SEATTLE – Business owners and residents in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood are questioning public safety since protesters have taken over several blocks around the abandoned East Precinct and Cal Anderson Park.
Police Chief Carmen Best addressed concerns about CHOP - or the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest - on Monday, a day after a business owner said officers didn’t show up during his time of need.
“There is no cop-free zone in the city of Seattle," Best said, addressing unease about officers being told not to respond to calls in the CHOP unless it's a mass casualty event.
Russell Kimble is the owner of the Car Tender at 12th Avenue and E Olive Street.
“They would not respond to our call. I think that’s a pretty serious call, right, when you have somebody in your building that has started a fire inside your building, stolen your property. I mean, what has to happen for them to respond?" said Kimble.
He claims the auto shop was set on fire and burglarized Sunday night.
Video on YouTube shows Kimble’s business partner and son at the business right after the incident, eventually getting into a scuffle with the alleged suspect and protesters. It appears to have happened on the edge of the CHOP.
“It looked like a very dangerous situation that could’ve gotten out of hand very easily,” said Kimble.
The protest surrounding the East Precinct has changed protocol for officers responding. Chief Best said dispatch and officers are coordinating locations outside CHOP and meeting 911 callers outside those lines.
“Clearly if it’s something that’s a life-safety situation, somebody injured, shots fired, that kind of thing. We don’t have any other choice. We’re going in,” Best said. "If you’re asking about the current situation, it’s not one that I like. We do have to make sure we balance public safety with our ability to engage with the people who are there.”
Best said a police report has been filed, and that officers did respond Sunday night.
“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. The officers did not observe, based on the report I read, anything that they perceived as a threat to life safety.”
Best said abandoning the East Precinct was not her decision, and the city wants to take back control of the building. She said city employees are actively negotiating with protesters at the CHOP to make that happen.
“There is nothing more important to me than having those officers back in the East Precinct,” Best said.