January 2023

Budget Decisions Come Home to Roost

 Seattle News

 

A recent article in My Northwest reported that money is not the reason SPD officers are leaving the department. In fact, in exit interviews 60% of departing officers stated their salary was competitive, and around another 20% stated their salary would have been sufficient if not for the “additional hurdles” of being a cop in Seattle. With 60% of the analyzed exit interviews being because of retirement as opposed to resignations, and given the trend of lower staffing in police departments across the country, it appears another factor in SPD’s current staffing trends might be demographic: there are simply a lot of officers who have reached retirement age.

In tragic news, an officer driving a patrol SUV struck and killed a twenty-three-year-old woman on Monday evening. SPD’s account of what took place is unclear, but it sounds like it’s possible the officer didn’t stop after hitting the woman, as the SPD Blotter states, “Just after 08:00 p.m., officers arrived and located the 23-year-old female victim with life-threatening injuries.” Erica C. Barnett reported on Twitter that the intersection where this fatal crash took place was the site of a long-planned protected intersection that the Mayor and SDOT put on hold last year.

I bring up that last point because it’s important to remember that budget decisions have real-world consequences. It’s easy to get caught up in the weeds of process and politics and forget to link the process to its later impacts. But the reality is, the 2023 budget prioritizes items like hiring incentives for police officers and sweeping those who are houseless while defunding pedestrian and biker safety projects and food assistance programs. 

Meanwhile, Seattle city election news continues apace as more candidates for City Council announce their runs. We have more new candidates running in D3 along with Joy Hollingsworth, who is shaping up to be the business candidate: first-time candidate Ry Armstrong and Andrew Ashifou, a Black immigrant with experience being homeless who intends to run from a renter’s perspective. On Ashifou’s views on public safety, The Stranger reports:

Ashiofu envisions a public safety system that offloads police responsibilities to unarmed responders. To fund those programs, he’d funnel money out of the Seattle Police Department (SPD) budget and into alternatives such as REACH and other social worker nonprofits. 

Meanwhile, there’s talk of a potential socialist slate to run for the seven open City Council seats, but it’s still early days in this election season, and it’s too soon to say how the various races will shape up.

WA State Legislature News

HB 1025, a bill concerning civil liability for police and HB 1445, a bill that would give the state’s Attorney General powers of investigation & reform both received their first public hearings today. HB 1024, which would enact a minimum wage for prison labor, has been sent to appropriations. HB 1513, the traffic stops bill, hasn’t had its public hearing yet, but the ACLU WA has already written in its support

HB 1363, the high speed vehicular pursuit bill, will have its first public hearing on Tuesday, January 31. 

Currently enjoying bipartisan support, SB 5361 has been making some waves this week. This bill would allow municipalities to enact a sales and use tax of 0.10% to be used to fund law enforcement and public safety. If the jurisdiction in question does not meet a certain per capita officer rate that is tied to national rates, the proceeds from this tax would be required to go to hiring officers. If it does meet the specified rate, then the proceeds could be used for a few additional uses such as domestic violence programs. 

This bill is using a regressive sales tax that disproportionately impacts those with lower incomes to fund further investments in law enforcement, even though evidence suggests more officers do not tend to meaningfully reduce crime rates. Further, because crime rates are directly reported by police departments, they are open to manipulation, and many crimes aren’t counted, either because of low reporting rates or because officers choose not to pursue them. And as previously discussed, money doesn’t appear to be the main barrier in hiring more officers in any case. Meanwhile, we are struggling with a housing crisis, fentanyl overdose numbers continue to rise, our public education system continues to suffer from underfunding, and people are unable to access health care. None of these problems would be meaningfully addressed by hiring more police.

There will be a vote in the Senate about this bill tomorrow morning, January 26. If you want to email key legislators on the Senate Law & Justice committee to let them know your thoughts on this bill, there are instructions on how to do so, as well as a suggested script, here.

The Washington Supreme Court will be hearing oral arguments about the capital gains tax tomorrow. The Court’s final ruling on this legislation, likely to be delivered sometime this spring, will have huge impacts on Washington State’s tax policy in the future.

King County News

Both King County Councilmember Joe McDermott and Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles have announced they do not intend to run for re-election this year, meaning there will be a few more interesting elections to watch this fall.

Meanwhile, King County’s new prosecutor Leesa Manion has announced a new gun violence prevention unit and a new division focused on gender-based violence. As the Seattle Times reports:Manion said the office plans to expand the efforts of a Harborview Medical Center pilot program that offers services to people who have been harmed by proximity to gun violence.” Canny readers will remember this program is partially funded by the City of Seattle; CM Herbold asked for additional funding in the 2023 budget to start a new pilot program to expand its age range and received about half of what she requested.

Recent Headlines

Budget Decisions Come Home to Roost Read More »

Record Deaths of Unhoused People in King County in 2022

WA State Legislature News:

Last week, The Stranger ran an excellent series by Will Casey covering some issues facing lawmakers during this legislative session:

HB 1025, a bill concerning civil liability for police, and HB 1445, a bill that would give the state’s Attorney General powers of investigation & reform similar in some respects to those powers currently enjoyed by the federal Department of Justice, are expected to have their first hearings next week. HB 1087, the solitary confinement bill, was heard in committee last week and is potentially scheduled for executive session on Friday. We’re still waiting for word on the traffic stops and independent prosecutor bills, as well as the bills dealing with the aftermath of the Blake decision. There is also talk about a new bill dealing with high speed vehicular pursuits by police that might undo the new standard adopted by the legislature in 2021, which has reduced deaths due to vehicular pursuit by 73%.

Other bills I’m watching with interest include HB 1024, which would enact a minimum wage for prison labor; HB 1110, known as the middle housing bill; HB 1045 to start a basic income pilot program for the state; and SB 5383 and companion bill HB 1428 to decriminalize jaywalking. For a great overview of how to participate in this state legislative session, as well as more details about the jaywalking bill, you can check out The Urbanist’s writeup here.

Seattle and King County News:

In tragic news, King County set a painful record in 2022: 310 people died while unhoused across King County. This represents a 65% increase in deaths from 2021, and more than half of the reported deaths were due to fentanyl-related fatal overdoses. 

In Seattle City Council election news, Joy Hollingsworth, a cannabis farming entrepreneur, declared her candidacy for the seat in District 3. CM Sawant, who currently holds that seat, has not yet said whether she will seek re-election. Current CM for District 7 Andrew Lewis declared he will seek re-election, and The Seattle Times reports he said the most pressing issue facing the city is crime, which seems like an attempt to make things more difficult for his challengers from the right.

Last week there was a town hall held at Rainier Beach High School, which included students discussing their safety concerns and how their school is neglected when it comes to budgeting decisions in the district.

The CHOP business owners’ lawsuit against the city of Seattle continues, and the presiding Judge has ruled about what to do in the matter of those critical missing text messages. As Kevin Schofield writes: 

…he found that some of the messages had been knowingly deleted and that it prejudiced the city’s ability to provide a defense; he granted the city the right to present evidence to a jury about those deleted messages. More significantly, he found substantial circumstantial evidence that several city officials had deleted messages with intent to deprive the plainitffs of those messages, and that too was prejudicial. Zilly considered whether to decide the case in the plaintiffs’ favor on that basis alone, given that the messages were between Mayor Durkan, SPD Chief Best, and SFD Chief Skoggins, but he decided that would be too extreme a remedy. Instead, he will allow the plaintiffs to present evidence to the jury about the deleted messages, and he will deliver an instruction to the jury that they may presume the deleted messages were unfavorable to the city.

Recent Headlines:

Record Deaths of Unhoused People in King County in 2022 Read More »

Recent Drop in Violent Crime Takes the Wind out of Fearmongers’ Sails

We’ve Moved!

As you know, I’ve been working on finding a new home for Notes from the Emerald City. And here’s what I’ve got for you!

Newsletter subscribers will continue to receive every issue emailed to them through Substack. Yes, I have feelings about Substack. Yes, this is the compromise I referenced having to make last week. But you as the readers should experience a seamless transition. 

But there’s more! There is now an official WEBSITE of Notes from the Emerald City. I am really excited about this because it provides a searchable archive of all the articles I’ve written. I’m also tagging posts with relevant topics, a process that I expect to become more fine-tuned over time. I hope this will make Notes from the Emerald City even more useful as a community resource. I used it just this weekend to quickly pull up recent SPD staffing numbers, and it worked beautifully.

For those of you who had paid subscriptions in the past, I have new options for you! You can set up a monthly subscription payment through either Patreon or Paypal. You can also give one-time donations through Paypal. (This same information can be found on the new website’s Donate page.)

If you have any trouble with the transition, please don’t hesitate to reach out and I’ll do my best to get you sorted.

Seattle News

Speaking of those SPD staffing numbers, let’s talk about Danny Westneat’s recent column in the Seattle Times: Seattle’s pandemic crime fever may finally be breaking. I’m glad it’s finally becoming mainstream to admit that the increase in certain types of violence we’ve seen over the past few years is very probably closely related to living through a historical and deadly global pandemic. Westneat reports that violent crime started dropping in October, and December saw the fewest number of violent crimes reported since March 2020. 

It is important to note that while violent crime is now dropping, SPD staffing of officers in service was significantly lower in October of 2022 than it was in 2019 before the pandemic, or even in 2020. This is a powerful argument against the story that “defunding the police” or even just run-of-the-mill staffing woes caused the spike in violence. 

graph of SPD staffing showing a drop from a bit over 1200 officers in service in 2019 to a bit under 1000 officers in service in 2022 YTD.
Slide from SPD budget presentation given in October of 2022

As for media’s incessant fear-mongering over crime throughout 2021 and 2022, which we’re already seeing being walked back by the likes of a Walmart executive saying they might have cried too much over retail theft last year, what reflections does Westneat offer? “Crime going up is a story that grabs you; crime going down will either be ho-hummed or outright disbelieved, especially by Seattle’s many national critics. It’s also one of the riskier stories one can do in the news business, as the next big shooting or killing, which is certainly coming, will make me look like an idiot.” Translation: don’t expect improvement in the quality of the media discourse any time soon. 

Today’s Public Safety and Human Resources committee meeting was unavailable to watch due to technical difficulties at the Seattle Channel, but you can read about OIG’s 2023 work plan here and here. They are gearing up to take over some of the SPD monitoring duties currently covered by the Court Monitor and his team as Mayor Harrell continues to try to maneuver the city out of a consent decree that has now lasted more than ten years. Given their staffing difficulties, it remains to be seen how taking over some of these duties will affect the organization as a whole.

A head’s up that SPOG President Mike Solan is almost finished serving his three-year term that began in March of 2020. Mike Solan ran against incumbent Kevin Stuckey and won in what Seattle Times referred to as a “landslide vote” of more than 500 out of 750 total votes. Mike Solan made the news in 2021 when he blamed the January 6th insurrection on Black Lives matter protesters, prompting 8 out of 9 city councilmembers (all but CP Juarez) to call for his resignation. 

Matthew Mitnick, a member of Seattle’s Human Rights Commission who is running for the open councilmember seat in District 4, announced that at their Feburary 2nd meeting, the HRC will be seeking amicus status with the federal court overseeing the consent decree. About this decision, he says on Twitter, “The only way to inform the court about what is actually happening here is by allowing those most impacted by police violence to speak out.” The HRC has been trying to take this step since last year, which ultimately resulted in several members resigning in protest in the fall. 

Meanwhile, the City of Seattle has been named in a lawsuit claiming its anti-graffiti statute is unconstitutional and that the SPD selectively enforce it against those creating anti-police graffiti. 

WA State News

The Washington State legislative session began yesterday, huzzah!

Legislators are attending a public hearing this afternoon on HB 1087, the bill that would ban long-term solitary confinement. It might be too late by the time you read this to do the quick bill signing on PRO that you may remember from prior years, but it is never too late to email the legislators on the appropriate committee to tell them you support it.

Kari Plog reports that the state’s new Office of Independent Investigations, which was supposed to start reviewing cases last July, has only filled 15 of its 80 positions. There is no timeline on when they will have enough staff to actually begin conducting investigations. 

National News

The Guardian reported that killings by US police reached a record high last year; at least 1,176 people were killed by police in 2022, which comes out to more than 3 people every day of the year. Only 31% of the incidents leading to the killing began with an alleged violent crime. Racial disparities in who is getting killed by police also remain, with Black people making up 24% of those killed by police while only being 13% of the general population. 

Recent Headlines

Recent Drop in Violent Crime Takes the Wind out of Fearmongers’ Sails Read More »

The Ongoing Crisis at the King County Jail

King County News

News broke a few weeks ago about Michael Rowland, a Black homeless man experiencing a mental health crisis who died in the King County Jail on April 19th of last year after being put into the prone position twice, once by SPD officers when they arrested him and again by corrections officers at the jail. There is research showing that using the prone position can be dangerous, for example by increasing the chances of cardiac arrest. As Sydney Brownstone and Greg Kim write:

Rowland’s death probably should have been classified as a homicide, according to Maastricht University professor of forensic medicine Dr. Michael Freeman, who reviewed the autopsy report at the request of The Seattle Times.

Also exposed in this article is the fact that two days after Rowland’s death, Tim Burgess, the director of strategic initiatives for the Mayor’s Office, complained that the jail was refusing to book people whose medical issues could be handled in the jail: 

“I’m fearful,” Burgess wrote, “that I will hear next that an arrestee has a hangnail and is declined.”

The King County Jail has been dodged by problems in recent months. The jail has experienced an extremely high rate of suicide since 2020, along with severe understaffing. Nor was it following a 2021 state law requiring it to publicly post analyses of unexpected jail deaths within 120 days until a Seattle Times article revealed this failure. It was also without potable water for a month last fall. 

In the summer of 2020, Executive Dow Constantine said the following in his State of the County address:

 

Completed in 1986, the King County Correctional Center is decrepit and expensive to operate, and its physical layout does not lend itself to behavioral health and other care…We must reimagine King County’s downtown Seattle campus in light of the realities today. And the old jail must at some point come down. As we prepare the budget later this year,  I intend to propose a phased closing of the King County Correctional Center after the pandemic.

WA State News


The 2023 state legislative session begins next week! Possibly on the docket include bills that would ban solitary confinement, reduce stops for low-level traffic violations, establish an independent prosecutor for the state, allow the Attorney General to investigate and sue police departments illustrating patterns of misconduct, remove qualified immunity, and eliminate the jaywalking law. We will also see legislators continue to grapple with addressing the Blake decision; at least two bills will be introduced for this purpose, one of which will focus on decriminalizing drug possession as well as providing treatment.

A few upcoming dates: Friday, February 17 is the policy committee cutoff; a bill must be passed from its policy committee by this date. Friday, February 24 is the fiscal committee cutoff, when a bill must be passed through any necessary financial committee. And Wednesday, March 8 is the deadline for bills passing out of their house of origin. Legislative sessions in Washington alternate between long and short sessions, and this year we have a long one, so that means there will be continuing action in Olympia until April 24.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson released his office’s legal opinions of questions relating to 2021’s bills 1310 and 1054, both of which have generated controversy in spite of being fairly mild. 1054 banned police use of chokeholds and neck restraints, while 1310 required de-escalation if possible and limited officer use of force in some situations. 1310 was partially rolled back last year after pushback from police departments and police unions. Ferguson prefaces his remarks on the legal interpretation of the laws by stating: 

As we noted in our previous Opinion addressing the first three questions, the answers to your questions are extremely difficult because reasonable minds disagree about the correct legal conclusions. We provide legal answers for them here, but must acknowledge that these answers are debatable and uncertain.

Tina Podlodowski is stepping down as Chair of the WA State Democrats, and Shasti Conrad, a two-term Chair of the King County Democrats,  has announced her candidacy.

Seattle News

This week has been a relatively slow news week for Seattle, but there are a few items of note. First, the City Council finally confirmed Adrian Diaz as SPD’s Chief. He has been serving as Interim Chief since Carmen Best resigned in 2020.

And second, CM Pedersen has announced he will not be running for a second term, making him the third councilmember with intentions of leaving at the end of the year, along with CM Herbold and CP Juarez. The remaining four councilmembers whose terms end this year have not yet announced their plans.

Recent Headlines

 

The Ongoing Crisis at the King County Jail Read More »