April 2024

A Day in the Life of Seattle City Council

A Day in the Life of Seattle City Council:

The day: Thursday, April 25, 2024

In the morning, Councilmember Martiza Rivera led the Librairies, Education, and Neighborhoods committee meeting, where she blamed the recently announced rotating library closings and reduced hours on the benefits librarians won in their most recent contract. The expense of ebooks were also mentioned as a culprit. Downplayed was the impact of this year’s hiring freeze.

In the afternoon, Council President Sara Nelson led the Governance, Accountability, and Economic Development committee meeting. During public comment, a commenter brought attention to a possible conflict of interest Nelson has with the new gig worker minimum wage rollback legislation, and she interrupted him, attempting to derail his request for her to recuse herself by asking which item on the agenda he was referencing. (It was obvious which item he was referencing.)

During the discussion on the police officer recruitment bill, Nelson brought up the overwhelming nature of climate change, saying because there is no magical solution to climate change, we do nothing. But apparently hiring new police officers is not tough like climate change, hence this new bill, which seems unlikely to have a strong impact on hiring numbers, although it will give the Council someone to yell at if numbers don’t get better of their own accord. 

In the evening, two councilmembers held town halls in their district: Robert Kettle in District 7 and Cathy Moore in District 5. Kettle had friends Council President Sara Nelson and Councilmember Tanya Woo in tow. 

At Kettle’s event, he once again stated his belief that the SPD is the best police force in the nation. A few hours later, the news broke that four more women officers at SPD have filed a tort claim alleging sexual harassment and sexual discrimination by Chief Adrian Diaz, Lt. John O’Neil, and human resource manager Rebecca McKechnie. This is the third suit brought against the SPD for gender discrimination in the last six months. Meanwhile, SPD has been under a federal consent decree for twelve years and the new proposed SPOG contract does not make the accountability changes the presiding judge has indicated he wanted to see before fully ending the decree. And this is the best police force in the nation?

Worse yet, when asked whether the city has ever discussed bringing in the National Guard for “the most dire parts of this community,” Nelson said, “The short answer is yes.” She referenced Gavin Newsom calling in the National Guard in San Francisco. 

Meanwhile, at Moore’s event, she announced she’ll be introducing legislation reinstating the old law against “prostitution loitering” that was unanimously repealed by the Council back in 2020. Yes, even Alex Pedersen voted to repeal this law. 

As PubliCola reports, “The council repealed the laws against prostitution loitering and drug loitering after the Seattle Reentry Workgroup, established to come up with recommendations to help formerly incarcerated people reenter their communities, recommended repealing both laws on the grounds that they disproportionately harm people of color and amount to “criminalization of poverty.””

Moore says she hopes the law will allow officers to approach prostitutes, look for diversion opportunities, and see if they’re being trafficked or not. It is not clear whether this law is actually needed in order for officers to do these things.

Moore also said she’d be voting to approve the new SPOG contract that gives 23% raises to police officers while making few improvements to accountability.

Other News:

The first SPD killing of the year happened last week

The King County Law and Justice committee met this Tuesday to discuss the Superior Court’s Jury Participation and Diversity Report and to hear from the Auditor’s Office on the audit they recently performed on the Judge Patricia H. Clark Children and Family Justice Center (CCFJC), otherwise known as the youth jail. They also got an update on implementation of recommendations for all criminal legal system audits since 2020. 

The main findings from the audit on the youth jail were that while the facility was designed for short stays of 30 days or less in mind, most of the youth now held in the jail are staying for longer. 84% of youth have stays of more than 30 days, more than half are there for at least 3 months, and about a third are there for six months. The youth are housed in the CCFJC while waiting for the resolution of their cases.

This is a problem because the facility is not designed with ample green spaces, a big enough gymnasium, and flexible programming space, all of which are needed if youth are staying there longer. Youth staying longer tend to have greater needs as well, and CCFJC doesn’t offer all the appropriate programming. Longer stays in the youth jail have also been shown to increase recidivism. 

The other issue uncovered by the audit was the impact of staff shortages on the care of the youth staying at the facility, as well as on staff morale. Staff shortages lead to modified staffing schedules, which means more time the youth are spending in their cells. During a normal schedule, a youth will spend 11-13 hours in their cell, whereas they will spend at least 14.5 hours in their cell during a modified schedule. 

There have been times when educational class time has been so shortened teachers have worried about meeting state educational requirements. Short staffing can also cause recreation programs to be canceled and make it difficult for youth to meet with mental health counselors. Both teachers and juvenile detention officers end up being stretched thin. 

Right now 79 out of 91 total positions for juvenile detention officer are filled. The low staffing point thus far was in March of 2023, when there were only 68 juvenile detention officers. 

Recent Headlines:

A Day in the Life of Seattle City Council Read More »

Seattle Homicides Down in 2024 in Spite of SPD Staffing “Crisis”

Seattle News:

PubliCola broke the news this weekend that SPD knew while he was still in training that Officer Kevin Dave, the officer who killed Jaahnavi Kandula last year, had a “checkered history” at the Tucson Police Department, which fired him in 2013. As a lateral hire, Dave received one of the controversial $7500 hiring bonuses from Seattle. His history in Tucson included a possible drunk driving incident and a “preventable collision,” and he was the subject of five other investigations in his 18 months there, including one for violating general standards of conduct. 

As of the end of March, homicides have decreased in Seattle by 36%, Axios has reported. In hard numbers, there were 9 homicides in the first three months of this year that took place in Seattle, as compared to 14 that took place during the same period last year. And Axios further reported that “Detective Brian Pritchard, a spokesperson for the Seattle Police Department, told Axios that as of April 9, there have been 12 homicides in the city this year, compared to 19 in the same period in 2023.” Axios also said “at this pace, the homicide rate in the U.S. could match its level in 2014, when many cities saw 30-year lows in violent crime and homicides.”

This backs up local journalist Guy Oron’s numbers finding that SPD staffing and crime rates don’t correlate at all.

Mayor Bruce Harrell has announced he has submitted emergency legislation to amend Seattle’s Fire Code and allow the fire department to order and execute demolition of vacant buildings that present a fire hazard. There were 130 fires in vacant buildings in Seattle last year. The legislation will be co-sponsored by CM Bob Kettle and CM Tammy Morales and will go through the public safety committee.

City Attorney Ann Davison has hired Fred C. Wist II to fill the Criminal Division Chief position. Wist comes from the Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, where as PubliCola reported, he came under fire for investigating a special drugs investigations unit, several members of whom later sued him, another deputy prosecutor, and several sheriff’s department officials. Wist uses a sheriff’s badge with a “thin blue line” mourning band as his profile picture on Facebook.

The Criminal Division Chief at the Seattle City Attorney’s Office was previously held by Natalie Walton-Anderson, who notably wrote the memo outlining the strategy for the office to file affidavits of prejudice in all criminal cases against Seattle Municipal Court Judge Pooja Vaddadi. Walton-Anderson resigned soon after the hung jury in the case the office brought to trial against a Stop the Sweeps protester. 

Public Safety Civil Service Commission (PSCSC) Director Andrea Scheele attended a Community Police Commission (CPC) meeting this week, where she pushed back against several assertions made by Council President Sara Nelson. She said Seattle using the NTN test instead of the PST test in the past has never been a deterrent for applicants, that the PSCSC already has regular contact with applicants as soon as they apply, and that customizing the PST test would not take 8 weeks as Council President Nelson suggested but more likely 6-12 months. 

The CPC will be holding a community meeting on Tuesday, April 23 from 5:30-7:45pm at Van Asselt Community Center on 2820 S Myrtle to discuss the recent proposed SPOG contract in a “guided conversation.” And there will be light snacks!

Recent Headlines:

 

Seattle Homicides Down in 2024 in Spite of SPD Staffing “Crisis” Read More »

Council President Nelson Pushes Back Against Experts’ Opinions

Seattle News:

At this week’s Governance, Accountability, and Economic Development Committee meeting, Council President Sara Nelson hosted a discussion on draft legislation of an “SPD Recruitment Ordinance.” The ordinance as currently drafted would do the following: 

  • make permanent an SPD recruitment and retention program, moving 3 positions created by a previous ordinance for a recruitment manager and two recruiters into SPD
  • encourage the Public Safety Civil Service Commission (PSCSC) to consider the use of the entry level police officer exam used by multiple other agencies in Puget Sound region (known as the PST test)
  • asks PSCSC to make personal contact with officer candidates within 48 hours
  • requests PSCSC increase frequency of eligibility rosters to every 2 weeks
  • add to police exams unit in HSDR a new position for more robust candidate support (a position that will be paid for in 2024 with vacancy savings in SPD recruitment and will cost $146k/year extra starting in 2025)

There appears to be a small amount of friction between city council members and the Mayor’s Office over the details of this bill, as the Mayor’s Office would like to move only 2 of the recruitment positions to SPD, with the third going to PSCSC. However, the Mayor’s Office is reportedly looking to see if they can accommodate the council members’ desire in their reorganization plans. 

Council President Nelson said that while PSCSC Director Andrea Scheele had expressed concern that switching entrance tests would lower standards, she doesn’t believe that would be the case. It is unclear why she believes this, given it is Director Scheele’s literal job to review and assess these exams.

She also said that only 5 jurisdictions within Washington State are using the test used for SPD officers-–the NTN test-–although Council Central Staff member Greg Doss later corrected her, saying 27 cities in Washington use the NTN test, as well as all the West Coast Seven cities. 

Councilmember Kettle suggested using both tests, and while Doss said three jurisdictions in Washington do use both tests, he suggested doing so would be complicated and have legal ramifications. All three jurisdictions who do so have developed a special pre-employment process to make sure using both tests remains fair. It seems likely SPD would likewise have to develop a new pre-employment process in order to use both tests.

Council President Nelson also discussed how this legislation was changed to use discretionary language when it came to the PSCSC after receiving input from the law department. However, she says she has been closely reading the City Municipal Code herself and thinks it is unclear who gets to select the test. 

There have been many stories about the new proposed SPOG contract, on which SPOG members are currently voting.

The headlines sum up the situation: the contract represents a huge raise for SPD officers (we don’t yet know the full fiscal impact on Seattle’s overall budget) and almost no accountability improvements.

Even The Seattle Times editorial board agrees the proposed contract would be a mistake, writing, “To strengthen bonds between cops and communities, Seattle leaders must ensure that any new labor agreement fully implements the city’s landmark 2017 Police Accountability Ordinance.”

An attached MOU to the proposed contract lists some duties that could, were this to be approved, be taken on by civilian employees. As The Stranger reports, “Instead of creating serious police alternatives that could save the City money and help alleviate staffing shortages at the department, the MOU outlines civilian roles that look more like personal assistants to cops and that protect cushy positions wholly unsuited for some of the City’s highest-paid employees.”

As I wrote at The Urbanist:

Noteworthy in this list is the item regarding wellness checks. The MOU with SPOG passed last year allowed the new Community Assisted Response and Engagement (CARE) team to respond to two call types: person down and wellness checks. This new MOU places additional restrictions on wellness check response, saying civilians can only respond to these calls “where the identified individual known to the caller does not have any history of or current suicidal ideations, significant health problems including mental health, history of or fighting addiction, history of or concerns of domestic abuse, or is living in one of the City’s ‘wet houses.’” Some advocates are concerned these additional parameters could mean wellness checks able to be performed by CARE civilian responders will be few and far between. Indeed, this definition appears to preclude the idea of an alternate civilian emergency response to mental health crises, a policy strongly supported by Seattleites.” 

This concerning news comes at the same time that U.S. Rep. Adam Smith has begun touting a new federal investment of $1.926 million into Seattle’s CARE program. He says, “This funding will help launch the CARE Department, which will support the Seattle Police Department and Seattle Fire Department by diverting health mental health, substance use disorders, and related wellness services calls to this new civilian-run department.” Apparently he hasn’t read the new SPOG proposal nor The Stranger’s reporting on how CARE’s dual dispatch is currently going.

Meanwhile, PubliCola reports that many city workers who just had a new contract approved, including retroactive pay raises for 2023 and 2024, won’t be receiving those payments until at least October, which would be six months after agreeing to the bargaining agreement. It is unclear whether a new contract with SPOG would face the same delay in payout.

At this week’s Public Safety committee meeting, councilmembers heard a report on the OIG’s latest use of force assessment for SPD. Some noteworthy points from the presentation:

  • The counts of force against Black, Hispanic/Latino, and other minorities increased. 
  • Unknown race for both subjects with complaints of pain and civilians subject to pointing of a firearm increased substantially in 2023.
  • 2022 and 2023 years had no Type III and no Type III use of force in response to behavioral crisis for the first time since 2015.

At the presentation, Chief Operating Officer of SPD Brian Maxey bemoaned that “the same communities that complain about over policing complain about under policing.” He said the goal is to police based on need rather than by demographics. The presenters stated that the data showing increased use of force against Black and Latino community members wasn’t enough to draw conclusions of bias in what came across as “thou doth protest too much.” The Inspector General of the OIG, Lisa Judge, said they want to do a deeper dive to better understand what is driving “that particular snapshot of use of force.” 

A female lieutenant at SPD, Lauren Truscott, has made a complaint against SPD’s Lt. John O’Neil, the head of public affairs. The OPA has opened an investigation around this complaint. 

As KUOW reported, Truscott believes SPD’s acceptance of sexual harassment and discrimination comes from the very top and has called for new leadership: ““Women are being marginalized and dismissed, and no one is listening,” Truscott said. “We should never be treating employees as though they’re disposable. They are our most valuable commodity, but especially during a staffing crisis.””

The Loudermill hearing for Officer Daniel Auderer, the SPOG VP who was caught on bodycam joking about Jaahnavi Kandula’s death, was supposed to be held on April 1, but it was delayed.

The City Attorney’s Office finally filed a complaint against Seattle Municipal Court Judge Pooja Vaddadi for a case in which an assistant city attorney was disqualified from a case. A Superior Court judge found that Judge Vaddadi had acted properly. Nevertheless, the City Attorney’s Office is still continuing to prevent Judge Vaddadi from presiding over criminal cases.

Lisa Daugaard, Co-Executive Chair at Purpose Dignity Action, tweeted that the program CoLEAD, which provides lodging for unhoused people with behavioral health issues, has “shrunk from 250 rooms to 130 and a year from now will likely be down to 60.”

PubliCola published an update on how things are going with the new Seattle drug ordinance criminalizing public drug use and possession, saying that it doesn’t seem to have made more than superficial changes to the level of drug use. And there are other problems: “According to municipal court records, the average time between an arrest under the new drug law and when the city attorney files charges is about 70 days; more than half of the people charged under the new law had to wait 90 days or more for Davison’s office to file charges. This is in sharp contrast to Davison’s promise, in 2022, to decide whether to file charges in all criminal cases within five business days after her office receives a referral from the police department.”

The entire article is well worth the read.

Other News:

The Renton City Council has increased the hiring bonus for lateral police hires for the Renton Police Department. Formerly lateral hires received $10k upon hire and $10k after completing a one-year probation period. Now they will receive $20k upon hire and $20k after completing a one-year probation period, for a total of $40k per lateral hire.

Gun sales in Washington, which increased last year as the legislature passed new gun control laws, have plummeted so far in 2024. As measured by background checks, gun sales in January and February were cut in half this year compared to last year, and March gun sales were down 70%. You can read more about gun sales in the state here.

King County officials are considering whether they can begin their own corrections officer training program, with Prosecuting Attorney Leesa Manion asking Attorney General Bob Ferguson whether counties have the legal authority to do so. The state Criminal Justice Training Center does not support this idea. 

A man who died at the ICE facility in Tacoma last month had been held in solitary confinement for nearly all of his 4-year internment there. He spent nearly a decade in solitary confinement in state prisons before being transferred, so all together he spent more than 13 years in solitary confinement. ICE said he was in solitary confinement for “disciplinary reasons.” The Department of Correction reports 8 people have been held for over 500 days in the most severe restrictive housing. 

The Seattle Times reports: “The agency’s disclosure about Daniel’s time in state custody calls attention to the broad use of solitary confinement, not just by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. And it raises more questions about whether Daniel’s prolonged periods of solitary contributed to his March 7 death at the Northwest ICE Processing Center.”

Recent Headlines:

 

Council President Nelson Pushes Back Against Experts’ Opinions Read More »

New SPOG Contract Would Reportedly Give Police More Money Without Additional Accountability

Seattle News:

The huge news in public safety in Seattle this past week has been the announcement of a tentative new contract between the city and the Seattle Police Officers Guild, or SPOG. The last contract was approved in 2018 and expired at the end of 2020, so this new contract has been a long time coming and provides one of the few opportunities to make real improvements to Seattle’s police accountability. 

However, news in that regard is not good. While the full contract has not yet been released, PubliCola reported that “The city approved a contract with the Seattle Police Managers Association last year that included new accountability measures, but SPOG’s contract reportedly fails to replicate many of these measures.” The new contract would also only apply until the end of 2023, while the next contract that would begin in 2024 is in mediation and could be delayed for an indefinite amount of time.

While it sounds like we won’t be seeing necessary accountability measures in the new contract, what we will be seeing is raises and back pay for police. PubliCola reports that retroactive wage increases for the past three years (2021-2023) would amount to a 23% pay raise: “The raises would increase the starting pay for new officers, before overtime, from just over $83,000 to nearly $103,000. Officers who have worked at SPD for six months would see their base pay increase to $110,000, and so on up the seniority line.” These raises would mean SPD officers would be receiving the highest base pay in the region. 

If this sounds like terrible negotiation strategy to you, giving SPOG members a huge raise while not making real gains in accountability, then we are in agreement. But we’ll have to wait to see the contract to see exactly what is happening here. 

In other labor news, the City Council finally voted on the contract with the Coalition of City Unions, which provides a 9.7% cumulative raise: 5% for 2023 and 4.5% for 2024. City workers will also receive raises in 2025 and 2026 based on the region’s consumer price index. 

How will this affect Seattle’s budget? The Stranger reports that the City has the money to cover the extra $10.5 million this contract will cost for 2023 and 2024 because of saving $20 million from this year’s hiring freeze and JumpStart bringing in $40 million more than anticipated in 2023. Looking forward into 2025, the contract will cost $11 million more than expected, potentially bringing the budget deficit from $230 million to $241 million. (That being said, it’s possible the remaining hiring freeze savings and extra 2023 JumpStart monies might be applied to decrease this deficit, although of course spending JumpStart funds outside of its spending plan is a fraught question.)

What we don’t yet know is how much that deficit will be affected by the new SPOG contract. 

Washington State News:

You can check out my interview with WA state legislature candidate Shaun Scott in the Urbanist from earlier this week.

Results from the latest Healthy Youth survey are out; this is a biennial survey for Washington state students designed to assess their mental health. Crosscut reported that “improved health behaviors and mental health along with increased social support were among the findings from this year’s survey, in comparison to 2021 results. At least seven in 10 reported feeling moderate to high hopes in 2023.”

The article goes on to quote Maayan Simckes, the principal investigator for the survey, theorizing that the improvements in student mental health might be due to increased supports at home and school, with almost 60% of youth saying they had an adult to turn to when they felt depressed. 

That being said, while things have definitely improved, we still have a lot of young people suffering in the state. 55% of 12th graders and 49% of 10th graders said they’d been “unable to stop or control worrying in past two weeks,” while 32% of 12th graders and 30% of 10th graders said they’d been “feeling sad/hopeless in past year.” 15% of both 10th and 12th graders considered attempting suicide in the past year. 

I’m also struck by that 40% of youth who did NOT have an adult to turn to when they felt depressed. We still have work to do. 

Housekeeping:

I’ve received several Substack “pledges” in recent weeks with notes about wanting to support local journalism, which I think is fantastic! However, I’m not going to turn on Substack’s subscription service. Instead if you’d like to support my work, you can do so with a monthly donation through my Patreon or through a one-time donation via Paypal.

And of course, I applaud you if you’re offering your support to any of our fine local media outlets, such as Real Change, The South Seattle Emerald, PubliCola, The Stranger, or my current home The Urbanist.

Recent Headlines:

New SPOG Contract Would Reportedly Give Police More Money Without Additional Accountability Read More »