SEATTLE – While some streets in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood remain closed by the city, on Wednesday Seattle Police announced it wants to put officers back to work inside the east precinct the department boarded up earlier this week.
SPD’s top brass said the department, along with other city agencies, are working to identify and engage with protester leadership to move towards resuming operations at the facility.
Assistant Chief Dianna Nollette told reporters Wednesday during a brief press conference the department worries a criminal element in the neighborhood might be exacting extortion on businesses and neighbors inside what’s been dubbed the ‘Autonomous Zone.’
Nollette said the department received anecdotal reports of people being charged a fee to come and go into parts of the neighborhood but she would not elaborate nor would the department’s public affairs offer further information including how many official reports it had received if any.
Multiple business owners told Q13 News they had not seen or heard similar events described by SPD happening during the protest.
“They’re starting to break down aid stations on the block,” said business owner Ben Keonigsberg.
He said life in the neighborhood has been quiet since clashes between police and protesters ended last weekend.
“Most of my members live close,” he said, sharing that some mentioned to him they had finally been able to sleep peacefully without suffering from chemical agents once used by police.
After the last confrontation, the police department boarded up the East Precinct to calm tension and give protesters room to march, SPD said.
While a number of streets remain closed according to city officials, Koenigsberg doesn’t believe they will be permanent.
“The autonomous zone is interesting and it’s not going to last,” he said.
Nollette says she wants to come to an agreement with protesters so officers can return to the precinct because service has cut back.
“Right now, we are on priority calls only which means people citywide who need a police response are not receiving it,” she said. “That to us is just not acceptable.”
The department claimed it had also received reports where business owners and neighbors had been stopped for identification checks at blockades, sometimes by people carrying firearms.
Nollette reminded armed protesters should exercise restraint and avoid raising concern among neighbors.
“While they have a constitutionally protected right to bear arms, and while Washington is an open-carry state, there is no legal right for those arms to be used to intimidate community members,” she said.
The department said if anyone feels like they were extorted or threatened by anyone with weapons or firearms to not hesitate to call 911.
Efforts to interview protester leadership for comment were unsuccessful.