On Police Unions
Americans are presently engaged in a debate about how to reform police departments to prevent the unlawful killing of civilians by officers, as well as other, nonlethal abuses of power. Reining in police unions may not seem like the most urgent response to this crisis. But no reform effort can hope to succeed given their power today
. As long as they exist in anything like their current form, police unions will condition their members to see themselves as soldiers at war with the public they are meant to serve, and above the laws they are meant to enforce.
This is not a system ruined by a few bad apples. This is a system that creates and protects bad apples by design. Most people who become police officers enter the profession because it is held in high esteem and because they wish to provide a public service. But individual good intentions cannot overcome a system intended to render them meaningless. Being a good cop can get you in trouble with your superiors, your fellow officers, and the union that represents you. Being a bad one can get you elected as a union rep.
This Week’s Seattle City Council Meetings
Good morning, and welcome to the Seattle Council Briefing! This morning it sounds like we’ll be talking some more about less lethal weapons and all the ways we’re supposed to be okay with tear gas.
At the King County Board of Health meeting last week, there was a discussion about the mandatory bike helmet law, which is disproportionately enforced, primarily against homeless and BIPOC individuals, and doesn’t actually lead to more helmet use. There is a push to have this law reconfigured or eliminated, as well as to distribute free helmets and provide more public education on their use.
Good morning, and welcome to the Seattle Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting. So far we’ve had opening remarks, public comment, and now we’re talking about a potential appointment to the Seattle Municipal Court administrator.
At today’s Public Safety and Human Services meeting, we heard a presentation from HSD on council investments in health and crisis response, which covered the expansion of Health One (one van was added this spring and another is slated to be added this fall), the SPD crisis response team, and the mobile crisis team, including its new pilot project the Behavioral Health Response Team (costing $450k), which consists of teams of a mental health professional and two peer navigators who have lived experience.
In regards to the SPD crisis response team, CM Herbold noted that many of the police officers on this team have left or been transferred, and asked if there aren’t as many pairing opportunities because of SPD staffing issues, was this an opportunity for HSD to look at other ways to expand this important function? She clarified that she sees HSD as having a programmatic role as well as a funding role for this project, but unfortunately she received no reply from HSD. She also stated that she’s interested in a Seattle-specific designated crisis responder serving on the mobile crisis teams.
The committee also discussed their newly revised bill on SPD usage of less lethal weapons, following its review by the DoJ and Court Monitor. The basics of the bill are outlined in a Central Staff memo
and an article at SCC Insight
, as well as in this helpful diagram. As you can see, blast balls and flash bangs are completely banned at demonstrations, while pepperballs (using launchers), pepper spray, and tear gas do have some allowed uses during demonstrations.
Provisions of the new less lethal weapons bill
CM Herbold said changes from the February version of this bill were due to input given by the Department of Justice and Police Monitor, and Kevin Schofield reports that the DoJ did have a verbal conversation with her about their concerns about the potential that restricting the use of certain less-lethal tools in crowd management circumstances could actually lead to officers using higher levels of force and about whether police officers would have enough time to train on any new policies. He also reports that Court Monitor Oftelie declined to offer feedback on the bill, saying: “My hope in all of this is that SC would work more directly with the Mayor’s office, SPD, and the accountability partners (OIG, OPA, CPC) to draft a comprehensive, evidence-based, and pragmatic new policy. But so far SC has chosen to work on this on their own which is disappointing.” This is interesting because CM Herbold did ask all three accountability bodies for their feedback last year and had all three as well as SPD participate in a roundtable on the subject at a public safety meeting in December. We can only assume the Court Monitor wasn’t satisfied with this effort.
A community report on Choose 180
, a nonprofit offering restorative justice diversion options to teenagers and young adults, was released this week. Choose 180 has a partnership with the City Attorney’s office for a diversion program for 16-24-year olds that “offers young people the opportunity to participate in a 4-hour CHOOSE 180 Young Adult Workshop instead of being processed through the traditional criminal legal system.” I highly recommend reading the report to see one example of a currently working diversion program.
At the latest CPC (Community Police Commission) meeting, members were divided as to whether to go forward with plans to host a general election forum
in partnership with a community organization such as Choose 180 or Community Passageways. Some members believe that hosting such a forum is beyond the scope of the CPC’s responsibilities or mission, while others think holding a candidate forum will help inform the community about the candidates’ different viewpoints on police accountability. It is unclear if the forum will proceed as planned, although we can expect updates on this at tomorrow morning’s CPC meeting
. Also on the meeting agenda is an update from the OIG on the Sentinel Event Review of last summer’s protests.