U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Seattle Siege: Learning From the Chaos in a City's Streets

NCJ Number
Police: The Law Enforcement Magazine Volume: 24 Issue: 4 Dated: April 2000 Pages: 22-31
Joseph Henderson
Date Published
April 2000
10 pages
This article discusses the negative and positive lessons learned from the police response to protests that escalated into riots on the occasion of the World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in Seattle, Wash., in November 1999.
On the first day of the 4-day conference, Seattle police officers and city employees set up barriers they hoped would hold back thousands of protesters they knew were coming. Their first line of defense was a "web construction type" of black fencing. The second line of defense was a tightly parked row of commuter buses lined up in an "L" shape around the Paramount Theater, where the opening ceremonies for WTO delegates were held. The so-called "safety measures" never held. By the time order was restored later in the week after some of the worst rioting in America's recent history, several assisting agencies had taken matters into their own hands, bypassing paralyzed, impotent Seattle city and police department leadership at the very top in order to quell the violence. Many believed it was a miracle that no officers or civilians were killed. One assessment of the police response was that it was a classic example of why the Incident Command System should be used. The Seattle Police Department was not able to expand or be flexible. There was no mechanism or procedure for developing a statewide response plan for a multiagency, multi-day event. The importance of conducting proper training and planning was another lesson from the Seattle riots. Planning and training must consider the possible tactics of the protesters, based on pre-incident indicators associated with other protests. Particular attention should be given to the history and personnel of the groups likely to be represented in the protests. The positive lesson from Seattle is that the training and management of the officers involved enabled them to protect life and property so that no deaths and no major injuries or property damage occurred.