Today marks the one-year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd. It is a natural time to reflect on what progress has been made to address the systemic racism that is part of the foundation of the United States, and in particular how we are addressing policing and criminal justice in this country, which currently disproportionately impacts Black and Brown people. It’s worth noting that American police are still killing an average of three people per day. We still have a lot of work to do.
Seattle Council Briefing & Public Safety Meeting
It’s time for the Seattle Council Briefing!
On Monday CM Morales asked to add the finished legislation around the participatory budgeting process to the introduction and referral calendar. This would allow the Council to skip the usual committee vote and have the legislation go directly to the full Council meeting on June 1.
CM Herbold introduced an amendment that allowed the Council to go forward with the transfer of the 911 call center to the new safety center while giving the PEOs until September 1 to try to find agreement between their two unions as to whether to move to the new center or to SDOT.
Meanwhile, Kevin Schofield reported that the reason the legislation to cut the SPD budget (originally by $5.4m, now by ~$2m) didn’t appear on this week’s agenda after all was because:
The problem, it appears, is that only seven of the nine Council members were present today, with Gonzalez and Juarez having excused absences. A bill requires five votes to pass the full Council, and with Sawant and Morales already on the record as hard “no” votes, that left no room for error: Herbold needed all five of the remaining Councilmembers on her side. Rather than play those odds, she apparently decided to wait a week (or perhaps more) until all nine Councilmembers are in attendance.
It is unclear whether even with full attendance, CM Herbold will have enough votes to pass this legislation, which many feel no longer holds the SPD accountable for going over budget last year. Complicating matters, the Police Monitor is on the record as opposing even a $2m budget cut. If the legislation doesn’t pass, the proviso will remain in place and the status quo of the budget will be maintained.
Good morning, and welcome to the Seattle Public Safety and HSD committee meeting. CM Pedersen is attending in place of CP González today.
This week’s Public Safety and Human Resources committee meeting heard the 2020 annual report from the OPA (slide deck here). CM Herbold opened the meeting by talking about the swinging pendulum of racial justice and her fear that City Hall is losing its sense of urgency. She directly stated her belief that the consent decree is a barrier, while also going over the last year’s achievements.
The OPA annual report shows us that 40% of sworn SPD officers received at least one complaint in 2020, with professionalism, use of force, and bias being the three most common complaints. Use of force complaints rose dramatically. 18% of OPA investigations resulted in sustained findings, and disciplinary appeals decreased 70% from 2019.
Director Myerberg reported on his progress with the investigation into the six SPD officers present in Washington DC on January 6 during the insurrection. He expects to issue his findings in the case in early July. The Terry Carver case is also completed but the findings haven’t been issued; he expects an update there within 30 days.
Director Myerberg also talked about his efforts to change state law in order to reform the objective reasonableness standard in his investigations, which is extremely preferential to police officers; this reform was not enacted by the state but could be worth some energy to pass in a future session. There was also some discussion of how the SPOG contract prevents the OPA from hiring more than two civilian investigators; some experts believe having at least 50% civilian investigators could lead to better accountability. He called out the enacted state decertification bill, saying it could be a sea change on police accountability. He closed by saying Seattle is using the best existing model for accountability systems and cautioning against change that isn’t driven by research and data.
The new board will have powers beyond this: It will be able to investigate police misconduct — and, to complete its work, will be able to subpoena documents and compel the release of evidence, witness testimony, and the cooperation of sworn officers. Rather than recommend discipline, the board will impose it itself — it will even be able to fire officers, including those found to have lied when presenting evidence or testimony during the course of the inquiry.And the new board will have the ability to make policy; should the department reject a rule created by the board, that rule will automatically be sent to the city council for a vote, and the council could vote to institute it.
However, the new board has already, unsurprisingly, hit some snags. Still, it is expected to be running in a year and a half. It will be interesting to see if it can overcome the hurdles to its implementation and perhaps set a new “best existing model” for police accountability in the nation.
Also in Seattle
Paul Kiefer reports that Inspector General Lisa Judge recently sent a recommendation to Interim Chief Diaz “asking him to start phasing out traffic stops for “civil and non-dangerous violations”—violations that, unlike DUI or reckless driving, do not endanger the public.” He also reports on continuing concerns over the Chief’s overturn of the OPA’s misconduct finding in the pink umbrella case.
Meanwhile, former Police Chief Carmen Best appeared on a podcast talking more extensively about the decision (or lack thereof) to abandon the East Precinct last summer, prompting the Seattle Times to interview her again as well.
And with the filing deadline passed for Seattle election candidates, we now know the full slate running in the primary in August. Fifteen candidates have filed to run for Seattle mayor, and incumbent City Attorney Pete Holmes has two challengers, Ann Davison and abolitionist Nicole Thomas-Kennedy. The open Council Seat 9 has three leading fundraising candidates, and for Council Seat 8, incumbent CM Mosqueda has attracted ten challengers, none of whom have raised any sizable contributions.