Police officers from Kent and other cities that are part of the Valley Civil Disturance Unit move up the James Street/240th Hill last Saturday during a Planned Parenthood rally.

Police officers from Kent and other cities that are part of the Valley Civil Disturance Unit move up the James Street/240th Hill last Saturday during a Planned Parenthood rally.

Kent Planned Parenthood rally draws large police presence

Kent Police officers trained for the Valley Civil Disturbance Unit had a rare experience last Saturday – crowd control in their own city.

The officers usually only participate in crowd control efforts to assist Seattle Police with large protests and marches in downtown Seattle, such as the May Day rallies. But their efforts turned local when a couple of hundred Planned Parenthood supporters gathered in Kent and marched from downtown up the James/240th Street Hill to a local clinic. The group wanted to counteract calls by pro-life groups to de-fund the health care provider.

“I’m not sure we’ve used them in Kent,” said Police Chief Ken Thomas in a phone interview about the unit, which trains to handle potential large demonstrations.

Kent is part of a six-agency unit that includes officers from Renton, Auburn, Federal Way, Tukwila and the Port of Seattle. All of those agencies were part of the 37 officers, including 14 from Kent, who worked Saturday’s rally.

No incidents among the crowds or between protesters and officers were reported during the march up the hill or at the gatherings at Town Square Plaza and the Planned Parenthood clinic, 10056 SE 240th St., said Kent Police Cmdr. Rob Scholl, who oversees the unit, in a phone interview.

In fact, several people who participated in the march emailed the Kent Police to thank them for how they handled the crowd.

“We all appreciated your presence for our safety navigating the streets during the march and being present in case anything happened to escalate during the counter protest,” said Kent resident Krista Jefferson in her email. “I saw countless interactions throughout the morning between fellow protesters and the officers on duty all talking, joking and smiling. Thank you all for being willing to protect our right to assemble and protest, and for managing to do it all with a smile on your face.”

Officers in the Civil Disturbance Unit receive special and ongoing training in crowd control measures. Kent Police learned about the rally through social media as well as phone calls to the department. Scholl said initial estimates based on social media responses indicated as many as 600 people might show up. He heard actual crowd estimates at 150 to 200 people.

“We reached out and talked to leaders on both sides,” Thomas said. “They both were very cooperative and respectful. Their cooperation helped us a lot.”

Seattle Clinic Defense – a grassroots organization created out of the March for Choice in 2011 – organized the march. The Respect Life Committee from St. Stephen the Martyr Catholic Church, of Renton, sponsored the pro-life rally and had about 25 supporters on hand.

Twenty-two officers rode bicycles, a mode of transportation police discovered works well for crowd control.

“It’s very effective and successful,” Scholl said. “And they don’t have the same connotation as an officer in a helmet with a stick. They are very mobile and can direct people.”

Each police agency that participates in the Civil Disturbance Unit pays for the cost of their officers, some who were on duty and others who worked overtime, Thomas said.

While the unit assists with protests in Seattle or at Sea-Tac Airport, including a rally last month against President Trump’s immigration ban, Thomas said it’s also helpful to have officers ready for what might happen in Kent and other local cities.

“I think all of the valley cities benefit from the cooperation of various police departments to work together to safely address these instances in all of the communities,” he said.

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