June 2021

Oakland’s police department budget increases in spite of misleading reporting

Seattle Election Strategy

This week Seattle mayoral candidate Jessyn Farrell published an op-ed in The Stranger, in which she takes shots at both Bruce Harrell and Lorena González for having voted for the current SPOG contract in 2018 that failed to enforce the Accountability Ordinance of 2017. This is more interesting as positioning strategy than anything else, as it was Farrell’s campaign that released an early poll a few weeks ago showing Harrell and González as the two frontrunners, with Farrell in a tie for third place. By attacking both of them in the same op-ed, she is attempting to show her viability as a candidate.
Farrell’s campaign is also interesting in that in many respects she is positioning herself as a progressive, urbanist candidate while at the same time supporting the Compassion Seattle initiative. Some observers believe that support for Compassion Seattle acts as a dogwhistle showing which candidates are positioning themselves into the right track of the race…which would also usually be the candidate endorsed by The Seattle Times. It appears Jessyn Farrell might be trying to position herself in the middle, running both sides, so it will be interesting to see if this is a strategy that has any legs in Seattle in the current political climate.
In other election news, The Urbanist has run a questionnaire for Seattle City Council Pos. 9 candidates with a few heavy-hitting questions about SPD’s budget and police accountability measures: you can read answers from Nikkita Oliver and Brianna Thomas.

Meanwhile, in Oakland….

 

The city of Oakland, California has been going through their own reckoning with their police budget, and their City Council made an important vote this week. The local TV news reported on this with the headline “Oakland City Council votes to divert millions from police funding.” In fascinating fashion, you can read the entire article without learning the basics of what happened: that the Oakland Police Department’s budget will still be larger in 2022 than it was in 2021, growing by $9m. Why the fuss then? Oakland’s mayor had proposed an even larger increase of $27m, and the Oakland City Council decided to make a smaller increase and use the difference to fund policing alternatives.
Similar to Seattle, in 2020 the Oakland City Council agreed on a policy goal of cutting the police budget by 50%. And similar to Seattle, this goal has since been cut back significantly, while a task force to “reimagine” policing has been formed.
Over the past year, as the reimagining task force did its work and the council considered policing alternatives, many people made the point that it’s probably impossible to fund non-police alternatives at the scale necessary to have any positive impact without reducing police spending, which is the single largest departmental outlay for Oakland.
The lazy reporting on display in the TV news report above is yet another example of why it’s important to support quality local journalism. The South Seattle Emerald is one excellent Seattle-area example.

SPD K-9 Problems

Publicola reports that a woman attacked by a police dog during a training exercise in 2020 has filed a lawsuit against the City of Seattle. The article reviews several missteps by SPD’s K-9 units in recent years; the OPA has investigated 10 allegations of excessive force involving dog bites since 2015:
While SPD later adjusted its K-9 policies, a 2020 audit by Seattle’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found that the department’s policy revisions included notable flaws, including ambiguity about whether officers can use police dogs at protests.

Drug Decriminalization in Oregon

Last fall Oregon voters passed Measure 110, the drug decriminalization bill, which says if you possess a small amount of the drugs it covers, you will be punished by a civil citation and a $100 fine. You can have the fine waived if you get a health screening from a recovery hotline. Washington State is looking into a similar decriminalization effort, the urgency of which has been increased by the Washington Supreme Court’s recent Blake decision.
The concern in Oregon right now is that there isn’t a robust and comprehensive enough health care/treatment system in place to help people seeking treatment, especially as that number increases. While Portugal saw large successes after decriminalizing drug use in 2001, with dramatic drops in problematic drug use, drug overdoses, and drug-related crime, they paired decriminalization with access to treatment and harm reduction services, as well as encouraging a cultural shift in how society viewed drugs and drug use. Washington State will face a similar issue of needing to scale up drug treatment services in the next few years in order to support the effort to decriminalize drug use.

Recent Headlines

The hard work to uplift Black lives is far from done | The Seattle Times

UW’s Black campus police officers file multimillion-dollar claims over ‘unbearable’ racism | The Seattle Times

Oakland’s police department budget increases in spite of misleading reporting Read More »

We’re Back to Discussing a Less Lethal Weapons Bill in Seattle

On Police Unions

I’d like to start by sharing a few key quotations from an article from The Atlantic, The Authoritarian Instincts of 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

Amy Sundberg
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.

Amy Sundberg
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
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.

Other News

The news broke that Casey Sixkiller, a candidate for Seattle Mayor, has worked as a lobbyist for such clients as private prison companies, oil and gas firms, and weapons makers. Meanwhile, the Seattle Times ran an article about what mayoral candidates are looking for in the City’s next Police Chief. And Erica Barnett reports on where the money is coming from for upcoming city-wide elections.
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.

Recent Headlines

Few Cops We Found Using Force on George Floyd Protesters Are Known to Have Faced Discipline — ProPublica

Stop police false narratives about officer-involved deaths | by Deborah Jacobs | Jun, 2021 | Medium

We’re Back to Discussing a Less Lethal Weapons Bill in Seattle Read More »

The City Attorney and the Consent Decree

Seattle News

Last week, the news broke that several SPD officers, including SPOG president Mike Solan, registered to vote using the addresses of different SPD precincts instead of their home addresses. Registering to vote at an address where you don’t live is a Class C felony, but while the OPA gave out disciplinary actions, “it appears that the SPD didn’t even bother to conduct a criminal investigation into the apparent felony matter.”
Converge Media unveiled a great website resource tracking the $100m allocated for investment in BIPOC communities in the 2021 Seattle budget.
An SPD officer has been using facial recognition software Clearview.AI in some of his investigations, which has revealed some loopholes in the City’s laws. “To deal with the gray area surrounding facial recognition technology, Myerberg recommended that Diaz either create a new surveillance policy that explicitly forbids the use of facial recognition software; he also suggested that Diaz could ask the city council to modify the 2018 surveillance ordinance to clear up any confusion about whether it applies to facial recognition software.”
And if you’re looking for an overview of the possible loss of momentum within Seattle’s City Council to continue “reimagining” the city’s policing, look no further!

Election News

Seattle Weekly published an overview of King County’s upcoming elections, which include various city council members, mayors, and school board positions. And the South Seattle Emerald published an interview with abolitionist Seattle City Attorney candidate Nicole Thomas Kennedy.
If you’re in the mood for more in-depth Seattle election coverage, last Friday’s Hacks & Wonks podcast features a conversation between Crystal Fincher and Mike McGinn. They speculate it might be a year for outsiders, comparing how many Democracy Vouchers have been collected by Colleen Echohawk and Andrew Grant Houston versus their more established opponents in the mayoral race, and also note that Jessyn Farrell’s support of the Compassion Seattle initiative could be another signal of her interest in running in the “right lane” of the Seattle political divide. However, her lack of success thus far could be a sign of the business-labor hybrid coalition of the past few elections falling apart.
Perhaps of even more interest, Mike McGinn talks at length about his experiences with current City Attorney Pete Holmes. He reveals that the mediator chose to keep Pete Holmes out of the mediation over the Consent Decree between him (when he was mayor) and the Office of Civil Rights. Mike McGinn also said the following:
“Well, we’ve been told – we were being told for years by the Monitor and mayors – that reform was on track and Pete was joining that chorus. And what we saw with the protests, and the police behavior, and tear-gassing the public – leading to a federal court order against it. What we see is that reform failed.
And Pete says he was at the helm of that, but now he has to be there to help fix it. And I think that from the progressive side, they see that he’s not really solving the problems that he says he’s for.”
“So what started as an attempt to engage the community in a dialogue with the City and the police department about what reform looks like – with the belief that it should be homegrown because it’s more likely – let’s listen to community – has now turned into this very, very top-down thing, being run by a judge, in which so much of the local control has disappeared….
And so since there was never any pushback on the judge – now the ability of the community as a whole to influence police reform has been taken away and resides in the judge. And there’s really only one place that – there’s only one person under the City Charter who had the authority to go in on behalf of the City and say, “Do something different.” And that was Pete Holmes. And he never was willing to challenge the Monitor, never willing to challenge the judge, never willing to stand up for the community in that way. So Pete, you’ve been at this – I go back to – been in there 12 years, said he’s necessary to police reform. He has to take some accountability for how he’s not gotten it done overall.“
These quotes give a good idea of the importance of the City Attorney in overseeing how the consent decree has played out, as well as some issues that might come to play in the current election race between Pete Holmes and his challenger Nicole Thomas Kennedy.

Recent Headlines

Why police reform tactics fail over and over again - Washington Post

Washington prisons chief Stephen Sinclair was forced out of his job by Gov. Inslee, records show | The Seattle Times

The City Attorney and the Consent Decree Read More »

ACLU WA comes out against the Compassion Seattle initiative

Seattle City Council Meetings

Amy Sundberg
Good morning, and welcome to the Seattle Council Briefing!
This week’s Seattle Council Briefing didn’t cover much about policing or investments into public safety, but CM Lewis did introduce a letter in support of decriminalizing psychedelic drugs. All CMs signed onto the letter except CM Strauss, who was absent, and CM Pedersen, who said he needed more time to review the letter. The Stranger reports:
Lewis said he will “almost certainly” drop an ordinance to make psychedelics the lowest-level enforcement priority for law enforcement at the city level after the task force releases its recommendations, but both he and Herbold stressed the opportunity here for state-level action.
CM Mosqueda also mentioned the possibility of using psychedelic drugs as a treatment for TBIs (traumatic brain injuries), otherwise known as concussions, a subject area where I have a personal interest, having suffered from a concussion for quite some time myself without receiving any real recommendations for treatment.
Amy Sundberg
Good morning, and welcome to Seattle’s Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting!

This morning’s Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting included a Crisis Response Continuum Roundtable with representatives present from SFD and Health One, Crisis Connections, Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC), LEAD and REACH, and the SPD crisis response unit. All these providers agree they don’t have enough capacity to meet the high demand for their services, and they don’t have enough service providers either. They also briefly discussed the new 988 system that comes online in July 2022, for which funding has been provided by the state legislature, which will make a better response possible, although they expect a much higher demand as well. CM Lewis said they need to consider LEAD as an indispensable leg of the stool of overall public safety and treat it as a standing budget priority.

Also at this morning’s meeting, Carlos Lugo of Central Staff presented his report entitled “Realigning Seattle’s Criminal Legal System through a Public Health Approach.” This report, reflecting two years of work, represents the academic piece of the conversation, while a community task force also worked on recommendations that will be presented at a later meeting. The report suggests shifting our criminal legal system from being punitive to using a public health model, using the RNR model to understand factors of why violence occurs and what prevents violence, followed by implementing interventions and monitoring their impact. He also used the sequential intercept model that we’ve seen before in Council meetings during the last year. The intercept model looks at points where it’s possible to divert people from the criminal justice system to alternatives.

My takeaway from his presentation? He suggests investing in programs that reduce criminogenic needs and ACEs (adverse childhood events), possibly through participatory budgeting and possibly using money saved by negotiating to reduce jail services purchased from King County. When asked specifically by CM Morales, he said they should absolutely use funds diverted from SPD as well, calling out as an example the fact that if you use summons instead of arrests for misdemeanor crimes, that would save a lot of officer time.

Other News

Charter Amendment 29 (CA-29) would enshrine Seattle’s current ineffective and harmful practice of sweeping unhoused residents and their homes from public places into the City’s Charter, while doing nothing to meaningfully address homelessness. The criminalization of poverty is not only unconstitutional, but an inappropriate way to address the long-standing and intersecting issues of housing affordability, Seattle’s racial wealth divide and community displacement, and the history of structural inequity in housing.
A reminder: mayoral candidates Bruce Harrell and Jessyn Farrell are on the record as supporting this charter amendment, and Casey Sixkiller has said he supports continued homeless sweeps. And speaking of the mayoral candidates, you can read how they would address structural racism if they are elected to office.
Meanwhile, SPD has the largest new officer class in 20 years. They are trying to increase hiring to as fast a rate as possible to keep up with their high rate of attrition.
Carolyn Bick finished their excellent series on OLEO and its former director’s troubled relationship with the KCSO and KCPOG. The article includes a discussion of the recent police scorecard data released, where the King County Sheriff’s Office got an unimpressive 39% out of 100. Its police accountability score was 10%.OLEO

Recent Headlines

A lesson from my losses: We cannot afford to completely dismantle the police | The Seattle Times

ACLU WA comes out against the Compassion Seattle initiative Read More »

Lots of Seattle news for your Friday evening

In Seattle

Lots of interesting Seattle news to end your week!
First of all, this afternoon the Court ruled that the Jumpstart payroll tax is constitutionally permissible. You can read more about the case here. This is important because whether you care about green transit projects, more affordable housing and shelter for the homeless, making Seattle a more equitable city, etc., it all costs money. Seattle can make more of these investments when it’s able to pursue more progressive revenue options. This particular ruling is likely to be appealed, but it’s an important step forward.
Meanwhile, it looked like City Hall might not be held accountable for the Mayor’s missing texts (not to mention the missing texts of former Chief Best, Chief Scoggins, and several members of SPD command staff). Happily The Seattle Times has decided to sue the city of Seattle,“alleging that the city of Seattle mishandled requests from reporters for officials’ text messages during a tumultuous period last summer when police abandoned the East Precinct and used tear gas on protesters.” Even more damning, “some of The Seattle Times’ requests for the mayor’s texts were submitted before her phone settings were changed to retain messages, meaning they were deleted while the requests were pending.” This should be an interesting case to follow.
In good news, the Equitable Communities Initiative Task Force released their recommendations for how to spend $30m in funding for BIPOC communities. They divided the money into four equal pots: one for small business support, one for education, one for a lease to purchase home owner program and a generational wealth and apprenticeship pipeline program, and one for health issues including money for food access and environmental justice, culturally responsive health care, and workforce development of healthcare providers of color. An implementation plan is currently in the works, and we should see associated legislation transmitted to the Council in late June or early July.
More good news: an RFP has been released in Seattle for the acquisition of land and property to respond to the displacement of BIPOC communities and build community wealth. This is the $30m from the Strategic Investment Fund (funded by the sale of the Mercer Megablock) that activists fought to reinstate in the 2021 city budget. You can find out more information about the RFP process and how to apply at the city website. Mayor Durkan also announced she plans to allocate another $100m to BIPOC communities in her 2022 proposed budget.
Paul Kiefer of Publicola looks at an interesting option regarding Seattle’s consent decree: the city is allowed to propose a revision to the consent decree.
In order to propose a revision to the consent decree, the mayor and the council would need to agree about the goals and details of the change. Some simpler changes, like replacing out-of-date and ineffective technology used to flag officers who are more likely to use excessive force, would only require the city to identify better software; others, like adjusting the consent decree to require a large-scale civilian crisis response program, would require lengthier debates and pilot programs to produce a workable proposal for the court and DOJ.
In the article, CM Herbold goes on the record saying she would support changing the consent decree but would like the CPC and community groups who had originally advocated for the consent decree to be the ones deciding how it should be changed. However, there are limits to how much the consent decree could be changed in this fashion, and meanwhile, we have a Monitor who “believes that he can’t dictate the terms the city agrees to in its next contract with SPOG,” leaving some obstacles to compliance with the decree firmly in place

Election News

This year we have several interesting races on the county level here in King County. County Executive Dow Constantine has his first credible challenger for a long time in state Senator Joe Nguyen, who is running to his left. Several of the county council members are also being challenged this year. These council members will have some influence on how the King County Sheriff job changes next year, as well as the ability to provide more support to OLEO, King County’s oversight body. You can check out the most promising bids and the money that has been raised so far in these races.
Hope you have a great weekend!

Recent Headlines

Lots of Seattle news for your Friday evening Read More »

The tortured SPD budget bill fails to pass

We had a particularly eventful Seattle City Council meeting yesterday afternoon, with votes on both the participatory budgeting legislation and the SPD budget bill.

Amy Sundberg
Happy June! Let’s see what’s happening at the Seattle Council Briefing, shall we?
Amy Sundberg
Popping my head into this afternoon’s Seattle City Council meeting, the public comment period has been extended to 60 minutes. Pleased so many people are taking the time to speak up today!

 

The participatory budgeting bill, which releases about $1m to the Office of Civil Rights to create three new positions to support the PB process and conduct the search for the third-party organization that will administer PB, passed unanimously. We can expect that third party to be chosen and hired by the end of the year and for the participatory budgeting process to begin in earnest in 2022, beginning with the brainstorming of ideas , the development of projects, and hopefully voting to happen around summertime 2022.
The SPD budget bill had spent several torturous months in committee before being finally brought to the full council for a vote with a recommendation of “Do Not Pass,” which means more CMs voted against it than for it in committee. The bill was originally intended to cut $5.4m from SPD’s 2021 budget after the department overspent by that amount in 2020. After SPD declared they were in a “staffing crisis” and both Judge Robart and Police Monitor Oftelie spoke against any cuts to the SPD budget, CM Herbold began changing the bill, seeking to find compromise. While emphasizing that SPD’s 2021 staffing plan was already and had always been fully funded, she reduced the cut to the department to $2m, which was to go to participatory budgeting, with the remainder to go to various priorities identified by SPD and the auditor, while also releasing another proviso.
CM Lewis complicated the bill further by introducing an amendment that would take the $2m from participatory budgeting and instead allocate it to the JustCARE program that addresses homelessness. He sees JustCARE as a great example of a community-based alternative for public safety that should be funded by money taken from the police department. Worried that the Council may be losing momentum, his hope was to get additional money to JustCARE more quickly than the PB timeline would allow, and also perhaps to tee up the idea of a dual stream of investments to both participatory budgeting and community alternatives for fall budget talks. His amendment passed 5-4, with Strauss, Lewis, Mosqueda, Herbold, and Juarez voting yes.
However, the SPD budget bill was ultimately voted down, with CMs having extremely different reasons for not supporting it. The final vote was 6-3 against, with Strauss, Mosqueda, Pedersen, Sawant, González, and Morales voting against the bill. This means the status quo is maintained, the provisos aren’t lifted, and SPD still can’t spend the $7.5m that had been in question, nor has that money been reallocated to other purposes.

Seattle Election News

We’ve gotten some more information about those mayoral election polls from the González and Farrell campaigns and a prediction about how the Seattle races this year might go. One point of agreement is the likelihood that Bruce Harrell will make it through the primary as one of the two candidates for Seattle mayor in the general election.
There’s been a lot of talk about this being “the year of the outsider” in elections, but for all that, the only true political outsider in the Seattle mayor elections in the top six candidates is probably Andrew Grant Houston. In the race for City Council seat 9, the only candidate who hasn’t worked as a staff member for a previous council member is Nikkita Oliver. It is uncertain how important this perception of being an outsider will actually be to election results. This election could also potentially be a test of the power of labor unions in the city, who are thus far strongly backing CP González in her run for mayor.

Recent Headlines

A year after George Floyd’s murder, we can’t stop before we have the ‘presence of justice’ | The Seattle Times

KUOW - One year after the murder of George Floyd, are promises to defund Seattle Police being kept?

The tortured SPD budget bill fails to pass Read More »