September 2023

Seattle’s Dual Dispatch Pilot Doesn’t Sound Like a True Alternative Response to Behavioral Crisis

Seattle News:

Last week the City Council voted 6-3 to pass the drug ordinance that criminalizes simple drug possession and public drug use. CMs Morales, Mosqueda, and Sawant voted against.

The Stranger published a powerful op-ed on #JusticeforJaahnavi

The truth is, our communities have been creating safety with each other outside of policing for a very long time. Getting people housed, helping people into well-paying jobs, increasing access to child care, delivering healthy food and good schools–these are all ways that communities create safety. The “safest” communities are never the ones with the most police, they are the ones with the most resources.  

For those less familiar with the vagaries of police accountability, Ashley Nerbovig writes about how Officer Auderer is unlikely to be fired for laughing at Jaahnavi Kandula’s death.

Meanwhile, SPD is already embroiled in another scandal, with audio being uncovered of an SPD officer, Officer Burton Hill, using racist slurs and sexist language towards his neighbor, an Asian school bus driver. He also threatened her with jail. Chief Diaz has put Officer Hill on paid administrative leave pending the investigation. This is yet another piece of evidence showing the racist and toxic culture of SPD. If you’re wondering why the officer gets paid while on leave, you need look no further than the SPOG contract.

Mayor Harrell had a press conference last Thursday on the CARE department, the new third public safety department replacing the CSCC, which will be led by Amy Smith. The new department will consist of three divisions: emergency call takers and dispatchers, behavioral health responders, and community violence intervention specialists. 

Mayor Harrell is proposing CARE’s budget increase by 30% in 2024’s budget, up to $26.5 million. 

The dual dispatch pilot will launch in October, and it will require officers to arrive at the scene at the same time as the behavioral health responder teams, which is very different than the programs in, say, Denver or Eugene, both of which the Mayor cited as models but which handle the vast majority of calls solely with behavioral health responders. Proponents of alternate 911 response who wanted to see reduced contact of communities with police will be sorely disappointed. 

It sounds as if the pilot will mainly be responding to person down calls and so-called “paper calls” that include things like parking issues and noise complaints. When asked why the behavioral health response teams weren’t going to be dispatched to behavioral health-related calls, Chief Diaz remarked that some person down calls do have a behavioral health component, skillfully dodging the question. But from all we’ve learned thus far, this pilot doesn’t sound like a true alternate mental health response. 

When Erica Barnett asked Mayor Harrell if he could give a preview of his proposed 2024 budget relating to diversion and drug treatment programs, given the recent passage of the drug criminalization law that he supported, he was either unable or unwilling to do so, in spite of the fact this new law and the lack of investment details around it have been front and center in the public discourse for weeks. His exact words? “I don’t have a great answer.”

But we’ll get an actual answer when he introduces his proposed 2024 budget tomorrow. That’s right, budget season is upon us! The Mayor will be giving his budget speech at 12:30pm tomorrow. The first opportunity for public comment will be at 9:30am this Wednesday, September 27, after which the Council will have their first meeting reviewing the proposed budget. After that, expect a slight lull as everyone scrambles to analyze the budget proposal and consider what changes to it they might want to see. 

King County News:

Last week the King County Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD) announced they were ending their contract with SCORE that the King County Council passed in a controversial vote this spring. The contract only began in June and has already been deemed a failure because the number of inmates eligible to transfer to SCORE wasn’t enough to make a dent in the crowding at the King County jail. There have also been four deaths at SCORE since the beginning of the year, an absurdly high number. 

Unfortunately the issues with the King County jail continue, and the failed SCORE contract has meant a delay in addressing them in other ways. The DAJD has now said they plan to reopen bookings at the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent on October 2. One can only assume booking restrictions at the King County jail will need to remain strictly enforced, in spite of the new Seattle drug law on the books.

Recent Headlines:

Scandal Rocks SPD as City Council is Posed to Vote to Give Them More Power

Seattle News:

The new war on drugs legislation was voted out of the Public Safety and Human Services committee last week 4-1, with CM Mosqueda as the lone vote against. CM Herbold and CP Juarez agreed to expedite the legislation, which means it will receive its final Full Council vote tomorrow, Tuesday, September 19 at 2pm. There will be a chance to give public comment, and you can find scripts here and here.

I wrote more about a few of the amendments considered last week and the dangers of relying on SPD officer discretion while passing legislation that will criminalize substance abuse disorder and poverty in an op-ed at The Urbanist, and I hope you will go give it a read. 

Last week the news broke about SPD officer and SPOG vice president Daniel Auderer minimizing and laughing at the death of student Jaahvani Kandula, who was killed by SPD Officer Kevin Dave when he hit her driving 74mph in a 25mph zone without consistent use of his flashing lights and siren. Erica C. Barnett describes the body cam footage here:

“I don’t think she was thrown 40 feet either,” Auderer told Solan. “I think she went up on the hood, hit the windshield, then when he hit the brakes, she flew off the car. But she is dead.” Then Auderer laughed loudly at something Solan said. “No, it’s a regular person. Yeah.”

We have asked SPOG via email what Solan asked that made Auderer clarify that Kandula was a “regular” person, as opposed to another type of person Dave might have hit.

“Yeah, just write a check,” Auderer continued. Then he laughed again for several seconds. “Yeah, $11,000. She was 26 anyway, she had limited value.” At this point, Auderer turned off his body camera and the recording stops.

Auderer has been investigated for dozens of allegations by OPA during his twelve years at SPD.

Many local electeds have responded to the incident, and it made international news. As Naomi Ishikawa wrote in the Seattle Times: “It was bitterly ironic the recording emerged less than a week after a U.S. district judge ruled the Seattle Police Department had achieved “full, sustained and lasting compliance” with most of the requirements of a federal consent decree intended to improve biased policing and police accountability.”

Over at the Urbanist, Doug Trumm wrote a piece linking this shocking body cam footage to the many failures of public safety in Seattle, including failures of accountability.

Danny Westneat wrote about the problem posed by SPOG’s contempt for those they serve and the lack of trust of SPD. Unfortunately, he doesn’t make clear (or perhaps is unaware of) the differences between regular unions and police guilds, including the historic use of police forces for union busting. You can read more about problems with police guilds and their historic opposition to labor here, here, and here

Gennette Cordova wrote an excellent piece in the South Seattle Emerald busting the myth of police defunding here in Seattle. I suggest going to read the entire piece; here’s a teaser: “To shield police against valid criticism, their proponents often say that police have an impossible job. And, in a sense, they’re right. Data shows that police don’t solve most serious crimes, including murder, rape, burglary, and robbery — and they never have. Furthermore, they certainly aren’t addressing the root causes of crime, so how could a reliance on them ever deliver us a safe society?”

Last week the King County Prosecutor’s Office announced they would not be pursuing criminal charges against former Mayor Durkan, former SPD Chief Best, and other officials who deleted their text messages in 2020, finally closing that embarrassing chapter in Seattle history. None of these officials will be held accountable for their missing text messages.

King and Pierce Counties:

Jury selection was scheduled to begin today for the trial of the Tacoma police officers who have been charged with the murder of Manuel Ellis.

Anita Khandelwal, the director of the King County Department of Public Defense, and King County CM Girmay Zahilay wrote a piece for the Seattle Times about the impossible caseloads and severe understaffing of King County public defenders:

“Public defenders are the latest justice system employees to test their breaking points. Newly published research spotlights the unsustainable caseloads King County public defenders have been working to manage. These caseloads grow even worse daily as experienced defenders qualified to handle the most serious cases quit, leaving a smaller and smaller number of attorneys to handle those most serious cases.     

As this system teeters on the edge of collapse, there is only one path to public safety rooted in reality: focusing King County’s limited legal system capacity on the gravest allegations of illegal behavior. The current volume of prosecutions (over 40% of which are not these most serious offenses) cannot continue without a massive influx of defense attorneys who simply don’t exist in today’s labor market.”  

Recent Headlines:

The End of the Consent Decree is Tied to the Next SPOG Contract

Seattle News:

The push for a new war on drugs continues. Publicola reports that DESC will be running the new overdose recovery center from its Morrison hotel building on Third Avenue. King County has committed $2 million to renovating the second floor of this building for this purpose, and Seattle will spend $2 million on construction (out of the $7 million total the Mayor said he’d be using on capital projects related to the fentanyl crisis). What the remaining $5 million will be spent on is currently unclear. The slightly more than $1 million Mayor Harrell has been talking about investing every year for services would not be able to fund operations at this overdose recovery center 24-7. This response seems inadequate given King County is about to surpass 2022’s number of overdose fatalities with four months remaining in the year. 

The Public Safety and Human Services committee is scheduled to discuss and vote on the new drug war legislation at 9:30am next Tuesday 9/12, and there will be an opportunity for the public to give public comment at that time (one script is here). If the legislation passes out of committee, it could be voted on by the Full Council as soon as September 19. If, however, the legislation were to stall in committee, the upcoming budget season could potentially delay a final vote until after Thanksgiving.

Speaking of, budget season is coming up fast, with Mayor Harrell’s proposed budget expected on Tuesday, September 26. Solidarity Budget is having their launch event this Saturday from 1-3pm at Rainier Playfield in Columbia City, where attendees can enjoy food, music, a photo booth and more while learning about the city’s budget process and Solidarity Budget’s demands for nine guarantees. For those who wish to volunteer with Solidarity Budget, there will be a volunteer orientation on Thursday, September 14 from 6-7:30pm over Zoom. 

One of the hot topics we can expect to be discussed during budget season is the upcoming gap in Seattle’s General Fund and how and whether the city should pursue additional progressive revenue to fill this gap. Real Change offers a few different opinions on this issue here and here.

A hearing for the consent decree was held on Wednesday, with a written ruling released on Thursday morning. Judge Robart opted to terminate many sections of the consent decree, but not all; he wrote: “As a result, the court finds and concludes that the City and SPD must meet additional milestones to demonstrate sustained full and effective compliance with the use of force and accountability requirements of the Consent Decree and to achieve final resolution of this matter.” He is specifically concerned with use of force as it pertains to crowd control after SPD’s actions in 2020. 

The ruling goes on to lay out a timeline of various tasks that must be completed in order for the consent decree to be fully and finally terminated. Several of the deadlines fall in December 2023, with additional deadlines in the first few months of next year, culminating in a report from the Monitor due March 29, 2024. 

Pivotally, it sounds as though Judge Robart’s willingness to end the consent decree rests on the contents of the next SPOG contract, how it deals with issues of accountability, and specifically whether it enables the 2017 Accountability Ordinance to finally go into full effect. This is an interesting twist, as both Mayor Harrell and SPD are highly incentivized to close out the consent decree, so this warning on the Judge’s part could have ramifications at the bargaining table. In his comments on Wednesday, Judge Robart mentioned that he doesn’t believe issues of discipline and accountability should be a part of bargaining in the first place.

Judge Robart also took another shot at the defund movement, blaming it for Seattle’s struggles to recruit more police, even though police departments across the country are having the same problem. As The Stranger’s Ashley Nerbovig reports, “Defend the Defund organizer BJ Last called it “extremely disingenuous” for the judge to blame the defund movement as the reason why people don’t want to join a profession that increases a person’s likelihood of suicide by 54%.” She also mentioned the Judge’s comments that cop TV shows are “the worst enemy of good police work.” 

For more analysis on how the consent decree has failed in its promise, you can read my op-ed at The Urbanist, where I discuss the high cost of the decree, its removal of community agency, and its failure to address biased policing, including a reminder of Dr. Sherry Towers’s analysis that 1 out of 10 killings in Seattle are committed by a police officer.

King County and Washington State News:

The Seattle Times published a positive piece on the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO)’s director Tamar Abouzeid, calling him “an unapologetic reformer who thinks America’s criminal legal system is racist and broken, and needs to be radically changed or scrapped.” OLEO recently released its 2022 annual report. There was a 22% drop in complaints for the year, with the bulk of the drop being for complaints initiated by Sheriff’s Office employees. The number of investigations OLEO declined to certify more than doubled from 2021 to 13% (OLEO certified 101 investigations and declined to certify 15). Deputies with three or more allegations account for approximately 5% of the sworn force, but approximately 40% of all allegations. The number of allegations of excessive force rose from 58 in 2021 to 73 in 2022, but none of the allegations that were closed were sustained.

Meanwhile, over at King County’s Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD), the staffing issues are so bad that sometimes corrections officers must work up to 16 hours a day for multiple days, with one officer registering 1000 hours of overtime last year. 60% of officers have doctor’s notes that protect them from having to work overtime, up from 15% in 2018. As Ashley Nerbovig reports, “The jails have what amounts to a 29% job vacancy rate due to the number of actual open positions combined with the number of officers restricted to “light duty.””

In state redistricting news, a federal judge ruled Washington must redraw one of its legislative districts in Yakima Valley and set a progress report deadline of January 8. This deadline means the state legislature would have to convene a special session in order to vote to reconvene the state redistricting commission; if they do not, the court can decide on a new legislative map instead. At present it is not even certain whether the legislature would have the necessary votes to reconvene the commission, even if they were to hold a special session. Therefore, a court decision on a new map seems likely.

Recent Headlines: