5354, which would have cleaned up that whole mess by specifically giving civilian flagships the authority to direct traffic as part of a safety plan developed by the City of Seattle. Seattle City Council member Lisa Herbold testified in support of the bill, saying it would allow the city to use its police resources more efficiently.
Beth Knox, president of the Seattle Sports Commission, a group that advocates for event operators like the Seahawks and the Kraken, also testified in support of the bill. In her view, clarifying the state law would give large venues both “flexibility” and “certainty” in making their security plans in the face of local and statewide police staffing shortages.
That bill died in committee this spring, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the council’s plan to use civilian park inspectors to do this work died with it.
When the bill was introduced, a Seattle city lobbyist told Senator Saldaña that the city’s interpretation of the ambiguous law did not prohibit the use of civilian flags for this work. In fact, even before the bill was introduced, the city had planned to make changes “to facilitate the use of non-police flags.”
While the ambiguity may have given city leaders enough confidence to aggressively push the council’s plan, they have yet to convince the venues actually developing these security plans to adopt their interpretation of the state law in question. According to Senator Saldaña, these large venue operators want the clarity in state law that their bill offers.
It’s still possible that the council and other policymakers at City Hall could get these giant private companies on their minds, but until they do, or until Sen. Saldaña’s bill is passed, our overworked police officers will keep doing their time valuable overtime pointing at cars instead of patrolling the streets or investigating serious crimes.