Lots of news to cover today!
First of all, we have this morning’s Seattle Council Briefing.
CM Herbold’s report this morning was rather bracing. She spoke about the agenda for tomorrow morning’s Public Safety and Human Services Committee meeting. Included will be the continuation of the discussion about the less lethal weapons draft bill that she’s hoping they can vote to send to the DoJ and Police Monitor to review, as well as a discussion about legislation to reduce the SPD’s 2021 budget by $5.2m to hold them accountable for that level of overspending in 2020. Both of these deserve more discussion.
Kevin at SC Insight does a good job summarizing where we are right now with the less lethal weapons draft bill. Tomorrow the committee will be discussing an amendment to weaken the ban on SPD using tear gas, so now would be a good time to email your CMs to support the complete tear gas ban and/or to testify during public comment tomorrow (2/9) at 9:30am (sign-ups at 7:30am). Amendments both strengthening and weakening the private right of action (the ability of individuals to sue and hold the SPD accountable for misuse of these weapons) will also be discussed.
The CMs agreed to reduce SPD’s 2021 budget by the amount of their overspending in 2020 late last year and seemed generally in agreement about taking this measure to hold the SPD accountable for a long pattern of overtime overspending. However, today CM Herbold signaled that she was waffling on this course of action, mentioning that the SPD has other funding needs; for example, the SPD needs funds to fulfill public disclosure requests, meet minimum requirements for evidence storage, and to hire civilians for CSOs (community service officers) and the CPC. So there might be a bit of a fight over whether this $5.2m should be left in the SPD’s budget after all to cover these expenses or whether it should be removed and potentially allocated into the pool of money for participatory budgeting. It doesn’t look like there’s a committee vote scheduled for tomorrow on this issue, as CM Herbold said representatives from the SPD will be attending a future meeting to discuss further.
CM Herbold also defended the Council’s actions last year after Judge Robart roundly criticized them during last week’s consent decree hearing. During the hearing the new Police Monitor submitted a new work plan for 2021, about which the Judge appears generally favorable. It will be considered for approval on February 19. In the meantime, Judge Robart said that in this time of flux (the pandemic, the upcoming election with the mayor and two Council seats up for grabs, SPD having an interim police chief, and the upcoming SPOG negotiations) it is going to be hard to continue making progress with police reform. He is particularly upset that the Council acted in various ways in the summer (vocally supporting a 50% defund, for example) that contravened the consent decree.
Meanwhile CM Lewis mentioned that STAR out of Denver, a low acuity response program similar to CAHOOTS in Eugene, just released a six month report and has been quite successful thus far. Out of 748 incidents responded to by the program, none ended up needing police involvement.
In election news, Council President González announced she will be running for Mayor this year, creating a wide-open race for her Council seat. So far the most well-known candidate for that Council seat is Sara Nelson, co-founder of Fremont Brewing. Her top issues involve the hospitality industry (big surprise), economic recovery, and restoring public trust in local government. Ouch. You can read more about her here:
Even though the Seattle council seats are officially non-partisan, most members indicate party leanings. On her official website, Nelson — a lifelong democrat — characterizes herself as a “moderate pragmatist,” and many of her positions seem to be to the right of several current city council members (she said she opposed the recent tax on big businesses, for instance, as well as cutting Seattle’s police budget by 50 percent).
The CPC appointed a permanent director last week, Brandy Grant, who had already been serving as interim director. She was the only one of the three candidates who didn’t have a background as a police officer.
The CPC is also hosting a community conversation on the Seattle Police Contracts this Thursday, February 11 at 4pm. The description of the event is as follows:
A chance for the community members to discuss what they want out of police contract negotiations and how we achieve complete police accountability. This event is hosted by the Community Police Commission. City leaders and staff involved in the negotiations will also be there to listen and speak on specific issues.
Finally, some excellent investigative reporting dropped at the South Seattle Emerald today, an article about SPD officials asking King County Jail officials to override COVID-19 restrictions and book protesters facing nonviolent misdemeanor charges.
Expect an update later this week on tomorrow’s Public Safety committee meeting, along with a possible update on the Pathways to Recovery Act decriminalizing drug use and addiction, which may have a hearing in the state legislature on Friday morning.