Alternative Response in Seattle is Behind…Again

Seattle News

There’s a lot to catch up on, so let’s start off with the big news that the Social Housing Initiative 135 has passed! Next steps include bringing together a board of directors and seeking funding.

Mayor Harrell gave his State of the City speech last week. Apparently the white paper about a third public safety department that was supposed to be completed last year is still forthcoming. As this was supposed to be the main tangible step forward in 2022, the failure to deliver this white paper in a timely fashion is disappointing to say the least. But at least the new department has a name now, which obviously took many hours of painstaking work: CARE, the Civilian Assisted Response and Engagement Department. Apparently we’ll also be hearing more about police officer hiring this year, which is hardly a surprise, although given the difficulty police departments across the country are having hiring, these are conversations that seem unlikely to deliver the desired results.

Last week the Adley Shepherd case was dismissed by a U.S. District Court Judge. Adley Shepherd is a former SPD officer who was fired after punching a handcuffed woman in the back of a squad car. His case has been filtering through arbitration and courts ever since, most recently as a suit brought by him against the City of Seattle.

The City of Seattle settled the CHOP lawsuit for $3.65m, $600k of which was due to the missing texts of former Mayor Durkan, former SPD Chief Best, and others. This money, as well as additional costs of defending the lawsuit, comes from taxpayer dollars.

At this week’s Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting, the CSCC presented on their 911 Protocols Software that would enable them to dispatch calls to responders other than the police. Right now the plan is to implement dual dispatch including SPD, although CM Herbold was quick to remind us that dual dispatch doesn’t necessarily mean a police officer will be on the scene in every instance, but rather in some cases SPD would simply be situationally aware of the dispatch of a civilian responder. That being said, it was made clear at the meeting that the nature of the dual dispatch model has yet to be determined

Shocking no one, given we’ve been holding our breath for a particular white paper since December, all the work on alternative response appears to be behind schedule. None of the deliverables outlined on the term sheet regarding developing alternative response between the Mayor’s Office and Central Staff appear to be complete. Some of this delay was attributed to the hiring and on-boarding of the new interim Director of the CSCC, Rebecca Gonzales, although of course everyone already knew when deliverable dates were set that a new director would need to be found. CM Lewis was frustrated enough to say that if more progress isn’t forthcoming in future briefings, the Council might need to take a more assertive role in this work. Given Seattle has been waiting two and a half years for alternative response with nothing to show for it, this reaction seems quite measured.

The protocols and work flow of the new triaging dispatch system also won’t be complete until late this year. CM Herbold called out that we continue to be told of reasons why we can’t move forward on implementation of alternate response: SPD’s RMD analysis, the overdue white paper from the Mayor’s Office outlining the new third public safety department, and now this triage dispatch system. She expressed her hopes that launching an alternate response pilot for person down and wellness checks won’t depend on the dispatch system being complete. CM Lewis pointed out other cities with alternative response have triage systems that dispatch to fully civilian responses, not just dual dispatch. And so the slog to push alternative response continues sluggishly forward as Seattle continues to fall behind many other cities who have been able to do this work.

Due to objections from SPOG, SPD discontinued use of Truleo software that analyzed police body-cam footage to look for potential police misconduct. Unfortunately, SPD’s use of several other surveillance technologies was approved by the Seattle City Council earlier this week, including “cell phone and laptop extraction tools, a geospatial analysis technology called GeoTime, remotely operated vehicles, crash retrieval forensics and hidden GPS trackers and cameras.” Seattle has its own Surveillance Advisory Working Group, and the CMs failed to implement many of this work group’s recommendations relating to the use of these technologies.

A recent report shows that Seattle’s automated traffic cameras disproportionately target Communities of Color. In fact, 65% of automated traffic cameras are placed in neighborhoods with relatively more people of color and immigrants; Seattle’s most dangerous roads tend to be in these communities because of displacement. In 2022, Seattle’s automated cameras issued almost 200,000 traffic tickets, which is almost fifty times more than the number given by police. It’s also worth noting that these camera-generated tickets currently require review by police, meaning such a large volume requires additional resources given to SPD in order to review them; to do otherwise would require a law change. An op-ed in the South Seattle Emerald by Ethan C. Campbell and Nura Ahmed outlines several ways to address issues of equity surrounding traffic cameras in Seattle. 

CM Herbold wrote the following about violent crime in Seattle in 2022:

Although, over the entire year, the data shows violent crime higher than it’s been for years, the SPD Crime Dashboard shows that there were 363 violent crimes reported in December 2022; this is the lowest number of violent crimes reported for a month since February 2021, when 329 violent crimes were reported. The December 2022 figure is lower than the 403 violent crimes reported in December 2019 (before COVID-19, before the murder of George Floyd, and before 500 officers left SPD).

A further review of the SPD dashboard shows that moving into 2023 (the report only covers 2022), 371 reported violent crimes in January, slightly lower than January 2020, with 373 reported violent crimes.

Shots fired, while higher overall in 2022, are also dramatically declining, according to the Chief.”

When discussing violent crime in 2022, it would be remiss not to reiterate the increasing violence experienced by unsheltered people.

The turmoil at the Seattle Human Rights Commission (SHRC) and the Community Police Commission (CPC) continues. Two more SHRC commissioners have recently resigned as commissioners continue to receive legal threats from the City Attorney’s Office about trying to seek amicus status in the consent decree, and the CPC Executive Director Brandy Grant resigned on February 10. Cali Ellis has been named as the interim director. After events at a CPC community engagement meeting on February 14 and the CPC’s regular meeting on February 15, both Castile Hightower and Howard Gale have filed complaints with the OPA about SPD Officer Mullens, who also sits on the CPC. 

King County News

The ACLU of Washington filed a lawsuit on Friday against King County and Executive Constantine arguing they are in breach of a settlement agreement regarding the King County Jail mandating certain staffing levels and inmate access to medical care and court hearings. Advocates held a press conference and rally outside the jail on Monday morning.

Election News

Becka Johnson Pope, who has spent the last three years managing King County’s budget, announced her run for the King County Council seat for District 4. Sarah Reyneveld has already announced her run for the same seat.

Seattle CM Dan Strauss has announced his intentions to run for re-election in District 6.

ChrisTiana Obeysumner has declared their candidacy in District 5. They are one of six filed candidates so far for the district.

WA State Legislature

Sadly, the bill banning solitary confinement has died again this year. The new drug possession bill also doesn’t look promising.

HB 1513 (traffic stops), HB 1025 (qualified immunity), HB 1579 (independent prosecutor), and HB 1445 (AG investigations & reform) are all headed for floor votes. March 8 is the cut-off date for bills to be voted out of their house of origin. 

Recent Headlines

On Political Theater and the Mayor’s Press Conference Today

This afternoon the Seattle City Council was supposed to be meeting to further discuss the revised 2020 budget, along with proposed cuts to the SPD. I was hoping we might also get the delayed 911 call report. Unfortunately, the conversation about the new progressive tax legislation ran long, and this was postponed until next week.

But don’t worry, there’s still stuff to talk about. As you probably already know, the CHOP was cleared out early this morning after Mayor Durkan signed an executive order to do so late the night before. There were some reports of rubber bullets and pepper spray being used, as well as badge numbers still being covered and most police officers not wearing masks. There were at least 32 arrests.

Mayor Durkan, along with Police Chief Best, held a press conference about this operation this afternoon, and I tweeted most of the press conference. You can find that thread here.

However, I would take anything said at that press conference with a grain of salt. It was a highly scripted PR affair, and the questions asked by journalists were, for the most part, softballs that didn’t uncover much information. Mayor Durkan certainly put on a good show, talking about wanting to reimagine public safety with her best friend Chief Best by her side (I say this because she thanked her repeatedly), about wanting to reinvest in community, about the systemic racism that runs through our city, about letting the community lead, etc. She repeated several times that this work can’t be done overnight, but that Seattle could lead the way in showing how this work could be done. However, she did not commit to any specific actions regarding the police department, like a percentage goal of defunding or any demands she’ll be taking to the SPOG negotiations later this year.

We’ll have to wait and see what happens on the ground over the next few days and the weekend in terms of the treatment of protestors, and what happens in policy discussions over the next several months. There’s been a lot of political theater the past couple days, with Mayor Durkan asking for CM Sawant (who has herself been calling for the mayor’s resignation) to be investigated by her fellow council members; with the late night signing of the executive order to clear the CHOP; with the press conference scheduled opposite the city council budget meeting that was originally supposed to be about continuing defunding efforts. The protests have definitely placed a lot of pressure on the city government to respond, but as I said at the end of my Twitter thread today, in order for words to matter, they must be followed by concrete action. Continuing the pressure until that concrete action (both budgetary and legislative) is enacted is crucial.

Meanwhile, the Washington state Attorney General is calling for a state law to track and report police use of deadly force publicly. The AG’s office identified 21 deaths and 9 serious injuries in Washington state from January to May 26, 2020. That’s one death A WEEK involving police. And how did the AG’s office identify these? Through media coverage. That’s how shockingly terrible our system of police accountability is. At some point this legislation will be worth a letter or phone call to your state reps. However, unless a special session is called, the state legislature won’t be meeting again until January 2021.

Finally, I’d like to say to my subscribers, thank you for your interest and support! I’m starting work on a piece about the history of the police that I hope will be ready soon. I’ll be referencing Alex S. Vitale’s The End of Policing as well as various articles on the subject. Also next week is the regular City Council meeting on Monday, where I believe they’ll be voting on progressive tax legislation discussed today, and another budget meeting on Wednesday.