July 2023

Blue Flu as a Negotiation Tactic

Seattle News:

There’s been a lot of speculation this week about a potential wave of Blue Flu that hit SPD last weekend, when several big events, including Taylor Swift concerts, Capitol Hill Block Party, and a Mariners game took place. The President of the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) took to his podcast to say that on Saturday night, about half of patrol operations didn’t show up to work and 40% didn’t show for special events. He went on to say 600 cops have left in three years in Seattle because of the “defunding nonsense.” He is lobbying in DC right now and says that a couple other unions he’s with have similar attrition numbers. 

In response to this podcast, Divest SPD tweeted, “SPOG is telegraphing that it’s did an illegal labor action while denying that it did an illegal labor action. It wants to communicate the power of its membership and intent of the clearly coordinated action without accepting the legal responsibility.”

At this week’s Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting, the Seattle Community Responses to Domestic Violence Workgroup delivered their recommendations to expand community response to domestic violence. CM Herbold said data from the City Attorney’s Office shows domestic violence referrals have higher decline rates than anything else the office does–a 65% decline rate–and that many of these declines are related to the victim’s wishes. 

As an alternate path to addressing domestic violence and providing accountability, the work group recommends establishing durable public funding streams for community response that reach people who are being abusive, independent from the criminal legal system, to start with a 3-year pilot. These community efforts would work to prevent violence before it escalates, provide pathways for healing and accountable relationships, and motivate personal and social transformation.

Other recent Seattle news of note:

  • Publicola received video from the body-worn camera of Officer Dave, who struck and killed student Jaahnavi Kandula earlier this year. The video shows Officer Dave accelerated from 4 to 74mph in just 12 seconds and briefly chirping his siren a few times but not running it consistently.
  • SPD released the video from when they shot a man downtown last week, which appears to show the deployment of the new Bolawrap tool, which makes a sharp gunshot type sound, followed immediately by two shots fired by a different officer, who made no warning that he was going to shoot.
  • Last December, SPD officers took 23 minutes to respond to a shooting that was only a mile away from where they were hanging out at the SPOG office. An investigation is underway into the delayed response and to the possibility the officers tried to cover it up. Evidence also indicates the officers might have driven at dangerously high speeds when they finally did decide to respond. Two of the three officers involved made $211k and $315k in 2022.

Recent Headlines:

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Real Change Reporting Reveals Federal Monitor Oftelie Getting Cozy with SPD

Seattle News

In a fascinating piece of reporting in Real Change, Glen Stellmacher wrote about how SPD and the City of Seattle controlled the media narrative around the 2020 protests and the Defund Movement. I highly recommend reading the entire article, but here are some key points:

  • In a June 19, 2020 survey, SPD leadership recommended at least 12 areas of service within SPD that would be better with civilian employees.
  • In the face of defund demands, SPD claimed they would have to cut the SW precinct, SWAT, or traffic enforcement if cuts went too far. However, this narrative was shown to be false by both the June 19, 2020 and June 27, 2020 surveys of SPD leadership.
  • By August 2020, SPD and the City were aware that 45% of SPD patrol service hours didn’t require an officer. However, Mayor Durkan requested a second IDT; the results, not available until June 2021, also said nearly half of calls could be handled by a civilian response. At that point, you may remember SPD insisted on a risk managed demand report, which wasn’t completed until September 2022.
  • SPD played with the numbers to make the loss of diversity in the force, should there be layoffs, seem as bad as possible.
  • It appears then-SPD Chief Strategy Officer Chris Fischer may have ghost-written a Crosscut op-ed for Antonio Oftelie; Crosscut says they didn’t know SPD was involved and has since removed the op-ed from their site. Two days after publication, SPD’s Executive Director of Legal Affairs was pushing for Oftelie to be named the new Monitor of the consent decree. He was named the new Monitor the next month, beating out several qualified candidates. 

This Sunday, July 23 from 12-7pm in Othello Park, there will be a Participatory Budgeting cookout to launch the idea collection phase of participatory budgeting. You can also submit a proposal here.

In a court ruling this week, a judge ruled the City of Seattle has been using an overbroad definition of “obstruction” to justify its sweeps activity, writing that it constitutes “cruel punishment.” The definition was expanded in 2017, increasing obstruction removals in the City. The lawsuit is scheduled for trial in September.

On Tuesday, an SPD officer shot a man downtown. SPD is supposed to release video footage of what happened within 72 hours.

The Office of Police Accountability (OPA) is investigating the incident of the mock tombstone of a man killed by SPD police displayed in an SPD breakroom. Chief Diaz has ordered inspections of precinct HQs for other potential inappropriate displays. At a CPC meeting this week, Chief Diaz had very little information to share.

And finally, it’s supplemental budget time! The proposed supplemental budget includes around $815k in additional funding for SPD, including increasing overtime to pay for more downtown emphasis patrols, paying for additional online crime reporting, and hiring six civilian positions, including four new public disclosure officers. It also adds an additional $19 million for the City to pay for lawsuits, many of which are related to police misconduct. The City already added $11 million to the 2023 for lawsuits last year, but apparently that wasn’t enough.

In addition, the supplemental budget funds a graffiti clean-up team, and because the contracts have already been executed, the Mayor’s Office has potentially forced the Council’s hand into cutting other Seattle Public Utilities programs to pay for this. More money is also being requested for the CSCC for its dual dispatch pilot and updating its call center technology and for OIG to take over the consent decree’s Monitor duties. 

There is a vote scheduled on the supplemental budget on the morning of August 2. 

Recent Headlines

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Another Egregious Example of SPD Culture in Action

Seattle News:

Some shenanigans late last week in Seattle in preparation for All star week, as reported by Ashley Nerbovig:

“Meanwhile, the City so highly prioritized the removal of unhoused people around the stadium that on Friday morning SPD had two detectives from the department’s Special Victims Unit—one of whom investigates domestic violence cases—standing around waiting for one man to pack up his tent and move along. A police lieutenant with SPD’s Directed Outreach Unit, which typically works with the City’s Unified Care Team, stood around waiting as well.”

And what’s going on with Seattle’s drug criminalization task force? Well, it’s been broken into three different groups (court system issues, treatment, and enforcement), and only the court issues group has met so far. The group appears to have agreed that the best course forward involves expanding the Vital program and LEAD, since the Seattle Municipal Court has no additional capacity for more cases and the King County Jail would be unable to increase bookings. Erica C. Barnett with Publicola reports:

 “Lewis said that now that the work groups are meeting to discuss the best way to respond to public drug use, the legislation making public use a gross misdemeanor in Seattle is “almost a Macguffin”—a device that gets the plot going, but isn’t particularly significant in itself.”

On Wednesday, Mike Carter at the Seattle Times broke the story that in January of 2021, a breakroom in the SPD’s East Precinct featured a mock tombstone marking the death of Damarius Butts, who was killed by SPD officers on April 20, 2017. The breakroom was also decorated with a Trump 2020 flag and a protestor’s sign saying “Stop Killing Us.” SPD has so far refused to apologize to Damarius Butts’s family. As Mike Carter reports:

“Ann Butts, the young man’s mother, said his family misses him every day. “I can’t express how hurtful it was to learn that SPD endorsed joking about the killing of my son by displaying a fake tombstone with his name on it,” she said in a statement through her attorney, former King County public defender La Rond Baker. “I didn’t think SPD could take more from me,” she said. “I was wrong.””

At Tuesday’s Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting, the three accountability bodies–the Office of Police Accountability (OPA), the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), and the Community Police Commission (CPC)–gave their mid-year accountability presentation. Of particular note, thus far in 2023 there has been a 46% increased in cases sustained by the OPA, from 13% sustained in 2022 to 19% sustained in 2023. Allegations of use of force have increased slightly in 2023. And if you were wondering what ever happened in response to the infamous Proud Boy ruse of 2020? OIG recommended a new SPD ruse policy in October of 2022, and the draft was submitted to SPOG for review in December 2022. Seven months later…nothing has moved forward. 

There was also a discussion about the CPC’s recent move to no longer allow public comment at its twice-a-month meetings. Co-chair Reverend Harriet Walden said this change was made because she feels threatened by the presence of public commenters, and she referenced their loud voices. She said the commenters are not interested in building the CPC, which seems to imply a resistance on the CPC’s part to hearing criticism from the community. She also said she will call SPD the next time the commenters come to a meeting if she feels threatened; one of the regular commenters is Castill Hightower, the sister of a man who was killed by an SPD officer during a mental health crisis, who could suffer additional trauma if forced to interact with the police in this way. 

CM Lewis said getting rid of public comment altogether goes further than what is generally expected of government practice and suggested the CPC instead develop new policies and procedures to protect commissioners as necessary.

The bill changing certain aspects of the governance of the CPC was also up for discussion and vote. It was confirmed that adding a new Deputy Director position would require an additional $191k to be allocated to the CPC beginning in 2024. Activists oppose passage of this bill without a public forum on its impacts and an audit of the CPC; they are also calling for the CPC to divest itself of involvement in the new Affected Persons Program. The bill passed out of committee with an unanimous vote, with CM Mosqueda being absent, and will be voted on in Full Council on July 18. 

Finally, People Power Washington has released their Voting Guide for the Seattle City Council primaries. Check it out!

King County News:

On Monday, the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs released its annual crime report. As Amanda Zhou from the Seattle Times reports: “In King County, officials saw most violent crime slowly trend downward the first half of 2023, dropping from a high point during the height of the pandemic. But the county’s homicide rate was relatively steady through the first quarter of 2023, with a slight rise compared with the same period last year.”

Washington State

The Office of Independent Investigations, a new state agency, is now ready to begin reviewing past cases where police officers used deadly force. Members of the public can submit previous cases for review here. The office has not yet started investigating new incidents of deadly force.

Recent Headlines:

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75% Approval of Unarmed Emergency Response in Seattle

Seattle News:

The Seattle Times printed the results of an interesting poll they conducted with Suffolk University. It was conducted by phone, so adjust your opinions about it accordingly.

First of interest is that 75% of respondents support shifting emergency calls away from police to workers who aren’t armed. Only 18% oppose this change. This is a huge majority, reflecting how popular the idea of alternate response has become while underscoring the absurdity that Seattle continues to only pursue dual dispatch.

The other response I found interesting was that 61% of responders said the statement “The Seattle police generally do a good job and treat people of different races fairly, even if there are a few bad apples on the force” comes closer to their views than the opposite. This shows a key area ripe for further political education, as recent data from SPD itself shows 1 out of 20 of its Terry stops are unconstitutional, 1 out of 7 of its frisks are unconstitutional, and Black and Indigenous people are 5-7 times as likely to be stopped as white people. Meanwhile, the idea that any problem with American policing is because of “a few bad apples” has been repeatedly challenged; a few examples are here, here, and here.

Meanwhile, command staff at SPD has been undergoing changes, with a new deputy chief role and a “Relational Policing Innovation Team.” Two assistant chiefs who had applied for the Police Chief job were demoted to captain. Going forward there will be five bureaus instead of six. And perhaps of most interest, a new Chief of Staff position was added for former TV news anchor Jamie Tompkins who started at SPD just a few months ago as head of Communications: your tax dollars hard at work.

And there’s a little election scandal in the ongoing City Council races: 26 out of 40 ARTS staff wrote a letter complaining about the leadership shown by Maritza Rivera–who is running for the open seat in D4–and her boss, royal alley-barnes. The letter complained that leadership “disregarded City policies, created a toxic work environment, and hindered staff’s ability to do its work and deliver for the community.” Rivera has denied the letter’s claims, but several workers have “recalled a pattern of defensive, hostile, and condescending interactions with Rivera” and the department had (and continues to have) a high rate of turnover. Half the people who had left at the time of the letter were people of color.

Recent Headlines:

 

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