March 2022

Alternate Response in Seattle Meets Another Hurdle

Seattle News

Amy Sundberg
Good news at today’s Seattle’s Public Safety committee meeting this morning. There will be a public forum with the finalists for the OPA Director position. This wasn’t originally going to be part of the process, but it has been added.
Seattle’s Public Safety and Human Services committee met on Tuesday morning and discussed two items of interest.
First they discussed the process by which the City will hire a new Director of the OPA. As suggested by CM Mosqueda two weeks ago, a public forum was added to meet with the three finalists for the position, tentatively listed as being on June 23. The other change announced was that the search would be conducted by the City’s HR instead of an outside firm. As we’ve seen throughout former Director Myerbeg’s tenure, the OPA Director really sets the tone for the OPA as an organization, so this is a significant appointment. It’s also worth noting the current interim Director, Dr. Gráinne Perkins, spent fifteen years as an operational police officer and did her thesis work on “the risk and danger encountered by members of the South African Police Service in their daily routines.”
Amy Sundberg
Also at this morning’s Seattle’s Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting is the presentation of SPD’s 2022 Strategic Plan by interim Chief Diaz and COO Maxey. You can see the plan here:
You can read SPD’s 2022 Strategic Plan here, but as The Stranger‘s article about it states, only ten pages of the twenty-seven-page plan actually discusses any plans SPD has for 2022, so you can probably skip it. The bulk of the SPD’s presentation on Tuesday was about the Equity, Accountability, and Quality program (EAQ), which is a program that uses statistical modeling to look for systemic issues and patterns of disparity in police officers’ daily interactions. It’s a program with multiple components, and no materials about it were circulated before (or after) the presentation, although Chief Operating Officer Brian Maxey said there would be another more in-depth presentation later. There are concerning implications of this program, but it’s hard to draw any conclusions from the information given, so I will be interested to hear more details.
Perhaps most troubling during the overall presentation was Brian Maxey’s answer to CM Herbold’s question about the SPD’s analytical work related to 911 calls to identify call types that don’t require sworn officer response. He said they’d be presenting a more granular report at the end of Q1 (which is practically upon us), and he also said as a result of this work, the city will be providing a service currently not being served rather than supplanting officer work.
If you recall, the analytical work being done now was in response to the report the department paid NICJR to conduct that found 49% of 911 calls currently handled by SPD could be handled by organizations other than SPD. SPD immediately pushed back, saying they could only identify 12% of calls they were confident could be answered with an alternate response. They said they needed to do a further analysis themselves to do a risk assessment and create appropriate dispatch protocols. That the first news we hear about this analysis is that officer work will not be supplanted does not bode well for the department’s willingness to offload some of their work to alternate responders like mental health professionals, social workers and case managers, and other civilians.
The only pushback to this announcement at the meeting came from CM Mosqueda, who suggested this evaluation should be done with an outside party. While it does seem it was perhaps asking too much for SPD to do this analysis by themselves in a non-biased way, we’re here in the first place because of recommendations by an outside agency that the SPD said they couldn’t implement without further study. If nothing else, the SPD has been doing a wonderful job stalling any significant alternate response from being stood up in a timely fashion, which serves both them as an institution and their officers more than it serves the community who has been asking for a more robust alternate response for over two and a half years now.
Also this week, the OIG released wave 2 of their sentinel event report of police response to 2020 protests, this one covering June 2-7, 2020. This report has not yet been presented at a committee meeting. As Paul Kiefer reports, one of the key findings is a persistent lack of trust between a portion of the public and SPD. How SPD could address this lack of trust given their behavior in 2020 and the lack of accountability with which much of that behavior has been met is an open question. The report also offers two dozen suggestions to improve SPD’s protest response planning.
Meanwhile, at UW, the university recently expanded its existing civilian responder program with a team to respond to non-criminal emergency calls and removed armed police patrols from its dorms, replacing them with a combination of in-house social workers and campus safety responders. In response, sworn officers filed an unfair labor practice complaint, saying it was a violation of their contract for the university to hand over some of their responsibilities to a new team of employees. Publicola reported on the outcome:
PERC sided with the university, ruling that the decision to use civilians instead of sworn officers to patrol the dorms has a “limited impact” on the police officers themselves—an impact, they wrote, that is outweighed by UW’s “compelling interest” in rethinking how it approaches campus safety. According to the ruling, the change did not require UW to lay off or cut the pay of any police officers, nor did it reduce opportunities for the officers to work overtime.
Officials in Seattle government could potentially use this ruling as an argument in favor of the legality of creating more alternate response from non-sworn officers who don’t carry a gun.
And lastly, yesterday CM Nelson put forward a resolution to support the development of an SPD staffing incentives program, which rated its own press release including support from CP Juarez. That this resolution should be coming from someone other than the Chair of the Public Safety Committee seems a bit strange, especially as any related legislation would normally move through that body before coming to a final vote at Full Council.

WA State News

Late last week Governor Inslee signed 2037 into law.
We also have more salacious news about WA’s redistricting panel. Not only did the panel violate the state’s Open Public Meetings Act, it now appears dozens of relevant text messages were not released as public records to Crosscut when they should have been, and some of these texts may have been deleted. As Melissa Santos reports:
The withheld text messages show a much deeper level of coordination between state lawmakers, legislative staffers and the Redistricting Commission than what was shown in the records the commission previously released.
State Representative Pollet is considering the possibility of filing a Public Records Act lawsuit in response.

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A Grab Bag of Public Safety News

WA State Legislative News

I wrote last week that both 2037 and 5919 would be sent to the Governor to be signed, and in this case I am happy to be wrong! 5919 was killed at the last minute during concurrence in the Senate. The bill was moved for concurrence by Republicans three separate times, and each time the motion was voted down. Both Senator Pedersen and Senator Dhingra were instrumental in halting this legislation.
Therefore only 2037 (the bill pertaining to Terry stops) has proceeded to the Governor’s desk. The Washington Coalition for Police Accountability has sent Governor Inslee a comprehensive letter asking him to veto section 3 of the bill. If you’d like information to help you send your own letter, you can find it here.
While it was disappointing that we could not make further strides towards equitable public safety during this session, it is noteworthy that of several harmful bills that would have rolled previous reforms back, only one made it through the entire session.

Seattle News

Carolyn Bick broke the news on Twitter late last week that OIG Deputy Inspector General Amy Tsai is leaving the OIG to take a job with the City of Redmond. Tsai was involved in aspects of the whistleblower complaint in OIG, and it’s interesting that both she and Andrew Myerberg left their positions within a couple months of one another. Now Seattle will be replacing two senior positions within its police accountability system this year.
The CPC continues to struggle to reach quorum at their meetings, hampering their ability to conduct business. Interestingly, CP Juarez has been sending a representative from her office to CPC meetings since her election as Council President. The OPA has no response to the CPC on the letter they wrote regarding the Proud Boys “ruse” incident and says any response will be completely SPD-driven.
The Seattle Times had an article last week with the following headline that says it all: “Harrell says he ‘inherited a mess,’ will solve crime issues by putting arrests first, social services second.” In spite of the fact that Harrell was on the City Council from 2007 to 2019, including as Council President for the last four years (and interim Mayor to boot!), so far his political strategy of passing the buck (and all the blame) for today’s problems, many of which were being addressed during his tenure, onto Mayor Durkan seems to be working.
City Attorney Davison announced a new initiative this week to address 118 repeat offenders, to either book them in jail or refer them to mental health or addiction treatment services. She has made a deal with the King County Jail to book these individuals even if they are arrested for a non-violent offense (in COVID times the jail no longer books routinely for these kinds of cases). However, this plan might run into a roadblock since service providers probably lack the necessary capacity to take on so many new cases.
SPD had a plan to crack down on “disorderly conduct” near transit stops along Third Avenue, but Mayor Harrell put it on hold on Wednesday before it took effect. The cause of this delay is not entirely clear, although a spokesperson for the Mayor, Jamie Housen, said it was “to allow more time to reset norms and to evaluate what enforcement strategy is most appropriate and effective.”
Meanwhile, City of Seattle employees are beginning to return to the office right as case numbers are rising significantly in Europe, which often presages a COVID wave in the United States. But don’t worry, they’ve installed protective barriers for workers who deal with the public. Apparently they haven’t yet received the memo that COVID is airborne….

A Grab Bag of Public Safety News Read More »

The WA Legislative Session Winds to a Disappointing End

WA State Legislature News

The two policing bills we’ve been following here rolling back reforms made in the 2021 session–2037 and 5919–both passed out of their second chamber largely unchanged on Friday and will now make their way to the Governor’s desk for a signature. There was very little debate about either of these bills on the floor before the vote. For 5919 in particular, lawmakers were seemingly not honest about this bill’s chances of making it to the floor, meaning an organized campaign against it was difficult to mount at the last minute. There is not much optimism at present about the ability to get further police reform bills through in upcoming legislative sessions either, and concern about even more rollbacks.
Not only were further improvements to police accountability tabled for this session, the legislature also failed to pass legislation reforming current sentencing laws, not to mention the failed solitary confinement bill that would have put to an end punishment used in Washington State that is internationally recognized as torture. The legislature were able to pass three bills pertaining to gun control.
Impacted families went above and beyond to speak to lawmakers both in 2021’s session and in this year’s session, sometimes re-traumatizing themselves in the process. The results show that many lawmakers weren’t truly listening to these personal stories, but were instead responding to the pressure created by the mass movement on the streets in 2020. Once that pressure was no longer as present, we can see how quickly they are allowing things to slip back to the status quo.
This year’s legislative session officially ends on Thursday.

Seattle News

Mayor Harrell held a public safety press conference last week, mostly to talk about “Operation New Day,” the administration’s latest effort in hot spot policing. In addition to the hot spot at 12th and Jackson, SPD is now also focusing on Third and Pine in the downtown corridor. So far, no social service providers are involved in this operation in spite of general agreement that the city cannot arrest its way out of its problems; Harrell said they are doing a general inventory of community-based organizations to make sure they are aligned with his vision. In the meantime, SPD has made many felony and misdemeanor arrests.
The Seattle City Council passed legislation last week that retroactively authorized a hiring bonus program for 911 dispatchers and SPD officers for the month of January, during which $220k was spent. The legislation says: “on February 4, 2022, Senior Deputy Mayor Monisha Harrell, sent an e-mail to Councilmembers that indicated, “unbeknownst to the Harrell Administration,” the SPD and CSCC “continued to offer incentive bonuses throughout the entire month of January,” and that they “have since directed both SPD and CSCC to cease offering the bonuses immediately,””
At today’s Public Safety committee meeting, Senior Deputy Mayor Monisha Harrell came to speak about the appointment process for the new Director of the OPA. Their goal is to have 4-6 final candidates identified for interviews by May 27, and a final decision by the Mayor on the new director by June 30. This timeline is extended past that specified in the City’s accountability legislation, but CM Herbold supports the proposal and will act to make it possible.
A search committee will be formed to aid in this process. It must consist of 25% CPC members and have a CPC member as co-chair. Senior Deputy Mayor Harrell said they are also hoping to have community members serve on this committee, as well as at least one CM.
As part of the interview process, the 4-6 final candidates will receive written assessment questions, and their answers will be made available to the public. CM Mosqueda asked if there would also be an opportunity to conduct community forums so community has a chance to interact with the final candidates.While this wasn’t part of the original plan, Senior Deputy Mayor Harrell sounded like she was amenable to adding it. Given that King County community members were given this opportunity to hear and speak with the final candidates for the OLEO Director position, one hopes Seattle residents will be given a similar opportunity for such an important position.
This process will be discussed further at the next Public Safety committee meeting in two weeks.
Carolyn Bick has a new article out today in the South Seattle Emerald revealing more abuses within Seattle’s police accountability system. They report that it appears clear that the City is, in some capacity, currently investigating Andrew Myerberg, the former Director of the OPA and now the Mayor’s Director of Public Safety. They also report extensively on the labyrinth of confusion navigated by lawyer Sarah Lippek, who in 2021 made one complaint to the OPA and two complaints to the OIG, none of which have been resolved and all of which are confusing in how they’ve been pursued (or failed to be pursued, as the case may be). The Seattle Department of Human Resources and the Seattle City Attorney’s Office are also involved, as is outside firm Seyfarth Shaw, rumored for the last several decades to be notorious for union busting.
All of this begs the question: if this lawyer is having such difficulty navigating the system, (you can read the article for many examples of how dysfunctional these bodies’ email communications alone appear to be), how would a normal private citizen have any hope whatsoever of gaining real accountability from Seattle’s system as it currently exists?

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