August 2023

The New War on Drugs Could Increase SPD’s Biased Policing Problem

Seattle News

This week at a special Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting, the Council once more took up drug criminalization, hearing from a panel about gaps in services for people using fentanyl and a presentation from Andrew Myerberg from the Mayor’s Office about the new proposed ordinance and planned executive order. It became clear listening to the presenters on the panel that Seattle has many gaps in the services it provides those suffering from substance abuse disorder, that it will take time to address this issue, and that this ordinance would, as Derrick Wheeler-Smith, the Director of the Office of Human Rights, said, “disproportionately impact BIPOC communities, overpoliced communities, and especially Black folks.”

Andrew Myerberg discussed the threat of harm standard described in the proposed ordinance, which differentiates between threat of harm to others and threat of harm to self, and gives officers discretion to decide whether or not to arrest someone. This allowance of discretion is troubling given SPD’s pattern of biased policing in stops, frisks, and use of force. SPD is currently working on a new policy regarding this ordinance that should be complete in mid-September and is supposed to be informed by an executive order from the Mayor’s Office that is not yet complete. Myerberg said that in an ideal world, very few of the arrests due to this ordinance would result in jail bookings, with the intent being they would instead be directed to various diversion services, most of which have not currently been scaled up to be able to address the level of need present in Seattle.

As for the widely touted $27 million in investments, the $7 million in capital investments are intended to be used for a new post-overdose stabilization center and expanded facilities for case-working. The $20 million, which it bears repeating will be paid out over the course of 18 years, will be put towards operational costs for the new stabilization center, Health One’s overdose response, and theoretically other existing programs (LEAD, co-LEAD, REACH, etc). However, it is hard to believe $1.4m per year will be able to cover all the gaps in service discussed during the panel or provide enough increased funding to all the relevant organizations. Even with sufficient investment, it will take time to open a new post-overdose stabilization center and scale up existing programs.

CM Lewis indicated his eagerness to circumvent the normal Council procedures, skip a regular committee meeting and vote, and take the proposed ordinance straight to Full Council for a vote on September 5, even after Central Staff said such a rushed timeline would force them to work over summer recess. At Tuesday’s Full Council meeting, however, this break in normal protocol was defeated by a 4-4 vote; CMs Lewis, Strauss, Pedersen, and Nelson voted in favor, and CM Sawant was not present. This means we can expect a committee hearing and possible vote on the ordinance on Tuesday, September 12, with a potential full Council vote on Tuesday, September 19, which would run right up to the beginning of budget season.

The new revenue forecast predicts a 4% upgrade in the JumpStart tax for 2023. 2023 revenues are predicted to be $31.7 million higher than the April prediction, and 2024 revenues are predicted to be $21.3 million higher than predicted in April. Thus, near-term revenues have increased a bit, but longer-term growth is still expected to slow down as the technology sector cools and work-from-home impacts to sectors such as construction are anticipated. 

Seattle City Council’s summer recess will be from August 21 – September 4, with many CMs asking to be excused from September 5th’s full council meeting as well. I anticipate budget season to begin the week of September 25, and Solidarity Budget will be having their launch event on Saturday September 9th from 1-4pm. I will also be taking summer recess off to recharge for the budget season, so you can expect to hear from me again after Labor Day!

Recent Headlines:

The New War on Drugs Could Increase SPD’s Biased Policing Problem Read More »

Court Ruling Yet Another Example of SPD’s Racial Bias in Action

Personal News:

We’ll dive into the news of the week in just a moment, but I did want to take the opportunity to mention I had a book come out last week! I was supposed to write about it in last week’s newsletter, but I was so distracted by learning that the new drug criminalization legislation was almost exactly the same as the previous version that I forgot to include it.

Book cover of TO TRAVEL THE STARS with a couple dancing in close embrace with a starry space background

TO TRAVEL THE STARS is a Young Adult science fiction novel that is a retelling of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE in space. If that sounds appealing either to yourself or a teenager in your life, I hope you’ll consider picking up a copy.

Seattle News:

The Seattle Times reports: “A federal judge has found evidence Seattle police stopped and detained a Black delivery driver at gunpoint because of his race, then illegally searched his trunk in a 2020 incident detailed in a civil rights lawsuit now headed for trial.” Incidentally, SPD doesn’t have a policy for what is known as a “high-risk vehicle stop” as took place in this incident, and when the OPA suggested SPD develop one, Chief Diaz refused. This ruling means the City has been found liable for the illegal search, and the trial would determine the amount of damages owed.

Captain Brown, one of the officers named in the case and the new acting commander of the South Precinct, recently wrote a letter of his expectations to his officers and supervisors. Erica C. Barnett at Publicola reported that this letter “included an exhortation to “take care of our own” by handling “minor misconduct” internally, rather than reporting it to the Office of Police Accountability. The letter also said officers should view themselves as forces of “good” whose job is to “intervene and stop evil” in the world.” When questioned about the letter, Brown said he didn’t intend to disparage the OPA. 

Brown has been the subject of 14 complaints since 2015. The OPA investigated the case involving the Black delivery driver detailed above and dismissed the racial bias complaint against Brown as unfounded, a decision the federal judge obviously disagreed with. This discrepancy between the OPA’s findings and the Judge’s ruling is another blow to the legitimacy of Seattle’s accountability system.

Seattle’s three accountability bodies all sent representatives to the joint Public Safety and Human Services committee and the Labor Relations Policy Committee (LRPC) public hearing on Tuesday night about expectations around a new Seattle Police Management Association (SPMA) contract. The purpose of the meeting is for the LRPC to consider the public’s input before establishing bargaining parameters. The old SPMA contract expires at the end of this year, and a public hearing must be held at least 90 days before the City and the SPMA enter negotiations.

The public meeting was sparsely attended, with many commenters noting the insufficient amount of notice they received that the meeting was taking place and one commenter suggesting the hearing was “performative and pointless.” The Community Police Commission (CPC) had a few requests for the Council to consider, including details around the 180-day clock for OPA investigations, how long and in what situations personnel files should be preserved, and reform to secondary employment of officers, while also noting their concern about the biased culture prevalent within SPD. 

Still centered in conversation was the 2017 police accountability ordinance that has never been fully implemented due to conflicts with the SPMA and SPOG contracts. Unfortunately this failure has sometimes meant a continued focus over the past several years on trying to implement this ordinance instead of pushing for greater gains or other ways in which public safety in Seattle might become more equitable.

There will be a special meeting of the Public Safety and Human Services committee on Monday, August 14th at 2pm to discuss the new drug criminalization legislation. Now is the perfect time to email your councilmembers or plan to give public comment. I’ve already written at length about some of the problems with this legislation the last time it was introduced in early June. BJ Last has a new op-ed in The Stranger about some of the budgetary concerns with this bill.

The bill won’t be voted on in Full Council until sometime in September after the City Council’s two-week summer recess from August 21 to September 4.

The Revenue Stabilization Workgroup has issued a final report on options for further City revenue and will be delivering a presentation on Thursday, August 10th to the Finance and Housing committee. Among the options identified for revenue are increasing the Jumpstart payroll tax, instituting a city-level capital gains tax, and instituting a high CEO pay ratio tax. 

I particularly recommend you check out the Transit Riders Union’s Revenue Options Report, which outlines 26 different revenue options and how to make them more progressive. For example, the City could institute a flat 1% income tax, which would not be inherently progressive, but by pairing this tax with tax credits, rebates, or a basic income program, it could be made more progressive.

The mid-year supplemental budget passed out of Full Council yesterday. The package includes $1 million to expand opioid addiction treatment in Pioneer Square and $1.6 million to the Community Safety and Communications Center (CSCC) to hire new staff for their dual dispatch pilot.

A state appeals court issued a stay that will allow Seattle to continue its practice of no-notice sweeps–for now.

The Public Safety and Human Services committee met this week and heard reports from the Seattle Community Safety Initiative (SCSI) and the King County Regional Approach to Gun Violence. The Regional Peacekeepers Collective (RPCK) is expanding into Skyway, as well as adding service hubs in Kent and Burien.

Recent Headlines:

Court Ruling Yet Another Example of SPD’s Racial Bias in Action Read More »

The Seattle War on Drugs Redux

Seattle News:

Everyone is talking about the primary results, with some commentators claiming a progressive victory and other publications saying November looks dire for progressives. As always, a strong push to turn out the vote is likely to favor progressives, who will also need to keep fundraising to match the big business dollars pouring into their moderate opponents’ coffers.

Mayor Harrell has announced new “War on Drugs” legislation. As Erica C. Barnett in Publicola reports (bold-faced mine):

So what does the bill actually do? Exactly what an earlier version of the bill, which the council rejected 5-4, would have done: Empower City Attorney Ann Davison to prosecute people for simple drug possession or for using drugs, except alcohol and marijuana, in public. The substantive portion of the bill, which comes after nearly six pages of nonbinding whereas clauses and statements of fact, is identical to the previous proposal.”

CM Lewis, who voted against the earlier, very similar bill back in June, has said he now plans to co-sponsor it. You can’t make stuff like this up.

He told The Stranger “his time on the Mayor’s workgroup assured him the City intends to front-load treatment rather than send people to jail.” However, the new legislation would not require front-loading treatment, and much of how the system would work in practice would be up to the discretion of the City Attorney–the same City Attorney who unilaterally shut down Community Court only a few short months ago. As The Stranger reported:

“King County Public Defenders Union President Molly Gilbert wanted to empower Seattle Municipal Court judges to divert cases when cops arrest someone, but instead the bill leaves all the power to dismiss charges in the hands of the City Attorney.”

Much of the reporting on this legislation has emphasized the Mayor’s $27 million dollar plan. Not only are none of these new dollars, it is critical to emphasize $20 million of this amount is expected from an opioid lawsuit settlement that will be paid over the next 18 years, a detail that demands scrutiny. Calling this a $27 million plan seems to be a rhetorical hat trick bordering dangerously close to dishonesty, given it will only result in an additional investment of $1.15 million per year for programming.

According to the press release, the remaining $7 million will go “toward capital investments in facilities to provide services such as post-overdose care, opioid medication delivery, health hub services, long-term care management, and drop-in support.”

CM Herbold has said she will hear this legislation in the Public Safety and Human Services committee before the summer recess (August 21 – September 4), which would mean it would have to be on the agenda next Tuesday, August 8.

Seattle’s Public Safety and Human Services committee and the Select Labor Committee is having a special hearing at 5:30 pm on Tuesday, August 8 to hear an introduction to collective bargaining with the Seattle Police Management Association (SPMA), followed by a period of public comment. The SPMA represents fewer than 100 SPD lieutenants and captains, making it much smaller than the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG). The latest SPMA contract was approved last June and lasts through the end of 2023. The City is required to provide a public hearing at least 90 days before opening negotiations with the SPMA to allow the public to weigh in on what should be included in the new contract. 

The SPMA contract is often considered to set the stage for what is possible in the SPOG contract, as SPOG tends to take a more hardline approach to contract negotiations. One unfortunate aspect of both of these contracts is that they tend to linger for years after their expiration before a new contract is agreed upon, creating the necessity for a large dollar amount going towards back pay. While most labor unions do negotiate for back pay should their negotiations run long, this would normally only be for a relatively short period of time (for example, six months). Compare this to the more than two and half years of back pay in play within the SPOG contract currently being negotiated, a number that could easily grow to three or even three and a half years. The evergreen nature of these police guild contracts doesn’t incentivize the guilds to come to an agreement with the City.

On the morning of Thursday, August 10 at the Finance and Housing committee meeting, the Progressive Revenue Stabilization Workgroup will issue its recommendations. Given the $200 million gap between 2025’s projected revenue and expenditures, it behooves the City to consider any options presented very seriously indeed.

King County News:

A fight involving eight kids broke out at King County’s youth jail last week, leading to more room time for kids in the jail this past weekend. Executive Constantine has committed to closing this jail by 2025, but while the daily average population had dropped to 15 in 2021, that number started to creep back up in 2022 and is now up to 34.7. The population the day of the fight was 41. The average length of stay per kid has also increased. The King County Executive Spokesperson Chase Gallagher says the plan to close the jail remains on schedule.

Recent Headlines:

The Seattle War on Drugs Redux Read More »