Seattle to Decide Whether to Launch a New ‘War on Drugs’

Seattle News

As a result of the new state level drug legislation, the Seattle City Council is on track to vote on a bill giving the City Attorney the authority to prosecute drug possession and the new crime “public use of drugs” as soon as Tuesday, June 6, without running the legislation through committee. Drug possession is currently prosecuted by the King County Prosecutor, and in practice, King County has stopped prosecuting cases involving the possession of small amounts of drugs. Criticized by opponents for reigniting a new War on Drugs in Seattle, this legislation would further criminalize poverty while turning away from evidence-based strategies of drug treatment. Furthermore, because this is the first time Seattle would be prosecuting such crimes, the City currently has neither a drug court nor prosecutors and judges with experience in these matters. There is also the open question of how much putting new structures in place, as well as increasing prosecutions and jail use due to the new legislation, would cost the City. 

Opponents of the bill, including the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, ACLU Washington, SEIU 925, Real Change, Collective Justice, and VOCAL-WA,  are hosting an Emergency Teach-In virtually on Tuesday, May 30 at 6:30pm. You can register for the webinar here to learn more about the legislation and how to take action.

Carolyn Bick has uncovered yet more SPD chain of command confusion regarding the use of tear gas during the 2020 George Floyd protests.

SPD has announced they are beginning their pilot use of the BOLAwrap, also described as a high-tech lasso, a less-lethal weapon that “uses a Kevlar rope aimed at the legs or arms of an individual to detain them.” Its design was inspired by a hunting technique of nomadic peoples in Latin America and has been criticized for being cruel and dehumanizing. Guy Oron at Real Change News reports that we don’t know how much these BolaWrap weapons cost and writes: “In a 2020 Human Rights Watch report, researchers found that the BolaWrap and other weapons like stun guns could result in increased police violence against populations who are stigmatized by society, including mentally ill, poor, Black, Brown and Indigenous people.”

The OPA released its 2022 Annual Report this week. Some highlights: 454 cases were opened (compare this to 929 cases opened in 2019), and 13% of investigations had sustained allegations. Force allegations were down 36%. 411 SPD employees had at least one complaint in 2022, 94% of whom were sworn officers (385), and 142 employees received more than one complaint. 945 sworn officers were in service during Q4 of 2022, which means about 40% of sworn officers received at least one complaint.

This week’s Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting featured a presentation about overdose trends and harm reduction programs in the city and the Q1 2023 SPD staffing and overtime report. In the first quarter, SPD had 26 hires and 28 separations, with 2023 estimates of the force having 928 deployable sworn officers out of 1028 total sworn officers (the difference are those on long-term leave, such as disability, parental, etc.). CM Herbold reported that police hiring is picking up across the country but still not able to keep up with the number of officers leaving. That being said, the rate of separation at SPD does appear to be slowing.

SPD is expecting around $3m in salary savings this year, and they’re also expecting to exceed their overtime budget, possibly by more than their realized salary savings. Not very much of the money allocated (with much fanfare) for recruitment and retention has been spent, but the Mayor’s Office says they’ll start spending much more in the second half of the year, probably mostly for their big new marketing campaign that is supposed to launch around August. Stay tuned!

King County News

The quarterly King County Firearm Violence Report is out, showing gun violence in King County is continuing to decrease from its high in mid-2022:

“Compared to the average of the previous five quarters of data, shots fired incidents in Q1 (348) were down around 3% (-12) and the number of shooting victims (50) were down 34% (-35). More specifically, the number of fatal shooting victims declined almost 17% (-3) and nonfatal shooting victims declined 41% (-35) over those averages.”

Recent Headlines

We’re Going to Go Tougher on Drugs Because No One Cares about Evidence of What Actually Works

Seattle News:

In the latest in the ongoing saga of the missing text messages, the City of Seattle has agreed to pay a $2.3 million settlement to the two whistleblowers who revealed that former Mayor Durkan’s text messages had been deleted. When combined with legal fees, this lawsuit has cost Seattle taxpayers more than $3 million. One of the employees, Stacy Irwin, is quoted as saying, “There’s been no accountability. These officials basically got away with it and the taxpayers are paying.”

Crosscut published an interesting investigation on Seattle’s bike cops:

Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, an attorney and executive director of the Center for Protest Law & Litigation, said police violence and misconduct are going to occur regardless of the vehicle or weapon. 

“There was some thinking t”hat bicycle units are somehow going to be better because it seems softer,” she said. “But we have seen bicycle units act with extreme violence, attacking en masse, throwing their bikes down and charging crowds of people.”

Police bicycle tactics are concerning because in spite of their violence, the use of bicycles to, for example, push protesters, was not a reportable use of force during the protests of 2020. Another issue at play is cost, with a fully equipped Volcanic police bike model now costing around $2,495. SPD also formed the Community Response Group in October 2020, requiring all team members to be bike-trained, which expanded their ranks of deployable bike officers, meaning this is not an issue that is going away any time soon.

Given the Blake compromise law just passed by the state legislature (more on this below), CMs Nelson and Pedersen are introducing a new version of their legislation to criminalize public drug use. This legislation would be necessary for public drug use and drug possession to be charged by the Seattle City Attorney; right now drug possession is handled by the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

A correction from last week: the appointment of Anthony Gaedcke to the CPC fulfills the requirement of the CPC to have two officers on the commission, one from SPOG and one from the SPMA. In the documentation, these two appointments count as appointments by the CPC, as opposed to by the Mayor’s Office or the City Council.

Election News:

The filing deadline for candidates for this election cycle is this Friday, May 19. The primary election will be on August 1.

We’ve had a few late declaring candidates, including Jorge Barón for King County Council District 4, Tyesha Reed in Seattle District 5, and Olga Sagan in Seattle District 7.

After last week’s MLK Labor Council’s candidate forum, the Council has endorsed Maren Costa in Seattle’s District 1.

WA State Legislature News:

The legislature’s special session lasted a single day on Tuesday. The Stranger’s Ashley Nerbovig gave a succinct summary of the downsides of the compromise legislation, which is centered around criminal penalties and coercive treatment instead of a harm reduction approach:

The legislation increases criminal penalties for drug possession, creates a new criminal offense for public drug use, gives prosecutors more power to direct people to jail rather than to diversion programs, allows cities and counties to ban harm reduction services, and adds barriers to siting drug treatment facilities. 

Drug possession and a new offense of public drug use are now defined as gross misdemeanors, but with a maximum sentence of 180 days for the first two convictions (instead of 364 days). This is in spite of many studies showing the criminal legal system is ineffective when addressing addiction.

The bill also includes $62.9 million, an increase of $19.6 million from previous versions of the bill, for an array of supportive services.

Ironically, seven people incarcerated in the Snohomish County Jail overdosed on fentanyl this week, belying legislators’ confidence in jails being an effective place to treat addiction problems. And don’t forget that this new drug legislation will probably also impact the population of the already overcrowded King County Jail.

Recent Headlines:

Another Officer on the CPC?

Thus far, it’s been a relatively slow news week for local public safety news, although quite exciting in other news! My hand is also healing in a rather slow fashion, so I am pleased to have the opportunity to continue to rest.

Seattle’s Public Safety and Human Services committee did have a meeting this week. During the meeting, they heard about a new proposed appointment to the CPC: Anthony Gaedcke, who is a lieutenant with SPD. It is interesting that another officer is being added to an organization purported to be for the community, and he is taking one of the the nomination spots of the CPC itself, but perhaps this is not surprising, given the Mayor was pushing the CPC to become an informal additional PR branch for SPD.

The legislation we discussed last week that would expand the existing law against “obstructing” police officers to include Fire Department personnel received a vote in full council this week and passed unanimously.

Resources & Commentary:

Texas, Guns, and Stats

Homeless Man Says Off-Duty SPD Officer Pointed Gun, Threatened to ‘Slaughter’ Him

Austin voters embrace civilian police oversight

May 9 Criminal justice updates and commentary roundup

Seattle City Council District 4: Flirting with Disaster, Hoping for Deliverance

WA lands commissioner Hilary Franz announces run for governor, vying with AG Ferguson

New Drug Law Negotiations Still Messy

Once again, we have a more bare bones edition this week while my hand takes its time healing and I am still unable to type normally. These headlines should give you a sense of what’s been going on this week.

Seattle:

As a Firefighter, I Oppose Criminalizing “Interference” with Seattle Fire Department Personnel

Seattle City Council will vote on this legislation on Tuesday. For more information, read this.

Seattle to settle lawsuit by employees who blew whistle on mayor’s missing texts

Seattle Cop Mocks Trans People, Blames Jan. 6 Riots on Pelosi; County Council Plays It Safe by Proposing Flat Levy Renewal

Seattle-Based Seabold Group Investigated Fmr. SPD Chief Best — Unclear Where Investigation Stands

Maren Costa Builds Council Run on West Seattle Roots and Climate Organizing

King County:

King County councilmembers seek evaluation of jail population reduction programs

King County Council approves sending renewal of Veterans, Seniors, and Human Services levy to ballots

They decided not to ask for an increase in the tax rate.

Washington State:

Progressive Democrats Want to Compromise on a New Drug Law

Inslee calls WA Legislature special session to address drug possession

Criminalizing Drug Possession Is a Mistake We Must Not Make Again

New Police Pursuit Law Requires Less Evidence to Give Chase

Here’s What Happened in Olympia

Heroes and Zeroes of the 2023 Washington State Legislature

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee says he won’t run for a fourth term

Slog AM: Ferguson Exploring Run for Governor, Durkan’s Whistleblower Settlement, Biden Agrees to Debt Ceiling Talks

Sen. Patty Kuderer Announces Run for Insurance Commissioner

Resources & Commentary

Our Media Is Fueling Vigilantism Against Homeless People

Three Things To Read This Week: Baltimore’s “Community Violence Intervention Program Is Helping To Drop The Homicide Rate.”

 

 

Hunger Games in the King County budget?

It has been a very eventful week in local news, but unfortunately, I have sprained my hand and am unable to type at any length. So until it’s healed, I will be providing a list of links to help keep you informed of the latest developments.

Particular points of interest:

  • King County is facing a budget shortage that could result in cutting many crucial upstream programs including gun violence prevention, public health drug prevention and treatment programs, adult and juvenile jail diversion programs, youth programming and job training, public health disease tracking and prevention, and more. Part of this budget gap could be alleviated if the Veterans, Seniors, and Human Services levy, which will be on the ballot in August, is increased from $0.10 per $1,000 of property value to $0.12. The King County Council is scheduled to vote on what level to include in the final ballot measure early next week.
  • The Washington State legislative session is over, and the legislature failed to pass a new drug law dealing with the Blake decision. The stop gap law expires in July, and there is talk of a special session happening before then to try to come to some kind of compromise. In the meantime, Seattle City Attorney Ann Davison, along with Seattle CMs Nelson and Pederson, have suggested a new drug law for Seattle, but CM Herbold has said she wants to wait to see what might come from a special session first.
  • This week the Urbanist published an article exposing yet more lies that were told around the abandonment of the East Precinct in the summer of 2020.

Resources & Commentary:

Our Full Polling Results on Community Safety Departments

Bail Reform: What to Know and Where to Go for More

“Real public safety problems”

Chicago Victory

The Law Won’t Save Us

Seattle:

“Please Stop on the Teams Chat”: New Records Expose Mayor Durkan’s Role and Others in Abandonment of East Precinct

Proposal to Make Public Drug Use a Misdemeanor Unlikely to Have Much Visible Impact

New public drug use, possession legislation proposed in Seattle

Central Staff memo on new legislation amending the crime of Obstructing a Public Officer to include obstruction of Seattle Fire Department (SFD) firefighters and other fire department personnel.

Annual financial disclosures for Seattle elected officials

The Battle for the Seattle City Council, Part 1: The Incumbents

The Battle for Seattle City Council, Part 2: D1 and D3 Free-for-All

The Battle for Seattle City Council, Part 3: D4 and D5 Scramble

Essential Workers Protest Harrell’s “Insulting” 1 Percent Pay Increase Offer

Here’s why the Lavender Rights Project, county officials, and Seattle’s mayor think this Capitol Hill apartment building is the right place to start a new approach to creating supportive housing and putting a real dent in the homelessness crisis

Edmonds Police Arrested Two Senior Seattle Cops for DUI

King County:

King County crisis center measure leads at first vote drop

King County voters approve crisis care centers levy

King County asking for community input on budget cuts after state’s failure to fix county’s broken tax system

Will Voter Approval of Crisis Centers Spur a More Ambitious Vets and Human Services Levy?

WA State Legislature:

Olympia Shatters Plan to Reboot Its War on Drugs

WA Legislature fails to pass new drug law; special session likely

No Clear Path Toward Criminalizing Drugs in Washington

How the implosion of WA’s drug possession law could spell disaster for addiction support services

Washington to invest more in 988 mental health crisis line

The bills that survived Washington’s 2023 legislative session

Washington Legislature unveils $69.2B two-year state budget

The Homelessness-Jail Cycle

Seattle News

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has released their fourth and final SER report on the 2020 protests in Seattle. One of the report’s most noteworthy recommendations is that SPD apologize to protestors for its response. SPD provided KUOW with a statement saying Chief Diaz did apologize for the 2020 protests in June of 2021: I’m sure all the protestors who were harmed in 2020 feel much better now.

The SER report was produced by a panel that was chosen “with the assistance of the Planning Group.” When weighing the report, it’s important to take note that of the 12 members of the panel, 5 are employed by SPD and 3 are employed by city accountability bodies (OIG, CPC, and the Monitor). Thus only 4 participants were community members.

Earlier this week Mayor Harrell announced his new plan to activate downtown, which is marked by more enforcement of the distribution and sale of drugs, although detail is lacking in how this would differ from previous failed attempts at hot spot policing and criminalizing drug users, some of whom turn to low level dealing in order to support their habits. One of Health One’s three vans will also be used to respond to overdose calls, although no more money is being made available to Health One for this purpose, bringing up the question of whether they’ll have to turn down more calls due to lack of capacity. The Mayor also supports the idea of contingency management treatment, which would provide people with gift cards for participating in treatment. However, the new plan does not involve providing safe consumption sites, even though way back in 2017 King County found that such sites improve outcomes.

Missing from the plan is any further provision of housing or services for downtown’s large houseless population. This lack, combined with a tougher enforcement policy, could lead to an exacerbation of the homelessness-jail cycle. As Chloe Cockburn recently noted, several research studies have found “strong connections between homelessness and the criminal legal system, with causation going both ways. Unhoused people are extremely vulnerable to criminalization, and having a criminal record can make it very difficult to find housing.”

Following up on the case where SPD Officer Dave struck and killed Seattle student Jaahnavi Kandula in January, Erica C. Barnett has confirmed the caller to whom Dave was responding had used cocaine, not opiates. SPD has said officers need to be present when the fire department responds to opiate overdose calls to provide backup (a claim that lacks general consensus), but since this call was related to heroin, this policy would not have applied in this case.

WA State Legislature:

The state legislature passed HB 1324 preventing convictions under age 18 from being automatically counted in adult court. “According to Department of Corrections data collected by the ACLU, significant racial disparities exist in the current system of mandatory sentence enhancements using juvenile judgments. More than 40% of currently incarcerated Indigenous people have a juvenile felony on their record, as do 39% of Black people currently incarcerated. People of color are facing longer sentences because they were involved in the juvenile system as children.”

Unfortunately the Senate and House bills differ in terms of retroactivity, and the two chambers will need to come to an agreement on this issue. 

Recent Headlines

Disproportionate Incarceration is Alive and Well in King County

Seattle News

Judge Robart has set the next consent decree hearing for Tuesday, May 30 at 1pm. Buckle your seatbelts because this one should be interesting!

Seattle’s Public Safety and Human Services committee heard a presentation from the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) on Tuesday regarding the work that office will be doing should the new consent decree agreement be approved. The Monitor’s oversight work will be transitioning over to OIG, which will also review other parts of SPD beyond those mandated by the consent decree. OIG will be producing a use of force assessment to be delivered to the court by the end of July, which will include force used in crisis incidents, use of less lethal devices, and force used during crowd management, using data from 2021 and 2022. Note this data is provided directly by SPD. They are also hoping to analyze data on traffic stops that aren’t Terry stops, the data of which has been fairly inaccessible up until now. 

OIG’s fourth and final Sentinel Event Review (SER) covering the 2020 protests should be released in the next few weeks. In total, OIG has made more than 400 recommendations to SPD based on these SER reports, the implementation of which they’ll be monitoring. They are also considering utilizing the SER model in the future for officer-involved shootings in crisis incidents. In addition, they will be investigating whether SPD has the appropriate systems to comply with the new state decertification law. 

OIG has made a number of comments designated as “matters of consideration,” which don’t go as far as recommendations. CM Herbold asked about the matter of consideration pertaining to the fact that historically SPD police chiefs have chosen to apply the lower end of recommended discipline when there has been misconduct; Director Judge replied this was a good time to refresh that data and see what Chief Diaz’s trend has been in this regard. OIG is looking at several other issues, including limiting deception during interrogation and reviewing SPD’s “ruse” policy; work around traffic stops with the Vera Institute; case closure rates in the investigative bureau; and a report to be released in Q2 analyzing SPD’s compliance with the city’s youth rights ordinance that requires youth be allowed to consult with counsel before waiving their rights. 

OIG has a new Deputy Director, Bessie Marie Scott, who worked previously for the Public Defender Association and as the Interim Director of the CPC. OIG is currently hiring for three additional full-time positions, including a team lead and two policy analysts. 

This week the Seattle City Council also received an economic forecast report, including a revenue forecast, which shows the core general fund revenue sources are not expected to keep up with inflation. Actual revenues from the Jumpstart tax fell from $293m in 2021 to $253m in 2022, and are expected to be $263m this year, revised significantly downwards from the previous estimate of $294m. The REET revenue forecast for 2023 has also significantly dropped; in November, these estimates were revised from $95m to $68m, and that number has dropped even further to $55m. The REET revenues aren’t expected to recover fully until 2027.

All of this is to say that the Council will be looking at an even smaller pot of money than expected during this fall’s budget season, and the results of the progressive revenue task force have become even more critical.

King County News

This week seems like a good opportunity to dig into the recent booking data from the King County Jail. In the last two weeks, there have been 148 total bookings; 38.4% of bookings have been misdemeanors, of which 50.2% were booked by SPD. If you remember, the King County Council mentioned Executive Constantine can enact booking restrictions for misdemeanors. That being said, 88.6% of the total jail population were booked for a felony. And 21% of the population have been imprisoned in the King County Jail for more than a year.

If you look at how race correlates with charge type, 34.2% of those misdemeanor bookings were Black people, whereas for felony bookings, 27.7% were Black people. Looking at the total jail population, Black people constitute 38.6%. For comparison, Black people make up around 7% of both Seattle and King County’s populations. As we learned in the last few King County Council meetings, many of those in the King County Jail are there because they cannot afford to pay bail or are waiting for competency restoration. 

Thus we can see how disproportionate incarceration is alive and well in King County, and how systemic racism, the racial wealth gap, and underinvestment in marginalized communities continue to cause harm today.

charts showing percentages discussed in text
KCJ bookings showing misdemeanors 4/12/2023
Chart showing percentages discussed in text
KCJ bookings showing felonies 4/12/2023
Chart showing percentages discussed in text
KCJ Population by Charge Type, Race, and Length of Stay

WA State News

While this year’s legislative session has been very productive in some ways, it’s been a disappointing year for police accountability. None of the major bills designed to improve police accountability made it through the legislative process, and SB 5352, the bill that rolls back reforms to lethal police pursuits made in 2021, was passed by the House this week in a vote of 57-40, in what Representative Julia Reed called “the most bizarre debate experience I’ve had to date.”

On Tuesday night the House voted on the Blake bill, SB 5336, which passed 54 to 41. The Senate version set drug possession as a gross misdemeanor, and the new House version changes that to a simple misdemeanor. The potential jail time for a gross misdemeanor in Washington State maxes out at 364 days, whereas for a simple misdemeanor it maxes out at 90 days. You can read more about this bill here, which will now move on to negotiations between the House and the Senate.

Two gun control bills have also now passed both houses. The one getting the most press is the assault weapon ban, which now goes to the governor for a signature and is expected to be the subject of a future lawsuit. The other bill would require potential gun owners to get trained, screened, and wait for 10 days before being able to purchase a weapon. 

Meanwhile, Austin Fields criticized the recent capital gains tax ruling by the Washington Supreme Court for falling short of making a case for a more equitable economy:

The Court’s cautious path was predictable—and widely predicted—but that doesn’t excuse the justices’ failure to endorse a more democratic, equitable tax system. Of course, the state desperately needs the estimated $500 million from the tax to fund early childhood programs. But the Court could have gone further and acknowledged the State Legislature’s existing authority to directly tax the incomes of Washington’s mega-rich to pay for thousands of affordable homes, a health care system capable of treating everyone, and everything else a truly progressive state would guarantee its residents.”

Recent Headlines

“We Can’t Just Keep Doing What We’ve Been Doing”

King County Jail News

CM Kohl-Welles said the the headline quote at Tuesday’s King County Council meeting, where the Council voted to approve the SCORE contract to transfer up to 60 men from the King County Jail. This decision was made in spite of County staff noting that moving 60 inmates would not make much difference to address the conditions and insufficient staffing at the jail. CMs Zahilay and Kohl-Welles voted no. CM Zahilay said he didn’t feel he’d done his due diligence in exploring all their options, and CM Kohl-Welles specifically said she didn’t find the short-term solutions being presented (namely, this SCORE contract) to be very compelling. Several CMs called out the need to do the work to find better long-term solutions, including closing the King County Jail. 

Unfortunately, the danger now is that Executive Constantine might come back to the Council sometime in the next year or so asking to expand the number of inmates being transferred to SCORE. In the meantime, the County will be spending $3.5m in a stop-gap measure that isn’t a meaningful long-term solution. You can read more detail about this week’s meeting and some of the issues at play, many of which we have discussed here in previous weeks, in Ashley Nerbovig’s excellent article in The Stranger.

Recent Headlines

 

“Stealth Jail Expansion”: The Fight Over the SCORE Jail Contract Continues

Let’s take a moment to celebrate that the Washington State Supreme Court upheld the capital gains tax!

Seattle News

On Tuesday the City of Seattle and the Department of Justice filed a request to replace the 2012 Consent Decree with a new “Agreement on Sustained Compliance” that would focus on SPD’s use of force particularly related to crowd control and accountability. Among other measures, SPD would need to adopt a revised crowd management policy, and the City would need to hire a consultant to make recommendations about the accountability system. In addition, Mike Carter reports the city also acknowledges that it must address racial disparities that have shown up in reviews of both police use of force and investigative stops.” 

Mayor Harrell’s office has calculated the consent decree, lasting 11 years thus far, has cost the city $200m. The motion asks Judge Robart to find the SPD has reached “substantial compliance” with most of the original consent decree requirements. As Erica C. Barnett reports, ongoing labor negotiations with SPOG, including whether important accountability advances agreed upon in the recent SPMA contract are included in the next SPOG contract, play an important role as to whether the city will be able to be found in compliance with the accountability piece of either the original consent decree or any new agreement.

This new “agreement on sustained compliance” would be anticipated to be completed in about a year, and unlike the original consent decree, it wouldn’t require a two-year sustainment period before exit, which would give Mayor Harrell his coveted exit before the end of his term. The next step in this process is for Judge Robart to schedule a hearing.

Advocates in Seatle have often had mixed feelings about the consent decree in recent years. In the last three years in particular, it has often been seen as a barrier to more systemic change and a way to potentially apply a veneer of respectability to the SPD while maintaining the status quo. The SPD’s budget has grown substantially from when Seattle entered into the consent decree, from $252.2m in 2012 to its present size of $374.3m. 

Seattle’s Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting on Tuesday had a surprise addition to the agenda: a project update on SPD’s recruitment and retention. While the council members received a memo on March 14 detailing current progress with the hiring incentives passed last year, none of this information was presented at the meeting, with Senior Deputy Mayor Monisha Harrell saying “it’s too early to draw a definitive conclusion.” 

In 2021 SPD hired one officer for every 12 applicants; these figures aren’t yet available for 2022. In spite of all its new hiring, recruiting, and retention efforts, the department is still struggling to maintain its size: as of 3/16, SPD’s hiring numbers are at -6, a number that was amusingly omitted from the presentation. SPD has hired 19 officers and experienced 25 separations since the beginning of the year. 

No mention was made at the meeting of the difficulties of retention given the recent suit filed by Cookie Bouldin alleging racial and gender discrimination or last year’s lawsuit in which an SPD officer was awarded $1.325m in damages due to getting carbon monoxide poisoning on the job.

The team presenting to the CMs announced their goal of 30% of officers being female by 2030 with no mention of the Bouldin lawsuit. CM Nelson also stated the importance of “having a positive place to work at” without addressing the implications of these suits.

When considering SPD’s attrition rate, it’s important to remember some people leave the department because they’re under investigation for less than savory reasons. For example, the OPA released a report last week about the case of Officer Cleades Robinson. As DivestSPD reported: “OPA found there was more than enough evidence to show that Robinson committed at least two gross misdemeanors: patronizing a prostitute and communicating with a minor for immoral purposes.” Robinson resigned before final discipline was handed down in January. Another SPD Captain was arrested in November 2019 for trying to buy sex and retired before the investigation was completed. 

Once Mayor Harrell took the helm of the city at the beginning of 2022, sweeps of homeless people substantially increased, Guy Oron reports. The City of Seattle performed 943 sweeps in 2022, which means sweeps were happening on average twice or more every day. Of these sweeps, 771 sweeps–almost 82%–were obstruction sweeps, meaning the City wasn’t required to give notice to those being swept. To get an idea of how much sweeps have increased, there were 158 sweeps in 2022 where notice was given, whereas in 2021 there were 53 sweeps done with notice, meaning the rate of sweeps with notice has TRIPLED. Many locations were swept multiple times, including 66 sweeps in Occidental Park, 53 sweeps near the Ballard Library, and 18 sweeps at the Ballard Commons.

By comparison, there were 1,192 sweeps in 2019, meaning we’re seeing the return of an old status quo that was interrupted by the pandemic and a temporary acknowledgement due to the George Floyd protests that just maybe we should treat people more humanely.

Matthew Mitnick, currently running for Seattle CM for District 4, has been accused by former supporters of breaking child labor laws, wage theft, and creating a toxic work environment

King County News

The King County Council postponed their vote on the SCORE jail contract for the second time this Tuesday. They are working on a variety of amendments (discussed last week) that would limit the size and scope of the transfers from the King County Jail and require various reporting and Council approvals. Unfortunately, none of these amendments would stop the SCORE contract outright; this contract would cause what opponents are calling a stealth expansion of King County’s system of incarceration. 

The sense of urgency around this SCORE contract is interesting given it’s been almost three years since Executive Constantine said he wanted to eventually shut down the “decrepit” King County Jail. In the intervening time, the death and suicide rates in the jail have gone up and the staffing numbers have been in continuous decline, not to mention it was without potable water for a month last fall. However, it’s only since the ACLU of Washington filed a suit against the County due to the appalling conditions within the jail that the County’s message has shifted to sudden action without the necessary time to build a good plan that would not expand incarceration in the County.

To weigh in on the SCORE contract, you can email or call your King County CMs and/or give public comment at the next King County Council meeting on Tuesday, April 4 at 1:30pm. Talking points will be updated at tinyurl.com/TellKCC.

In addition, sources say the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD) is planning to move 50 additional people from the King County Jail to the Maleng Regional Justice Center (MRJC) in Kent this weekend (April 1-2). The DAJD already moved 50 people from the KJC the weekend of March 11-12, a move that has resulted in consequences: those 50 inmates are being double-bunked in cells in which the toilets can only be flushed twice an hour, resulting in unsanitary conditions. And Erica C. Barnett reports on another problem as well:

“Folk says the jail guards’ union has filed a demand to bargain over the decision to move 50 people to the RJC, noting that the 1:104 ratio of guards to inmates is far below the usual “direct supervision” standard of one guard for every residents. Haglund told PubliCola previously that although 1:104 isn’t ideal, the unit will be safe with just one guard because no more than 64 people will be out in the unit’s common area at one time. Folk disagrees, telling PubliCola, “The staffing ratio for this is just not safe.””

Meanwhile, King County reported that as of last week there have been 296 King County residents who have died due to drug or alcohol poisoning since the beginning of the year, a number that exceeds the total number of overdose deaths in 2012. 

Recent Headlines

Community Outcry against King County’s Potential SCORE Jail Contract

King County Jail News:

On Tuesday morning, a 58-year-old woman died in the King County Jail. She had been booked into the jail on Friday with a charge of burglary. We don’t yet know her cause of death. 

On Tuesday afternoon, the King County Council met to discuss, amongst other things, the $3.5m SCORE contract that would allow them to transfer 50 people (to start) from the King County Jail to the SCORE facility in Des Moines. While this is being sold as a “short-term” solution to run until the end of 2024, there is already discussion of expanding the number of inmates transferred to SCORE. 33 people gave public comment asking the CMs to vote no on this new contract. There have been several lawsuits brought against SCORE by family members of people who died in the jail, alleging the facility failed to provide adequate medical care. Being transferred to SCORE might also impact the quality of inmates’ defenses. You can see my live tweets of the CMs’ discussion here

At the briefing, CM McDermott stated that booking restrictions haven’t changed and asked for the reason for the growth of the King County Jail population in 2022. Analyst Leah Krekel-Zoppi said that pre-pandemic, the average daily population of the jail was 1900, which dropped to 1300 due to the pandemic. The average daily population now is 1500-1600. She refused to answer the CM’s question about why it’s higher now.

One possible explanation for this increase is, as Erica C. Barnett suggests, the Seattle City Attorney’s High Utilizer program, which skirts the current jail booking restrictions for misdemeanors: “In January and February 2022, before the high utilizer initiative went into effect,  the average daily population at the downtown jail was 910; for the same period this year, it was 1,220. The increase is the result of a complex mix of factors, but jailing 142 people for low-level misdemeanors is undoubtedly among them.” She also found that on average, each one of these “high utilizers” served 117 days in jail in 2022, so they each spent significant time in the jail.

Another possible factor is people in the jail waiting for competency services. As Ashely Nervobig reports: “A February 7 report from the King County Prosecutor’s office showed about 80 people waiting for competency restoration services, with the state failing to provide treatment to some of the people in the jail for more than a year, according to Casey McNerthney, spokesperson for the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.” 

Other possible factors for the difference in the jail population between 2021 and 2022 include an increase in SPD arrest reports–there were 10,601 such reports in 2022 versus 9165 in 2021–and the possibility the police are overcharging; that is, the practice of either adding charges or using a higher initial charge when such charges may not be able to be proven. This practice would be another way of getting around the King County Jail’s current booking restrictions. 

CM Zahilay asked two questions that remained outstanding and that the CMs resolved to discuss during their (confidential) executive session: 

  1. There is ambiguity over which type of booking restrictions can be mandated by a County Executive. Some say these restrictions can only apply to misdemeanor charges, but there are also some counties in Washington that may have restrictions relating to certain felonies.
  2. Is the County legally allowed to pay people’s bail? In the past (pre-pandemic) King County gave a $400k contract to the Northwest Bail Fund, but it’s not clear if any of this money was ever directly used to pay bail. It sounds like it was used to fund wraparound services that helped people qualify for bail. Data from that program showed the number of people able to post bail increased significantly during its adoption in 2019-2020. CMs were very interested to learn how many people are housed in King County’s jails because of being unable to pay bail.

If the CMs do not approve this new contract with SCORE, it would be incumbent upon them to decrease the population of the King County Jail in other ways, hence the importance of the above questions. The Shut Down King County Jail coalition is asking for the CMs to do exactly this and reduce the jail population by ceasing imprisonment of those experiencing mental health crises and stopping imposing bail, which has the impact of holding poor people in this facility while those with more resources are allowed to go free. However, some CMs signaled more interest in putting additional definitions and limitations around the SCORE contract as opposed to searching for ways to decrease the County’s jailed population in any meaningful way. 

The vote on this legislation was delayed until the next King County Council meeting on Tuesday, March 28. In the meantime, you may write or call your King County CMs and/or plan to give public comment on the 28th.

Seattle News:

SPD detective Cookie Bouldin has filed a $10m tort claim against SPD, claiming racial and gender discrimination and retaliation for whistleblowing. She says she has faced gender and racial discrimination for the entirety of her 40-year career, which began in 1980, when she was one of only two Black female officers in SPD. She is known for reaching out to communities of color and running a youth chess club, both of which she says have made her a target. The claim states: “​​She notes that the hostile work environment she has been subjected to has increased dramatically in recent years.”

In an analysis of Ann Davison’s first year as Seattle City Attorney, Guy Oron writes:

“​​The King County Department of Public Defense (DPD) has denounced the CAO’s approach to prosecution during Davison’s tenure, setting up a Twitter account at @CourtWatchSMC called “Seattle Municipal Court Watch” to monitor cases when the CAO has filed charges against poor residents and people experiencing mental health illnesses. Notable cases that the DPD has highlighted include prosecution of people for stealing paper towels, selling cigarettes without proper licensing, sleeping under a tarp in a business parking lot and staying in a building slated for demolition to stay warm. These selected anecdotes seem to align with the data, which shows that the vast majority of SMC defendants rely on public defense.”

Election News:

King County Executive Dow Constantine has announced he will not be running for governor in 2024. This was after the Northwest Progressive Institute released poll results showing Attorney General Bob Ferguson as the leading Democratic candidate in a potential 2024 governor’s race, assuming current Governor Inslee chooses not to run for a fourth term. Bob Ferguson polled at 21%, whereas another possible Democratic candidate, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, polled at 7%.

Recent Headlines: