April 2023

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

Hunger Games in the King County budget? Read More »

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

The Homelessness-Jail Cycle Read More »

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

Disproportionate Incarceration is Alive and Well in King County Read More »

“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

 

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