June 2022

The Fight Over a Seattle Alternative Response Pilot Continues

Seattle News

Yesterday morning Seattle’s Public Safety and Human Resources committee received their long-awaited update from the Mayor’s Office regarding the development of alternative responses in Seattle.

Amy Sundberg
Good morning, and welcome to Seattle’s Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting. CM Mosqueda is excused from this meeting.
And the news, while not surprising, was not good. The Mayor’s Office continues to drag their feet on standing up any kind of pilot for alternative response like other similar cities have already done. Indeed, other cities’ alternative response have had time to launch pilots and begin to scale up their programs in the time it has taken Seattle to…string together a lot of empty words. The Mayor’s Office said they expect SPD’s risk management report any day now, and promised to share it with City Council very quickly…which turned out to mean in August, at least a full month after its expected receipt. CM Herbold asked for this to happen at the end of July instead.
Both CM Herbold and CM Lewis pushed multiple times for more urgency in this work, although their arguments seemed to have little visible impact on Senior Deputy Mayor Harrell and Director of Public Safety Andrew Myerberg. The white paper regarding standing up a third public safety department was once again referenced as being expected “by the end of the year”, with no apparent plans for any pilot program in the meantime. CM Lewis said he’d had a pilot priced out, and it would only cost $700k-$1m, which is a drop in the bucket of Seattle’s overall budget.
Council members also pushed for CSOs (Community Service Officers) to potentially be given the task of answering certain low-acuity 911 calls, at which point we learned the hiring pipeline for CSOs is apparently having difficulty. CM Lewis cautioned against giving the CSOs work that didn’t fit with their “culture” of being a police auxiliary, but CM Herbold shared the news that this culture has shifted since last year, and there is now more diversity of opinion within the CSO unit as to what their duties should entail and perhaps even where they might best be housed. Moving the CSOs out of SPD so they are able to develop their own culture separate from SPD matches more closely to what many advocates have been asking for when it comes to alternative response.
Meanwhile, while the Mayor’s Office has promised to work together with City Council’s Central Staff on these issues, it came out that the interdepartmental team (IDT) that would include Central Staff hasn’t been active, and they’re still working to put meeting dates on the calendar. You can read more about all these issues from Will Casey at The Stranger.
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The meeting also featured a presentation on the new 988 behavioral crisis system, which launches on July 16. It is being handled by King County Behavioral Health and Crisis Connections, with opportunities for partnership with Seattle. They have a three step plan for implementing the 988 vision: first, making sure the state hotline is fielding 90% of calls by next year; next, that 80% have access to a rapid crisis response by 2025; and lastly that 80% have access to community-based crisis care by 2027. There has been some money allocated to help make this happen. However, the mobile crisis team, while in the process of being doubled, is still quite small, and one of the biggest identified gaps in the system right now is the lack of enough mental health crisis facilities, so this development of a continuum of behavioral health supports is going to take time.
Meanwhile, Initiative 135 for social housing collected enough signatures to go onto November’s ballot…hopefully. They need 26,500 signatures and were able to collect 29,000, which doesn’t give much buffer should some of those signatures prove to be invalid. Cross fingers! Unfortunately Washington State Initiative Measure No. 1922, which would have decriminalized personal drug possession and provided funding for additional prevention, treatment, and recovery services, did not collect enough signatures to make the ballot this year.
Finally, Publicola‘s Erica Barnett published an article with a gem of a headline this week: Times Columnist Wants Seattle to Have So Many Cops, They’ll Rush Across Town to Arrest IPhone Thieves.

Nationwide News

CBS released a news story this week that everyone is talking about. They reviewed US murder clearance rate statistics from the FBI and found that the rate for 2020 was at around 50%, its lowest rate in more than fifty years. Murders involving Black and Hispanic victims were much less likely to be solved than those involving white victims during this time. While the usual culprits of not enough police staffing and backlogged courts are blamed for this low rate, CBS’s story says that “police are also contending with a breakdown in trust between their officers and the communities they serve, a result of decades of tensions that spilled over during high-profile cases of police misconduct in recent years.”

Recent Headlines

The Bright Side of SPD's Staffing Shortage - The Stranger

Seattle Might Soon Defund a Promising Police Alternative - The Stranger

The King County Jail knew these bunks were a suicide risk. And still, more people died | The Seattle Times

Seattle police officers won’t march in Pride Parade, frustrated chief says | The Seattle Times

The Fight Over a Seattle Alternative Response Pilot Continues Read More »

The JumpStart Tax Stands

Seattle News

The City of Seattle won its most recent legal battle over the JumpStart tax this week, which means they can continue to levy it. This is particularly crucial given the City’s $117m projected revenue shortfall for 2023, as Seattle Times‘s Sarah Grace Taylor recently reported:
But another large part of making 2023 work will likely be asking the council to free up money earmarked for specific causes — like the Jumpstart tax — to cover general expenditures.
You may recall that JumpStart tax revenue expenditures were a major source of conflict in last year’s budget, with then-Mayor Durkan allocating them away from the Council’s spending plan, and the Council yanking the money back to be spent as originally intended. With such a large revenue shortfall, however, we could see a different outcome in this budget season.
The public inquest into the wrongful death of Charleena Lyles has begun and will run through July 6. In spite of attempted opposition, this inquest is available for the public to watch via streaming.
Carolyn Bick continues their excellent reporting into problems at Seattle’s Office of Police Accountability (OPA) and Office of the Inspector General (OIG):
The Emerald has obtained multiple documents that show that former Office of Police Accountability (OPA) Dir. Andrew Myerberg appears to have withheld key information from the Office of Inspector General — the OPA’s accountability partner agency tasked with certifying OPA investigations — by submitting a case for certification and later adding information to the case report. In doing so, and in drawing conclusions from said information, Myerberg appears to have subverted not only the OPA’s own rules and procedures but also the City’s 2017 Accountability Ordinance.

Washington State News

It sounds like the $1.5m settlement paid out to the Nazi-sympathizing police officer in Kent might be drawing attention to the realities of some of the problems with police accountability in Washington State. Depending on how elections go this fall, we could see a renewed effort during the next session of the state legislature to address some of the problems with officer discipline. One potential vehicle for this, SB 5677, which you may remember me discussing at the beginning of the year, “would require municipalities to establish procedures that meet a set of minimum standards for receiving complaints and conducting investigations regarding “serious misconduct” by police officers.”

Recent Headlines

The Washington post - by Alec Karakatsanis

Seattle protester critically hurt by driver during BLM demonstration sues state, city, suspected driver | The Seattle Times

WA attorney general seeks to require Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer to post $10,000 bail | The Seattle Times

The JumpStart Tax Stands Read More »

King County Able to Produce Risk Index of 911 Calls With Little Fuss, Unlike Seattle

Seattle News

The Seattle City Council’s final vote on the SPMA contract was delayed for a week to allow both CMs and community more time to understand the ramifications of this new contract. The CMs voted to approve this contract yesterday with an 8-0 vote (CM Sawant was not present.) You can read more about the new contract here.
The forum for the finalist candidates for OPA Director was changed from June 23 to June 8 with very little notice to the public. The Mayor’s Office didn’t tell CMs about the new forum date until late the preceding Friday, when such details were likely to slip through the cracks. After public complaint, the Mayor’s Office finally published a press release about the forum late on the day of June 7. People Power Washington has asked for the selection process to begin anew with greater community engagement. That being said, an announcement on the selected candidate is expected in early July.
At Tuesday’s Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting, CMs discussed SPD’s quarterly report on finances and overtime. SPD’s use of overtime is up, creating worries that the department will overspend their annual budget on overtime, something they have a history of doing. The bulk of overtime in the first quarter of the year was used for emphasis patrols, but as we move into the summer season, more overtime is typically used for big events. CMs asked questions related to the prioritization of officer hours and the possibility of transferring certain kinds of work to civilian workers.
We learned that SPD’s new scheduling and timekeeping software solution has run into implementation issues that have led SPD to decide not to deploy this solution after all, after spending many years working on this project. The original auditor’s report referencing this project came out, in fact, in 2016. SPD is now exploring a different software solution, and in the meantime continue with their abysmal timekeeping system. The SPD has also implemented a new call triage policy called Z-Disposition Clearing. Finally, 911 call response time is up.
CM Herbold announced that at the committee’s June 28 meeting, there will be a briefing on the next steps around the analysis of which 911 calls could be handled by alternative response. She said this report will be less about the outcome of the analysis and more focused on the process and who is involved and next steps. The length of time this analysis is taking is fascinating, particularly in light of the fact that the King County Auditor’s Office has already been able to create a risk index of 911 calls answered by the King County Sheriff’s Office. More on that in a bit.
Meanwhile, the City Council is also working on a new bill that would close a loophole in the police accountability system when complaints are lodged against the Police Chief; a substitute bill is expected to be introduced in an upcoming meeting. Will Casey’s article in The Stranger explains how the loophole played out following the 2020 protests:
What the OPA manual didn’t account for is what Mayor Durkan did next. Instead of following through on OPA’s recommendation to secure an outside investigator, Durkan did … nothing. By simply failing to act at all, she effectively covered up any alleged misconduct in which her police chief engaged for the rest of her term in office.

King County News

Also this week, the King County Auditor’s Office gave a presentation and delivered their report looking at racial disparities in arrests and use of force and looking into alternative response for King County.
In their work around alternative response, the Office produced their own risk index of 911 calls based on calls answered by the King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) over the last few years. They determined that 58% of these calls fall into the lowest-risk category of call outcomes and that about 15% of calls could be answered by an alternative response. They studied alternative response programs in Denver, Phoenix, Austin, and Albuquerque to develop a list of best practices the programs have in common. King County is currently working to develop a pilot alternative response program.
Regarding racial disparities, KCSO only collects racial data on about 4% of its service calls, which is obviously insufficient. From the small data set available, Black people are more likely to be arrested and more likely to be subject to use of force. White officers are also much more likely to use force. You can read more about this here. The Auditor’s Office recommended that KCSO begin collecting and analyzing data on all calls for service where an officer stops someone, begging the question as to why this wasn’t already being done.

Washington State News

Last week in a landmark decision, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that race and ethnicity must be taken into account when the police stop someone. As David Gutman wrote in The Seattle Times:
The court also clarified state law to say police have seized a person if an objective observer would conclude that the person was not free to leave or refuse a request. But, the court wrote, that “objective observer” must be aware that discrimination and biases “have resulted in disproportionate police contacts, investigative seizures, and uses of force against Black, Indigenous, and other people of color.”

Recent Headlines

Officers seek ban on video livestream of Charleena Lyles' inquest - Axios Seattle

Ex-Seattle police chief testifies she deleted text messages in bulk - Axios Seattle

Kent to pay $1.5 million to settle dispute with assistant police chief who displayed Nazi insignia | The Seattle Times

Assistant police chief gets $1.5 million settlement after displaying Nazi symbols - The Washington Post

Eight weeks of therapy, plus some cash, can change the lives of violent men - The Washington Post

Special edition: California elections roundup

King County Able to Produce Risk Index of 911 Calls With Little Fuss, Unlike Seattle Read More »

Final Vote on the SPMA Contract Tomorrow

SPMA Contract

Today at the Seattle Council Briefing, CMs heard a presentation on the new SPMA police union contract, on which they are scheduled to vote tomorrow.
Amy Sundberg
Good afternoon, and welcome to today’s Seattle Council Briefing. CM Sawant and CM Mosqueda are excused from today’s meeting.
I’ve already reported on the financial impacts of the new contract (bye bye, SPD salary savings), so now let’s talk about changes in accountability. You can read a summary of the accountability changes here. Included in these changes:
  • OPA and OIG will be able to exercise subpoena power since there is no bar to this in the contract
  • the definition of honesty has been changed in a favorable way
  • OPA investigation records will be retained for longer, even for those that involved complaints that were not sustained
  • an entire new “discipline review” process has been outlined that will fix some problems with arbitration, eliminates De Novo review, and is based around the “preponderance of evidence” standard
  • it makes changes to the 180-day clock, allows OPA to coordinate with criminal investigations, and changes limitations to OPA’s civilian investigators
  • it doesn’t explicitly require the City to bargain in order to make layoffs (although who gets laid off is determined by a specific set of rules that can’t be affected by the City Council; remember all the brouhaha about “out of order” layoffs? Yeah, that’s not a thing that is easy to make happen.)
Here are three specific things that aren’t changed in the new contract that advocates had hoped to see:
  • That OPA be allowed to refer and oversee criminal investigations as well as coordinate with these investigations
  • That complainants be given the ability to challenge disciplinary decisions, eitherin court or via some other process, so we can objectively see how the disciplinary process is working
  • That the primary source for disciplinary outcomes be publicly available so police officers understand the standards and the public can evaluate them; and further that there be some way to change these standards if expectations of the community regarding police officer conduct change
Also concerning is the lack of transparency and clear communication around this new contract. As a subject of significant public impact and interest, I would have expected to see more attempts to engage with the community and educate them on what the changes in the contract meant. Instead the only public discussion of the new contract took place today, twenty-four hours before the Full Council is scheduled to make a final vote on the contract. There was no public hearing on the contract, no passing through committee, no CPC community engagement meeting, and very little chance for the public to learn about the contract and give feedback. While CP Juarez made the point that this contract only affects 81 employees, this understates the importance of a contract that sets the stage for what might be achieved in the SPOG contract currently under negotiation.
In better news, hopefully the flood of emails the CMs received on this topic served to demonstrate that the public is in fact still deeply interested in police union contracts and in police accountability overall. The protests of 2020 may no longer be top of mind, but people have not forgotten.
If you would like to add to the flood before Tuesday at 2pm, you can use this action alert or quickly send this email. While a few of the provisions asked for in these letters are in fact met by the new contract, it is important for CMs to know how much these issues matter to the larger community so they continue to fight for greater accountability and more investment in community alternatives.

Seattle News

The rest of recent Seattle public safety news is kind of a hot mess:
To quote Will Casey in that last Stranger article:
Has anyone even asked if police are effective at solving crime? Yes. In fact, there’s a well-developed body of research showing they’re not. From the American Prospect: “Clearance rates have dropped to all-time lows at the same time that police budgets have swollen to all-time highs, suggesting that more funding has actually resulted in police being less effective.” I am slowly going insane watching nearly everyone in a position of power on this issue operate in a public safety debate increasingly detached from reality.
You’re not alone, Will.
Meanwhile, a recent nationwide Gallup poll shows that 78% of Americans still support the idea of promoting “community-based alternatives such as violence prevention” as part of changing how policing is done in this country. Seventy-eight percent. Community-based alternatives, alternate emergency response, and providing more behavioral health care and addiction services all continue to be incredibly popular, both locally and around the country.

Recent Headlines

New Hope for People with a Criminal Record in Washington - The Stranger

Uvalde Shooting: A Case for Defunding the Police and Disarming Teens | Teen Vogue

Prison Reform Is Undermining Public Health and Safety | Time

Final Vote on the SPMA Contract Tomorrow Read More »