WA Legislature Discusses Rollbacks to Last Year’s Public Safety Progress
WA State Legislature News
With the exception of HB 1756 regarding solitary confinement, most of the potentially helpful public safety bills are dead at this point in the session. Instead, advocates for more equitable public safety are having to fight against serious rollbacks to policy improvements won during last year’s session.
Perhaps most concerning of these is HB 2037, which would broaden the circumstances and lower the standards for when police can use force when someone flees the scene of a Terry stop. Among other things, this would likely increase police violence and racial profiling by police officers in Washington State. As the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability’s (WCPA) one-pager on this bill states:
Even under the standard that existed before HB 1310, there was too much police violence. Police got away with harming people, and have killed people when they were not even committing a crime – when they were in crisis, or when officers assumed criminality without evidence. HB 2037 would be a step backwards from the prior standard. Thousands of people throughout Washington marched in the streets to demand accountability in policing, not to give officers more leeway to harm people.
People Power Washington – Police Accountability is joining with WCPA to urge you to contact your representatives as soon as possible to urge them to reject HB 2037 unless it includes amendments approved by the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability (WCPA) that would protect vulnerable residents from police violence. You can find more details, scripts, and contact information for this action here.
Other bills currently still being discussed that would roll back hard-won progress in public safety are HB 1788 and SB 5919.
Journalist Erica C. Barnett shared another glaring breach of transparency during the Durkan administration yesterday. During a PDR request, she became aware of a “secret” seattle.gov email address former Mayor Durkan was using to conduct government-related business. Why this email address was never disclosed in the large amount of previous PDRs requested is an open and troubling question, and once again shows how deep a problem Seattle city government has with transparency to the public.
Last Friday Mayor Harrell held a press conference about public safety. He discussed the city’s “hot spot” strategy for reducing crime–nothing new for Seattle–and increasing the number of police officers in SPD. Senior Deputy Mayor Monisha Harrell spoke again about alternate safety responses, and it sounds like the new administration is in the middle of making plans for how these alternatives are going to be set up. Mayor Harrell also cited a specific book his public safety policy is influenced by: When Brute Force Fails, by Mark A.R. Kleiman. You can read more about the press conference here.
Also discussed was the increase of violence in Seattle last year, and especially of gun violence. This increase has been seen throughout the country over the past two years, in both blue and red areas and regardless of amount of police funding. This underscores the need for consistent and sufficient funding for community-based violence prevention programs in Seattle and King County; to learn more about what these programs can look like, you can read more in these recent articles here and here.
The CPC is continuing its community engagement meetings with consent decree Monitor Oftelie. The next one is tonight, 2/8, from 6-8pm. The subject is traffic stops, and you can find the full agenda and Zoom link here. While SPD has moved away from certain routine traffic stops such as stops for cracked windshields and expired tags, there is more progress that can be made in this area. You can find some suggestions for additional policy improvements in SB 5485, including halting stops for driving with a suspended license in the third degree, failure to dim lights, and failure to keep to the right.
In February of 2021, two officers fatally shot 44-year-old Derek Hayden, who was carrying a knife and threatening to kill himself. This continues a pattern of confrontations between SPD officers and people in crisis with knives that end in the death of the person in crisis. (You may remember, for example, the killing of Terry Caver by an SPD officer in 2020.) The two involved officers have been suspended for failing to de-escalate, but only for three days and one day respectively, even though, according to Paul Kiefer’s article in Publicola:
Both the officers’ supervisors and the OPA, however, determined that the officers made a series of disastrous assumptions and miscalculations that made the shooting almost inevitable.
The article went on to discuss the reaction of CM Lisa Herbold, the chair of Seattle’s Public Safety and Human Services committee:
Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold criticized both the OPA’s ruling and the relatively minor punishments for Butler and Jared on Wednesday, arguing that one or both decisions exposed a dangerous gap in the city’s police accountability system. “When an officer’s out-of-policy actions contribute to the circumstances leading to someone’s death, our accountability system must hold them accountable,” she said of Myerberg’s decision to not fault Butler and Jared for the shooting itself.
Myerberg, of course, has left the OPA and gone on to become the Director of Public Safety for the City of Seattle.
King County News
We have a new candidate in the race for King County prosecutor: Stephan Thomas, who plans to bring a full-scale restorative justice framework to his work in the prosecutor’s office, aided by his experience and relationships with local groups like CHOOSE 180 and Community Passageways. In his recent interview with the South Seattle Emerald, he describes a clear vision of building new processes and systems based on the work of such groups. As he says, “What does moving forward look like? It looks like investing in the things that right now are in their infancy. Things like Community Passageways, things like CHOOSE 180, things like treatment on demand, things like housing first. Those are the things that we know work.”