December 2023

Seattle Drug User Diversion (LEAD) Will Max Out Its Capacity in Spring 2024

Year End and Looking Forward:

As this is the closing edition of this year of the newsletter, I want to extend a big thank you to all my readers. I hope you’ve found my reporting this year to be helpful in keeping you updated on what’s happening in the public safety and criminal legal spaces in Seattle, King County, and Washington State. 

Looking forward, public safety will remain front and center as an issue of interest. A short state legislative session will be beginning in January; historically short sessions tend to focus more on policy and less than on fiscal issues. We’ll have a couple new faces on the King County Council and 7 new faces on the Seattle City Council. King County and Seattle will also both face large fiscal deficits for their 2025-2026 budgets, which they’ll hammer out in the fall. We’ll also see more developments with both Guaranteed Basic Income (GBI) and social housing.

I’d like to give extra thanks to those who support this work via Patreon for helping make Notes from the Emerald City possible. And I’m making a small request. Donations this year are not quite going to cover the hosting fees for the Notes from the Emerald City website. So if you find this work valuable, now would be a really great time to give a small donation to help keep things running. You can give a monthly donation via Patreon or a one-time donation via Paypal.

Thank you so much, and here’s looking forward to more reporting and learning in 2024!

Seattle News:

At the last Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting of the year (and the last presided over by Chair Lisa Herbold), LEAD gave a report on how they’re doing with the new influx of police referrals following the passage and implementation of the drug criminalization ordinance. They are only continuing to accept community referrals (meaning not from SPD) from three geographic areas: upper Third Avenue, the CID, and Rainier Beach (the latter only because King County is specifically providing funding to provide this service there). Fewer community referrals in general are being made as they are so likely to be turned down by LEAD.

LEAD is predicted to reach an absolute capacity ceiling in late April or early May of 2024. At that time, if more funding is not provided–either from the city, from the state, or from federal grants–LEAD will have to start rejecting not only community referrals but also referrals from the police. 

Lisa Daugaard, the co-executive director, also said that people are coming in at the highest level of clinical need they’ve ever seen, and that there are insufficient resources and options to offer these people. LEAD provides case managers who connect people with the services they need, but if those services are unavailable, the model cannot work as designed. One particular area where more service is needed is wound care as people are losing their limbs, and there aren’t resources to address this that are mobile.

In accountability news, an arbitrator has ruled that a former SPD officer who was fired for “using excessive force and violating the department’s de-escalation policies” was done so unlawfully and should at most have been suspended without pay for 60 days. Because she was fired back in 2017, the arbitrator didn’t order that she be given back her job, but he did order that she receive over $600k in backpay.

A new firefighters contract has been announced, which the local firefighters ratified with an 86% vote. This contract covers the period between December 21, 2021 and December 31, 2026 (meaning it covers two years in the past and three upcoming years). Cost of living adjustment (COLA) increases in the new contract are based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue with increase minimums and maximums that vary by year but are mostly a 2% minimum and a 4% maximum increase. The contract also includes a COLA bank that allows firefighters to bank excess cost of living increases when inflation is higher than 4%.

The back pay for the firefighters for the last two years (2022 and 2023) will cost $22.3 million. Going forward, the contract will cost an additional $21.4 million in 2024. The estimated total additional cost for the contract from 2022-2026 is $106.5 million. 

The Coalition of City Unions has also reached a tentative deal with the city. It hasn’t yet been approved, but it would provide a 5% COLA increase for 2023 and a 4.5% COLA increase for 2024. After that wage increases would be tied to the CPI for between 2-4%, just like the firefighters. 

In her wrap-up Bad Apples column for 2023, Ashley Nerbovig has this to say when summarizing the year:

And what a year for the Seattle Police Department, even aside from the OPA investigations. Barely a month into 2023, Seattle Police Officer Kevin Dave hit and killed 23-year-old college student Jaahnavi Kandula while driving nearly three times the posted speed limit. Kandula’s death led to worldwide outrage after a video surfaced of Seattle police union vice president Officer Daniel Auderer cackling and mocking Kandula on the night of her death. SPD took another hit in September when The Stranger published audio of Officer Burton Hill hurling a racial slur at his elderly Chinese neighbor. SPD faced broader criticism about racism within the department after prominent Black SPD detective Denise “Cookie” Bouldin filed a discrimination lawsuit in November claiming she’d endured decades of racial and gender bias while working for SPD. Just cop things!”

King County and National News:

Prosecutors began their final arguments in the Manny Ellis trial on Monday. The jury began their deliberations on Thursday.

Meanwhile, even the New York Times is saying body worn cameras haven’t lived up to the hype

“The story demonstrates the mixed results of police-worn body cameras: Many people hoped they would help hold police officers accountable for wrongful shootings. But there has been a basic problem, as Eric Umansky found in an investigation for The Times Magazine and ProPublica: Police departments have often prevented the public from seeing the footage and failed to act when it showed wrongdoing.”

Recent Headlines:

 

SPD Sure is Excited About Increasing Surveillance in Seattle

Seattle News:

In a quick and dirty recap, Seattle City Council approved the budget on November 21, and Mayor Harrell signed it into law on December 1. The Stranger had this to say:

Last week, the Seattle City Council passed its supplemental 2023-2024 budget without any clear solutions for the looming 2025 budget shortfall but with about $385 million allocated for the Seattle Police Department (SPD), or about 24% of general funds. The Council made no mid-term adjustment to SPD’s staffing budget, despite the department failing to meet any of its staffing projections from 2023. SPD vowed to hire a record number of officers next year, and the Council allowed the department to keep all the funds for this potential influx of officers, all while other City workers continue to fight to bump their pay increase from 1% up to 2.5%.”

City Council ended up following the Mayor’s lead in not addressing the large budget gap the city will be facing in a year’s time. Yes, that’s right, no new progressive revenue options have been passed, which means next year’s budget season might get very interesting (and not in a good way).

City Council also passed the SPOG MOU on Tuesday, which I’ve written about previously and also discussed in a Hacks & Wonks podcast. The MOU passed in a 5-2 vote, with CMs Mosqueda and Morales voting against and CM Sawant and CP Juarez absent. It’s worth remembering the $8.1 million this MOU will cost the city over the next two years is NOT coming from SPD’s already bloated budget but instead is being drawn from a reserve that is meant for general labor expenses, meaning this money could have been spent on contracts for other city workers and/or to cover at least some of the large amount of backpay that is expected to be due when a new SPOG contract is agreed upon.

House our Neighbors, which ran the successful I-135 social housing initiative that passed this February, will be running a new initiative in 2024 focusing on obtaining funding for social housing in Seattle.

In participatory budgeting news, six projects were selected through the voting process and will be receiving funding over the next six months or so. One project selected will spend $2 million towards a “people not police crisis response team.” 

A timeline for adoption of the ShotSpotter (or similar) surveillance technology has been announced. The city will begin soliciting bids from technology companies by early next year. The plan remains to complete the surveillance impact report (SIR), including a racial equity analysis, in the first quarter of 2024, in the hopes of launching the use of the technology by summer. The City Council will need to vote to approve the SIR before the new tech can be deployed. 

In more surveillance news, SPD is planning to massively expand their surveillance of where people drive their cars through automatic license plate readers (ALPRs). SPD currently only has ALPRs installed in 19 SPD and parking enforcement vehicles, but this expansion would place an ALPR in all 300 vehicles in SPD’s fleet. Any data these license readers pick up would be stored for 90 days and accessible via public record request. Other states require law enforcement agencies to purge their files of license plates not connected to any crime much more rapidly (in New Hampshire, within 3 minutes). But SPD has said they cannot connect the license plate data to potential crimes within 48 hours.

Before this technology is installed in all 300 vehicles, it must go through another SIR, for which public comment is required. You can provide public comment at this site, and all comment is due tomorrow (12/8).

SPD officer and SPOG guild president Mike Solan has complained that the OPA conducting a second interview with him as the sole witness of the conversation he had with Officer Auderer regarding the death of Jaahnavi Kandula, who was hit by a patrol car driven by another SPD officer, is “union discrimination.” He claims the OPA was trying to intimidate the guild by asking for this second interview. 

Publicola published a piece on SPD’s emergency driving policy, which is vague and doesn’t specify what kind of calls justify emergency driving:

“While much of the recent debate over police driving has focused on whether or not to limit pursuits, similar risks associated with responding to emergency calls have largely slipped under the radar. Publicly available data on high speeds and risky behavior by SPD officers is virtually nonexistent.”

King County and Washington State News:

The Stranger published an op-ed giving an inside look into what happened with the bill banning solitary confinement in this last legislative session. It’s worth reading the entire piece, but I do want to call out something I found interesting at the time, namely that the bill was stymied by a large fiscal note being attached to it. The Department of Corrections claimed phasing out solitary confinement would cost the state a lot more money than continuing the status quo. This is in spite of data showing that solitary confinement is actually more expensive than housing someone in a prison’s general population:

Calculated by the Office of Financial Management using models constructed by the DOC, the note advised that reducing solitary would cost $78 million in the next fiscal period, and an additional $98 million in each of the two following fiscal periods.

These were curious numbers. The average cost of housing a person in solitary is three times higher than housing that same person in general population, $25,000 annually versus $75,000 dollars annually, according to UC Irvine professor Keramet Reiter.  

Why DOC would need a supplemental $274 million dollars to house prisoners in substantially less expensive living units has never been satisfactorily explained.”

What has also not yet been adequately explained is why the state legislature allowed a mysterious fiscal note not backed up by available data to be the deciding factor in halting a much needed bill protecting the human rights of Washington residents.

In news on juvenile solitary confinement in King County, the new ordinance has been paused as some legal issues have come up, so it will be returning to committee instead of receiving a final County Council vote.

Recent Headlines: