National

Washington State Has 4th HighestJail Death Rate in the US

Seattle News:

As one of her first acts as Council President, Sara Nelson has fired Central Staff Director Esther Handy. In her place will be Ben Noble, a denizen of Central Staff from the days of Bruce Harrell and Tim Burgess. Noble most recently served as the Mayor’s Budget Director and then the Director of the Office of Economic and Revenue Forecasts. 

The Stranger has this to say about this move:

Though axing the head of central staff fits within her purview as president, Nelson’s highly atypical move flies in the face of the new council’s “good governance” messaging. Replacing a perceived progressive with a clear fiscal conservative makes a mockery of the purported objectivity of central staff.”

However, Publicola reports that Noble “is widely known for his old-school commitment to neutrality, which is one reason he has survived at the city for 23 years under a wide range of mayoral administrations and council members.” Most of the current Central Staff has not worked with Noble, who left Central Staff in 2013.

The Council’s main piece of business right now is appointing a replacement for CM Mosqueda, who holds one of the two city-wide Council seats. The Council received 72 qualified applicants. They are holding a special meeting tomorrow, 1/12, with a public comment opportunity starting at 2pm. At this meeting they will decide on the finalists for the position, as well as deciding which community organization will host the public forum that will take place sometime next week. The two organizations in the running are the Transit Riders Union and Seattle CityClub. 

The new council members are also busy hiring their staff and getting their offices in order. CM Hollingsworth of D3 has hired Anthony Derrick as her chief of staff. Derrick has served in the past as Communications Director for the City Attorney’s Office under Ann Davison and as Mayor Durkan’s press secretary. She also hired Logan Bowers as her policy director, who you might remember for his unsuccessful primary run for the City Council D3 seat in 2019.

While the Black Lives Memorial Garden in Cal Anderson Park was forcibly removed in late December, it sounds like that area’s legacy of sweeps is continuing, with another sweep occurring late in the evening of January 4. Before the removal of the garden, it had been swept 76 times

Bryan Kirschner wrote an op-ed in The Urbanist discussing the inefficiency of SPD. To understand the full thrust of his argument, I suggest reading the whole piece, but here is a sample:

If you’re seeing a pattern here, it’s that the mayor and police chief kneecapped the department’s ability to investigate serious crime in order to backfill officers handling calls that don’t require officers to handle.

We know with 100% certainty that they did not need to do this, because other police departments are already using alternative responders to handle these types of calls.”

King County News:

Choose 180 has announced a new executive director: Nneka Payne.

CM Mosqueda has been sworn in as a councilmember of King County, and she will be chairing the Health and Human Services committee. Not only does this committee oversee issues relating to affordable housing, but it also has purview over the County’s gun violence prevention programs, which reside under Public Health.

Washington State News:

A Seattle Times op-ed discusses our state’s jail fatality crisis and demands better (and independent) oversight:

What we found demonstrates that immediate action is required. Even accounting for Washington’s population growth, the Washington jail death rate nearly tripled between 2000 and 2019 — an increase 16 times that of the national average. Outpacing other states, Washington now has the fourth-highest rate of jail deaths in the nation.”

The internal investigation of the officers responsible for the death of Manual Ellis has been completed, but the release of the findings is being delayed until next Tuesday, January 16. Meetings between the officers and the police chief are scheduled to take place this Friday. This investigation will determine whether the officers in question can remain at the Tacoma Police Department.

House Bill 1994, a bill that would “allow defendants in misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor cases to request a dismissal if they complete court-ordered conditions that vary by case,” received a hearing on Tuesday. King 5 goes on to report: 

“The bill’s prime sponsor, Darya Farivar (D) 46th District, said that most people who enter the criminal justice system do so because of their disabilities, and this bill will reduce an overwhelmed prison system and reduce the rate of recidivism. 

“What this bill does is it allows our only neutral party in the courtroom to make a decision that could lead to increased success in a more meaningful way than incarceration has been proven to do in the past,” said Farivar. “This is not a blank check to anyone. This is an opportunity to be creative and to meet people where they’re at, which I think is really missing in our criminal legal systems.””

Unsurprisingly, City Attorney Ann Davison opposes this bill. 

National News:

The Guardian ran a story this week on 2023’s record number of killings by the police in the US: “Police in the US killed at least 1,232 people last year, making 2023 the deadliest year for homicides committed by law enforcement in more than a decade, according to newly released data.

On police killings vs the national homicide rate: “The record number of police killings happened in a year that saw a significant decrease in homicides, according to preliminary reports of 2023 murder rates; one analyst said the roughly 13% decrease in homicides last year appears to be the largest year-to-year drop on record, and reports have also signaled drops in other violent and property crimes.”

On disparate impacts on people of color: “In 2023, Black people were killed at a rate 2.6 times higher than white people, Mapping Police Violence found. Last year, 290 people killed by police were Black, making up 23.5% of victims, while Black Americans make up roughly 14% of the total population. Native Americans were killed at a rate 2.2 times greater than white people, and Latinos were killed at a rate 1.3 times greater.”

Recent Headlines:

 

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:

 

Seattle’s Alternate Response Pilot a Far Cry from 2020 Demands

Seattle News:

Yours truly was quoted in a recent Urbanist article about the recent shakeup at the Mayor’s Office, which reports that Tim Burgess will be promoted to Deputy Mayor in Monisha Harrell’s wake. Former OPA Director Andrew Myerberg will also be receiving a promotion to Chief Innovation Officer, which will put him on the executive team. It appears that current Senior Deputy Mayor Monisha Harrell will be staying until the end of the summer.

Senior Deputy Mayor Harrell appeared at Tuesday’s Public Safety and Human Services Department committee meeting to deliver a presentation on the City’s much-delayed dual dispatch response. The City is hiring six mental health professionals and one clinical supervisor; the mental health professionals will be dispatched in three teams of two, with two teams working at a time. When the new program launches, theoretically in October, it will respond to calls such as welfare checks and person down calls, and it will not provide 24/7 response. Monisha Harrell spoke to the potential of alternate response programs to act as preventative measures that address situations before they become emergencies. 

However, this new program ultimately won’t deliver on the hope to have a new non-police emergency response in Seattle, which has been consistently blocked for the last three years by SPD, SPOG, and former Mayor Durkan. As Ashley Nerbovig at the Stranger succinctly summarizes: “A lot of questions about the direction of the program remain, and part of the pilot program includes collecting data to learn what types of calls don’t require police. That data basically already exists, though. The National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform’s 2021 analysis showed that 80% of SPD calls for service involved non-criminal matters. The report also found that about half of all calls did not require a sworn response.” 

She reports that the main difference between this pilot program and the already existing Crisis Response Team is that with the new program, police will be allowed to leave the scene if they decide their presence is unnecessary. This might reflect a recent change in the pilot design as in the past, the dual dispatch plan has been described as having police staged nearby in case backup was needed, which is a key difference as police being directly on the scene can have an escalating effect. In any case, it seems clear the new pilot deviates from the model proven by the successful CAHOOTS and STAR programs.

Meanwhile, the overdue white paper was not mentioned.

On Tuesday the Mayor held a press conference to discuss his downtown activation plan, but he was interrupted by a small group of protesters demanding a ban on sweeps during the winter and extreme weather events. According to The Stranger, he got “incredibly flustered” and stated that the press conference “had them outnumbered at least.” Expect local groups to take notice of the Mayor’s discomfort with protestors and increase their direct actions in response.

Publicola reported on the substance of the proposal, which is mostly a repeat of what the Mayor has announced before: “And, of course, it assumes a heavier police presence downtown—a mostly unspoken, but bedrock, element of the proposal. “Make Downtown Safe and Welcoming” is actually number one on the plan’s list of seven priorities, starting with arrests of people “distributing and selling illegal drugs” (and, presumably, using them—Harrell mentioned that a bill criminalizing drug possession and public use will likely pass in July).”

Mayor Harrell’s office has released a memo on OPA findings about former SPD Chief Carmen Best. Because Best refused to participate in the investigation, the OPA said they were unable to find sufficient evidence to determine whether several of her statements in the summer of 2020 were “knowingly false.” The Mayor’s memo acts as a toothless rebuke, as Best will suffer no repercussions for her actions, even as the Capitol Hill Seattle Blog reports that “Best’s use of information and inaccurate statements fits into a pattern of disinformation and “improper ruses” used by SPD during the protests.”

SPD Officer Constantin, who was fired for his social media posts, had his appeal dismissed after he failed to appear. Former SPD Officer Adley Shepherd’s appeal (he was suing the City after being fired for punching a woman he’d arrested and handcuffed) has also been dismissed.

County, State, and National News:

The King County Sheriff’s Office has been ordered to reinstate a deputy they fired in 2021 for killing an unarmed man who was wanted for the theft of a vehicle and a poodle. (The poodle survived.) King County later settled with the man’s family for $2.5 million. Deputy George Alvarez, who already had five shootings under his belt at the time of the incident, will return to the department, although he will not be reinstated to the SWAT team. As Publicola reports, Tamer Abouzeid, the director of OLEO, hopes the outcome of this case could lead to changing the burden of proof of administrative investigations to a preponderance of the evidence, which is a lower burden of proof than the current standard used of clear and convincing standard. 

In the last three or so months, nearly 400 inmates in the King County Jail have been moved to the Maleng Regional Justice Center (MRJC) in Kent. MRJC  now houses about 40% of the average daily jail population, up from around 25%, while the population of the downtown jail has been decreased by about a third. Right now, SCORE is housing 30 jail residents for King County. 

Meanwhile, Larch Corrections Center in Clark County will be closing this fall. It is one of twelve prisons in Washington State. Apparently the Department of Corrections is also finally developing a plan to reduce the use of solitary confinement in Washington prisons, after strong grassroots advocacy for legislation that would ban such use entirely, given that solitary confinement that lasts more than 15 days is recognized as torture by the United Nations and various human rights organizations.

Scott Greenstone at KNKX recently published an excellent piece outlining the lack of drug treatment facilities in Washington state and consequences of the new Blake fix drug law. While legislators and the governor insist the new law is meant to help people get more treatment more than it is to increase incarceration rates, there is a serious lack of treatment facilities in the state, and the existing facilities often have wait times of several months. We don’t know the full extent of the problem because “it’s unclear how many beds are actually sitting empty right now in Washington: The system is so complicated and poorly tracked, neither the governor’s office, nor the Washington Department of Health, nor the Healthcare Authority could provide those numbers.” And the urgency of the problem is increasing: while the number of people getting treated for substance use disorder has stayed relatively flat, the number of overdoses has skyrocketed in recent years.

The article also features noted addiction expert Caleb Banta-Green, who spoke to his feelings of discouragement after the new law was passed, as well as his worries that it will “make it easier to shut down clean-needle exchanges, and force people into an ineffective treatment system.”

Nationwide, we’re seeing a drop in the murder rate, as reported by Radley Balko: “If trends continue, 2023 will see the largest percentage drop in murders in U.S. history. The drop will be driven primarily by large declines in big cities. This would seem to undermine the argument that the 2-year rise in homicides during the pandemic was driven by criminal justice reform, George Soros’s favored prosecutors, or policing shortages.”

Housekeeping:

I’ve received a few pledge requests through Substack, so I just wanted to give you a reminder that if you want to support Notes from the Emerald City via subscription, you can do so through my Patreon.

Recent Headlines:

Recent Drop in Violent Crime Takes the Wind out of Fearmongers’ Sails

We’ve Moved!

As you know, I’ve been working on finding a new home for Notes from the Emerald City. And here’s what I’ve got for you!

Newsletter subscribers will continue to receive every issue emailed to them through Substack. Yes, I have feelings about Substack. Yes, this is the compromise I referenced having to make last week. But you as the readers should experience a seamless transition. 

But there’s more! There is now an official WEBSITE of Notes from the Emerald City. I am really excited about this because it provides a searchable archive of all the articles I’ve written. I’m also tagging posts with relevant topics, a process that I expect to become more fine-tuned over time. I hope this will make Notes from the Emerald City even more useful as a community resource. I used it just this weekend to quickly pull up recent SPD staffing numbers, and it worked beautifully.

For those of you who had paid subscriptions in the past, I have new options for you! You can set up a monthly subscription payment through either Patreon or Paypal. You can also give one-time donations through Paypal. (This same information can be found on the new website’s Donate page.)

If you have any trouble with the transition, please don’t hesitate to reach out and I’ll do my best to get you sorted.

Seattle News

Speaking of those SPD staffing numbers, let’s talk about Danny Westneat’s recent column in the Seattle Times: Seattle’s pandemic crime fever may finally be breaking. I’m glad it’s finally becoming mainstream to admit that the increase in certain types of violence we’ve seen over the past few years is very probably closely related to living through a historical and deadly global pandemic. Westneat reports that violent crime started dropping in October, and December saw the fewest number of violent crimes reported since March 2020. 

It is important to note that while violent crime is now dropping, SPD staffing of officers in service was significantly lower in October of 2022 than it was in 2019 before the pandemic, or even in 2020. This is a powerful argument against the story that “defunding the police” or even just run-of-the-mill staffing woes caused the spike in violence. 

graph of SPD staffing showing a drop from a bit over 1200 officers in service in 2019 to a bit under 1000 officers in service in 2022 YTD.
Slide from SPD budget presentation given in October of 2022

As for media’s incessant fear-mongering over crime throughout 2021 and 2022, which we’re already seeing being walked back by the likes of a Walmart executive saying they might have cried too much over retail theft last year, what reflections does Westneat offer? “Crime going up is a story that grabs you; crime going down will either be ho-hummed or outright disbelieved, especially by Seattle’s many national critics. It’s also one of the riskier stories one can do in the news business, as the next big shooting or killing, which is certainly coming, will make me look like an idiot.” Translation: don’t expect improvement in the quality of the media discourse any time soon. 

Today’s Public Safety and Human Resources committee meeting was unavailable to watch due to technical difficulties at the Seattle Channel, but you can read about OIG’s 2023 work plan here and here. They are gearing up to take over some of the SPD monitoring duties currently covered by the Court Monitor and his team as Mayor Harrell continues to try to maneuver the city out of a consent decree that has now lasted more than ten years. Given their staffing difficulties, it remains to be seen how taking over some of these duties will affect the organization as a whole.

A head’s up that SPOG President Mike Solan is almost finished serving his three-year term that began in March of 2020. Mike Solan ran against incumbent Kevin Stuckey and won in what Seattle Times referred to as a “landslide vote” of more than 500 out of 750 total votes. Mike Solan made the news in 2021 when he blamed the January 6th insurrection on Black Lives matter protesters, prompting 8 out of 9 city councilmembers (all but CP Juarez) to call for his resignation. 

Matthew Mitnick, a member of Seattle’s Human Rights Commission who is running for the open councilmember seat in District 4, announced that at their Feburary 2nd meeting, the HRC will be seeking amicus status with the federal court overseeing the consent decree. About this decision, he says on Twitter, “The only way to inform the court about what is actually happening here is by allowing those most impacted by police violence to speak out.” The HRC has been trying to take this step since last year, which ultimately resulted in several members resigning in protest in the fall. 

Meanwhile, the City of Seattle has been named in a lawsuit claiming its anti-graffiti statute is unconstitutional and that the SPD selectively enforce it against those creating anti-police graffiti. 

WA State News

The Washington State legislative session began yesterday, huzzah!

Legislators are attending a public hearing this afternoon on HB 1087, the bill that would ban long-term solitary confinement. It might be too late by the time you read this to do the quick bill signing on PRO that you may remember from prior years, but it is never too late to email the legislators on the appropriate committee to tell them you support it.

Kari Plog reports that the state’s new Office of Independent Investigations, which was supposed to start reviewing cases last July, has only filled 15 of its 80 positions. There is no timeline on when they will have enough staff to actually begin conducting investigations. 

National News

The Guardian reported that killings by US police reached a record high last year; at least 1,176 people were killed by police in 2022, which comes out to more than 3 people every day of the year. Only 31% of the incidents leading to the killing began with an alleged violent crime. Racial disparities in who is getting killed by police also remain, with Black people making up 24% of those killed by police while only being 13% of the general population. 

Recent Headlines

Seattle May Get Its Alternative Response Pilot in 2023 After All

Chances to Act and Learn

Your next chance to weigh in on Seattle’s redistricting process is THIS Thursday, September 15th at a public forum from 6-8pm. You can either attend in person at City Hall L280 Boards and Commissions Room or call in remotely via Zoom. Either way you can register in advance with with the City. You can read a sample script here. Your last chance to weigh in will be on Saturday, October 8th from 10am-12pm.
Last week the League of Women Voters Seattle King County held their forum entitled “Public Safety and the Role of the King County Prosecutor.” You can watch this spirited and informative conversation for yourself on Youtube.
Also on Thursday evening 9/15 will be the forum for the final three candidates for SPD police chief, live on the Seattle Channel from 6-7:30pm. You can submit questions ahead of time here. If you’re not sure what to ask or want suggestions, People Power Washington has curated a list of potential questions here.

Seattle News

Amy Sundberg
Good morning, and welcome to Seattle’s Public Safety and Human Resources committee meeting. Right now the CMs are meeting the new nominee for the head of Public Health for Seattle and King County, Dr. Khan.
At this morning’s Public Safety and Human Resources committee meeting, two items of note were discussed.
First, the committee questioned the final candidate for OPA Director, Gino Betts Jr. You can read his written answers to several pertinent questions here. The committee voted in favor of his confirmation, with all CMs voting in favor except for CM Mosqueda, who abstained as she wishes to speak with him further as well as engage in more stakeholder dialogue. His final confirmation vote should take place at the full City Council meeting next Tuesday 9/20.
He has spoken many times of his preference for OPA to become a fully civilianized investigative body, and he has also committed to ruling on cases based on the merit of the case as opposed to ruling with an eye as to how they will fare on appeal. This morning he also suggested the next step for radical transparency would be for the OPA to release all video footage, including body-worn camera and car camera footage, as well as police reports to the public, preferably within 30 days of a complaint being filed. He also suggested if SPD was resistant to recommended policy changes, he’d engage with the OIG and CPC and also potentially make the case directly to the people of Seattle. All of these statements stand in strong contrast to the stance of his predecessor, Andrew Myerberg.
In his Q&A linked above, Gino Betts also spoke in support of mediation, a process the OPA offers but which has been little utilized since the start of the pandemic. The mediation system has often been criticized by community and advocates, so it will be interesting to see how hard he pushes for this going forward.
Second, the committee discussed the “term sheet” between the Executive and Legislative branches around work on alternative 911 response in Seattle. As regular readers of this newsletters know, all efforts to stand up alternative response over the past few years have suffered from a lack of coordination and cooperation between these two branches. This new agreement includes provisions for standing up one new alternative response in 2023, as well as further call analysis building on SPD’s risk management demand analysis in order to determine the best alternative response models going forward. The sheet also memorializes agreement over creating a policy proposal to minimize use of sworn officers for special events staffing.
Going forward then, we should expect the following:
  • money allocated in the 2023 budget for the new alternative response that will be implemented in 2023
  • SPD’s risk management demand analysis report, to be presented to the committee on Tuesday, September 27
  • a proposal for special events staffing to be available for analysis later in 2022
  • the policy document outlining the framework for permanent alternative response models in general by the end of 2022
As mentioned above, the City of Seattle announced their three finalists for the SPD police chief position. Two of the finalists already work for SPD, including Interim Chief Adrian Diaz and Assistant Chief Eric Greening. The third finalist, Kevin Hall, is an Assistant Chief of Police in Tucson, Arizona, and implemented his department’s pre-arrest deflection program. However, this program has been criticized by advocates who say it is neither effective nor equitable. Once the Mayor selects his final choice, the candidate will need to be confirmed by the City Council.

Bail Reform

A new study on bail reform in Harris County, Texas shows results of fewer low-level offenders in jail and improved public safety. If you’re interested in bail reform, you can also read civil rights attorney Scott Hechinger’s thread on the topic here:

Scott Hechinger
Please pay attention: Years into bail reform in handful of cities & states round country. Research, reports, & data all are definitive. 100,000s more people free. $100,000,000s taxpayer dollars saved. No related increase in crime. These are facts. Stop believing lies.

Recent Headlines

How Can We Fix the King County Jail Crisis? - The Stranger

Seattle-area law enforcement union chiefs push for Jim Ferrell in prosecutor race | The Seattle Times

We Need to Revisit Long Prison Sentences for Young Offenders | Time

Increasing Police Budgets Leads to Increased Misdemeanor Arrests

California Redefines the Concept of "Care"

Mayor Harrell Has Been Saying Some Interesting Things at SPD Roll Calls

The news didn’t slow down THAT much at the end of August, so let’s dive in and get caught up!

Seattle News

There will be a public Q&A session for the top three candidates for SPD police chief on the evening of Thursday, September 15. You can submit questions for the event here and you can watch it on the Seattle Channel.
Andrew Myerberg was removed from his position as Director of Public Safety for Seattle. He is now “Special Projects Director” and is apparently still working on “safety related legal work, police chief search, accountability issues, etc.” Publicola reports that “Harrell said removing Myerberg from his position was just part of a six-month evaluation that involved “moving people around,” but declined to say more about what Myerberg will do in his new role.” The Mayor’s Office appears to be searching for a replacement for the Public Safety Director position.
Social Housing Initiative 135 qualified to be on the ballot in February 2023.
In MyNorthwest.com, Jason Rantz wrote about how Mayor Harrell has been visiting police precinct roll calls and speaking candidly about his thoughts on Seattle: “I don’t think anyone has a right to sleep in a public space. I don’t think anyone has a right to sleep on a sidewalk and I don’t think anyone has the right to sleep in the park.” Now there’s a quote that gets people to sit up and take notice.
There’s a lot more going on in this article though. It confirms Mayor Harrell’s commitment to ending the consent decree, and it’s the first time I’ve heard the possibility floated that the new SPOG contract negotiations could be done by the end of the year. In addition, the Mayor seems to have indicated he’s getting involved with the City Council races next year, when 7 of the 9 council members will be up for election. Hannah Krieg at The Stranger did some digging and found that Seattle’s big business faction is recruiting candidates to challenge Lisa Herbold in District 1 and Tammy Morales in District 2. Lisa Herbold currently serves as the Chair of the Public Safety and Human Resources committee, and Tammy Morales is one of the most progressive members of the Council. The Mayor also seems to be taking shots at the King County Regional Homelessness Authority (to which Seattle provides a large amount of funding) and Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD), which has been shown to reduce recidivism.
Lastly, Jason Rantz reports that, talking to SPD officers, “many question the mayor’s recruitment and retention plan. They do not think sign-up bonuses will make a difference and they believe the only thing to retain officers would be a fair contract.” It seems not even SPD officers agree with the Mayor’s recruitment bonus plan, legislation for which passed in August.
In other news, now’s your chance to become more informed about an important race that Seattle residents will vote on in November, for Seattle Municipal Court Judge. There are two judicial positions coming to the ballot this year, and The Stranger ran profiles last week on the race between incumbent Adam Eisenberg and challenger Pooja Vaddadi:
It’s Eisenberg’s day-to-day administration of his courtroom and perceived friendliness towards prosecutors, not his work on diversion programs, that attracted an unusually well-funded opponent in this November’s general election.
In a recent survey, Eisenberg was rated lowest for impartiality amongst all his judicial colleagues. He is known for leading the development of the Domestic Violence Intervention Project, which takes a less court-focused and more rehabilitative approach to those accused of domestic violence.
Pooja Vaddadi has her own plans when it comes to supporting diversion programs from the bench:
If she does prevail in November, Vaddadi says she wants to use the relationships she’s built with elected officials on the campaign trail to advocate for more funding for diversion programs so that more low-income people can access them. She also plans to push for expanding diversion programs that prove successful at the King County Superior Court level so that people in Seattle Municipal Court can benefit from them as well.
For Vaddadi, her focus on diversion programs stems from her belief that no one is beyond help, and from a recognition that the criminal legal system creates much of the harm its proponents say they want it to prevent.
Meanwhile, cases at Seattle Community Court are surging as a result of City Attorney Davison’s policy to prosecute more cases than Pete Holmes. Low-level misdemeanors that are eligible for community court are automatically sent there, and in Q2 2022 cases sent to community court have doubled compared to Q2 of 2021. As Josh Cohen in Crosscut writes:
Though court reformers see community court as a more humane alternative to booking people into jail, they don’t necessarily see the increase in community court referrals as positive. Instead, many want to see more cases diverted into alternatives that provide social services and support before they enter the court system. According to city attorney office data, pre-filing diversions and pre-trial diversions are both down significantly compared to years before the pandemic and prior to the creation of Seattle Community Court.

King County News

There will be a forum on Thursday, September 8 at 7pm discussing the role of the King County prosecutor in the criminal punishment system and particularly, how much discretion prosecutors have. This is timely given King County will be electing a new prosecutor in November’s election. You can register for the forum here or watch it live on the League of Women Voters Youtube page.
Speaking of the King County Prosecutor, current prosecutor Dan Satterberg has asked King County Sheriff Cole-Tindall to investigate the deletion of text messages of Seattle city leaders in 2020, including then-Mayor Durkan, then-SPD Chief Best, and SFD Chief Scoggins. While this response seems a bit delayed, to say the least, it is possible Satterberg felt more able to act given his term as prosecutor will be ending shortly. You can read more about it at Axios.
Sydney Brownstone over at The Seattle Times reports that the Seattle jail (run by King County) has had an extreme suicide rate over the past year.
“It’s astronomical,” said Frances Abderhalden, an expert on jail suicides and an assistant professor of criminal justice at California State University, Los Angeles. “It begs the question to me: Why this facility? That’s a lot of death in general in one facility per year.”
In July of 2020, Executive Constantine promised to close this jail, but it is unclear what the timeline of such a closure would be, or if the promise will be kept now that the narrative around the criminal legal system has shifted due to a backlash that, if allowed to prevail, handily protects the status quo.

National News

President Biden has a new crime plan called the “Safer America” plan. Ah, does he finally intend to crack down on gun control, a problem that we know how to solve given the large number of countries that have in fact solved it? No, no, why do the obvious thing to make the US safer when you can hire more police officers instead? The plan consists of hiring 100,000 more police officers and allocating at least an additional $13 billion to America’s police budgets, which are already the largest in the world by far.
Here is Alex Vitale, author of The End of Policing, on the plan:

And as Eric Reinhart starts out his piece in Time Magazine:

The “war on crime” is the highest-casualty, most expensive, and longest-lasting war in American history. This coordinated assault on the nation’s poorest communities has led to tens of millions of individuals locked up in cages with deadly long-term health consequences, at least 31,000 people killed directly by police, and trillions of dollars spent on pointless punishment. For over 50 years, repeated increases to public spending on police and prisons have continually bankrolled this war while failing to ensure safety, leaving the U.S. one of the least safe countries among all wealthy nations.

Recent Headlines

What's in a Movement? Understanding Resistance, Justice & Allies

Texas Bail Reform Reduced Jail Time and Crime, New Study Says - Bloomberg

We Probably Do Not Need Cops Directing Traffic at Sports Games - The Stranger

Seattle Fire Department staff shortage forces extreme hours, $37.7M of OT | The Seattle Times

Seattle police has big backlog of open requests for public records; slow responses persist - Axios Seattle

For some, community court reduces jail bookings by 87% | Crosscut

The role WA courts play in mental health care when someone is in crisis | The Seattle Times

'We are the alternative': A growing movement aims to disrupt violence by connecting incarcerated youth with mentors | CNN

5 agencies create task force to target violent, gun-related crimes in Snohomish County

NYC's Rise of Low-Level Arrests Worry Critics of 'Broken Windows' Era - Bloomberg

SPD Asks for More Money for Hiring Bonuses in 2021

National Policing News

Let’s start off today’s newsletter with a look at some national trends. The Washington Post began tracking fatal shootings by on-duty police officers back in 2015, and has discovered the fatal shootings reported by the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program are vastly lower than shootings the Washington Post has been able to substantiate–indeed, less than half the number. When reading about UCRP numbers, remember that these are voluntarily self-reported by law enforcement agencies, which is why projects like that being done by the Washington Post are so valuable. In fact, it reports that in 2020, only 27 percent of American law enforcement agencies contributed data to the National Use-of-Force Data Collection Program, covering 42 percent of officers. 
The Washington Post‘s data shows a new high of 1,021 fatal shootings by on-duty police officers in 2020. This is in spite of the pandemic and all the protests against police brutality that took place last year. The data shows police shoot an average of almost 3 people per day, and usually about 1,000 people per year. As the article states:
Since Ferguson, departments across the country have taken steps toward reform, but these efforts have been inconsistent and incomplete. Most police departments still do not use body cameras. Experts in law enforcement and criminal justice say there have not been the large-scale policy or legal shifts that might reduce uses of force. And sending mental health teams in response to people in crisis, alongside or instead of armed officers, remains the exception.
The article goes on to say that racial disparities have been documented in police use-of-force, and that Black people are shot and killed at higher rates than White people.
Meanwhile, over at FiveThirtyEight, Samuel Sinyangwe, the founder of the Police Scorecard, says the data shows that cities that have reduced arrests for minor offenses saw fewer police shootings. Indeed:
Reported crime fell in jurisdictions that cut low-level arrests; in fact, it fell by just as much as those cities that made more low-level arrests. Consistent with recent research, cities that reduced low-level arrests did not experience an uptick in violent crime — or murder, specifically — compared to other cities during this period. Moreover, cities that made fewer arrests for low-level offenses did not see a substantial reduction in violent crime arrests, suggesting a more lenient approach to low-level offenses has not resulted in police being less responsive to serious public safety threats.
So much for the broken windows theory of policing. And there is still room for improvement. Sinyangwe says low-level arrests still made up 55 percent of all arrests reported in the nation’s largest cities, and 69 percent of all arrests nationwide, in 2019. It’s possible that further reducing these arrests might reduce the number of police shootings even more, while continuing the move away from criminalizing poverty, mental illness, and drug addiction.

SPD Asks for More Money for Staffing, Again

Mayor Durkan has proposed new legislation that would reinstate $15,000 hiring bonuses for lateral transfers into SPD from other cities, as well as $7,500 bonuses for new recruits to SPD, in addition to adding other incentives to boost hiring, such as mental health professionals for officers. The total legislative package comes in a bit over $15m, which would be accessed by lifting provisos and using SPD attrition salary savings. $1.54m is proposed for Triage One, a CSCC protocol dispatch system, and the Peacekeepers Collective (under the subheading “Community Safety Reinvestments”), with the remaining $13.75m being spent on various SPD budget adjustments including the hiring bonuses.
Because this legislation is being presented as being in response to the recent gun violence in Seattle, the Mayor has emphasized this legislation needs to be passed as soon as possible. CM Pedersen is on the record as saying he wants to vote for the legislation next week. If you don’t wish to see SPD’s budget grow or increased hiring of police officers beyond the current staffing plan in 2021, now would be a good time to write or call your CMs.

The Pink Umbrella Case Strikes Again

Back in May, SPD Chief Diaz raised eyebrows when he overturned the OPA’s decision to discipline Lieutenant John Brooks for the part he played during the Pink Umbrella Protest in the summer of 2020. After saying he had evidence the OPA didn’t have–a claim he later walked back–Chief Diaz eventually disciplined Captain Steve Hirjak for the incident instead by demoting him from Assistant Chief.
Well, now Captain Hirjak has filed a discrimination and retaliation claim against the City of Seattle. He argues that he has been treated unfairly because of his race, and points to errors made by white command staff that have not been disciplined, as well as promotions for Lieutenant John Brooks, among others. The Seattle Times discusses the letter accompanying Captain Hirjak’s claim, saying:
Those identified include Brooks, who received a de facto promotion and pay raise despite racking up 14 misconduct complaints during the protests; Assistant Chief Thomas Mahaffey, who hasn’t been disciplined for ordering officers to abandon the East Precinct; and Assistant Chief Deanna Nollette, who faced no consequences for failing “to gather and understand relevant intelligence” and leaving the department unprepared, according to the letter.
Following the lawsuit brought against the University of Washington by its Black campus police officers earlier this summer claiming unbearable racism, this continues to raise questions as to how minorities are treated when they join law enforcement.
The City and Chief Diaz have until August 11 to agree to mediation in this case; otherwise Captain Hirjak will most likely file a lawsuit.

Recent Headlines

What new WA police accountability laws do and don’t do | Crosscut

Oakland’s police department budget increases in spite of misleading reporting

Seattle Election Strategy

This week Seattle mayoral candidate Jessyn Farrell published an op-ed in The Stranger, in which she takes shots at both Bruce Harrell and Lorena González for having voted for the current SPOG contract in 2018 that failed to enforce the Accountability Ordinance of 2017. This is more interesting as positioning strategy than anything else, as it was Farrell’s campaign that released an early poll a few weeks ago showing Harrell and González as the two frontrunners, with Farrell in a tie for third place. By attacking both of them in the same op-ed, she is attempting to show her viability as a candidate.
Farrell’s campaign is also interesting in that in many respects she is positioning herself as a progressive, urbanist candidate while at the same time supporting the Compassion Seattle initiative. Some observers believe that support for Compassion Seattle acts as a dogwhistle showing which candidates are positioning themselves into the right track of the race…which would also usually be the candidate endorsed by The Seattle Times. It appears Jessyn Farrell might be trying to position herself in the middle, running both sides, so it will be interesting to see if this is a strategy that has any legs in Seattle in the current political climate.
In other election news, The Urbanist has run a questionnaire for Seattle City Council Pos. 9 candidates with a few heavy-hitting questions about SPD’s budget and police accountability measures: you can read answers from Nikkita Oliver and Brianna Thomas.

Meanwhile, in Oakland….

 

The city of Oakland, California has been going through their own reckoning with their police budget, and their City Council made an important vote this week. The local TV news reported on this with the headline “Oakland City Council votes to divert millions from police funding.” In fascinating fashion, you can read the entire article without learning the basics of what happened: that the Oakland Police Department’s budget will still be larger in 2022 than it was in 2021, growing by $9m. Why the fuss then? Oakland’s mayor had proposed an even larger increase of $27m, and the Oakland City Council decided to make a smaller increase and use the difference to fund policing alternatives.
Similar to Seattle, in 2020 the Oakland City Council agreed on a policy goal of cutting the police budget by 50%. And similar to Seattle, this goal has since been cut back significantly, while a task force to “reimagine” policing has been formed.
Over the past year, as the reimagining task force did its work and the council considered policing alternatives, many people made the point that it’s probably impossible to fund non-police alternatives at the scale necessary to have any positive impact without reducing police spending, which is the single largest departmental outlay for Oakland.
The lazy reporting on display in the TV news report above is yet another example of why it’s important to support quality local journalism. The South Seattle Emerald is one excellent Seattle-area example.

SPD K-9 Problems

Publicola reports that a woman attacked by a police dog during a training exercise in 2020 has filed a lawsuit against the City of Seattle. The article reviews several missteps by SPD’s K-9 units in recent years; the OPA has investigated 10 allegations of excessive force involving dog bites since 2015:
While SPD later adjusted its K-9 policies, a 2020 audit by Seattle’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found that the department’s policy revisions included notable flaws, including ambiguity about whether officers can use police dogs at protests.

Drug Decriminalization in Oregon

Last fall Oregon voters passed Measure 110, the drug decriminalization bill, which says if you possess a small amount of the drugs it covers, you will be punished by a civil citation and a $100 fine. You can have the fine waived if you get a health screening from a recovery hotline. Washington State is looking into a similar decriminalization effort, the urgency of which has been increased by the Washington Supreme Court’s recent Blake decision.
The concern in Oregon right now is that there isn’t a robust and comprehensive enough health care/treatment system in place to help people seeking treatment, especially as that number increases. While Portugal saw large successes after decriminalizing drug use in 2001, with dramatic drops in problematic drug use, drug overdoses, and drug-related crime, they paired decriminalization with access to treatment and harm reduction services, as well as encouraging a cultural shift in how society viewed drugs and drug use. Washington State will face a similar issue of needing to scale up drug treatment services in the next few years in order to support the effort to decriminalize drug use.

Recent Headlines

The hard work to uplift Black lives is far from done | The Seattle Times

UW’s Black campus police officers file multimillion-dollar claims over ‘unbearable’ racism | The Seattle Times

Seattle City Council attempts to hold SPD accountable for excessive overtime usage

An update on yesterday’s Finance & Housing committee meeting:

There were three items of note discussed at this meeting that pertained to the SPD:

  • Legislation involving the acceptance of grants included a few grants given to the SPD, including one from the Department of Homeland Security. There was some concern over exactly what a loudspeaker listed was (although everyone seemed pretty confident it wasn’t a weapon) and concern over the type of training that would be funded. I haven’t read the list of equipment funded, but it sounded like most, if not all of it, was related to emergency preparedness as opposed to militarization. The Mayor’s Office and SPD are supposed to report back on the few open questions remaining about said equipment and training before this legislation is voted on at Monday’s Council meeting.
  • The SPD is asking for an additional $5.4m for 2020. While the stated costs that need to be covered are parental leave, FEMA reimbursement, and separation costs for larger than anticipated attrition, it is clear the reason these costs haven’t yet been paid is because the SPD already spent this money on overtime. The Council has been trying to rein in the SPD’s use of overtime for many years. They were reluctant to simply refuse them the money at this time due to issues of liability, but instead they passed a statement of intent that they will trim the 2021 SPD budget of at least $5.4m early next year so the SPD still faces consequences. The Council hopes that monthly reportage of SPD overtime that should start next year will help keep these costs in check in future.
  • The Council was supposed to vote on legislation that would lift the provisos on $2.9m of the SPD’s 2020 budget placed during the summer rebalancing efforts. The Mayor’s Budget Office projects the SPD will need exactly this much money to meet their expenses through the end of 2020, but some of the CMs suspect the SPD might underspend more than anticipated and therefore don’t want to release the money until after the true spending figure for the year is known. After some debate CM Mosqueda won her point and they tabled this topic until early next year, when any discrepancies can be fixed with the annual exceptions ordinance that they pass every year to clean up loose strings. This means the Council will be able to recover the maximum amount of money from the SPD that is possible, if in fact the SPD does underspend by any amount.

The Minneapolis City Council just passed their new budget, which cuts the police budget by slightly more than 4%, with the $8m cut being allocated to alternate investments in public safety. The City Council there had discussed shrinking the police force from 888 to 750 beginning in 2022, but after the Mayor threatened to veto the budget if they did this, they changed their minds in a close 7-6 vote. Minneapolis has been struggling to make any real progress on reform or defunding since the summer protests, running into repeated roadblocks.

In better news, the new DA of Los Angeles, George Gascón, wants to make sweeping changes to the criminal justice system, including stopping most uses of cash bail, prioritizing re-sentencing inmates who are serving excessive sentences, and calling for a Use of Force Review Board. His office will no longer seek the death penalty in Los Angelos County and will begin reviewing current cases with a judgment of death. While he faces opposition to these reforms, this is an excellent example of how important and transformative local elections have the power to be.

And, finally, an eye-opening chart from the Washington Post:

 

 

Next week the City Council will be trying to tie up some loose ends before the start of the Winter Recess, as well as hearing a presentation on the Black Brilliance Research Project preliminary report. In the meantime, have a great weekend!

And the wheel continues to turn slowly

Just a quick update to keep you apprised of current happenings in Seattle, starting with yesterday’s Council Briefing.

During the briefing, there was a second presentation on Seattle’s state legislative lobbying agenda. This agenda will be voted on at the full Council meeting on either December 7 (their goal) or December 14. You can read the current draft of the agenda.

Apparently there is still a chance of a short special state legislative session before the main one beginning in January. However, there’s not much time left to make this happen. There was also another state revenue forecast last week, with positive news that the projected state deficit has shrunk from $10b to $3.3b. The downside to this news is that it may reduce the urgency of lawmakers to pass more progressive taxation legislation this session. Also of note is a new section in Seattle’s lobbying agenda calling for the decriminalization of transportation activity:

We support the decriminalization of transportation activity to improve safety for travelers and the public. We support ending the use of weaponized enforcement for traffic violations and allowing non-uniformed officers, including those working for a local city department that is not a police department, to perform garage and event management activities. We support decriminalizing pedestrian activities such as loitering and jaywalking, which disproportionately impact BIPOC communities. We support setting traffic citation amounts based on income to avoid perpetuating cycles of poverty while ensuring enforcement remains an effective deterrent regardless of an individual’s income and providing additional mitigation for marginalized communities.

In other news, the next Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting will be next Tuesday, December 8 at 9:30am. On the agenda are a discussion about granting the OPA and OIG subpoena powers, a presentation from Co-LEAD, and a discussion about the principles behind CM Herbold’s previous proposal to create defenses for people committing certain misdemeanors when poverty, mental illness, or substance abuse is involved. I plan to live-tweet this one.

Other issues discussed at Council Briefing this week included a COVID relief package for restaurants and restaurant workers; a new project on permanent supportive housing and ways to adjust land use controls to make building it cheaper and faster, presented by CM Lewis (expect more discussion of this in future weeks); and the skyrocketing numbers of COVID-19 cases in our area.

Also yesterday was a legislative preview of police reforms from the Washington State House Public Safety Committee. Among the speakers were several family members of victims of police violence, a few proponents of police reform such as Tim Burgess and Anne Levinson, and representatives of various police groups and unions. The committee chair, Rep. Roger Goodman, said he expected there to be around a dozen proposals to discuss in January, and that they will dedicate entire two-hour hearings to individual bills as necessary. Among the issues under discussion are a state-wide use of force policy; a bill on police tactics that would include a ban on all chokeholds and neck restraints, more limitations on police dog duties, and cessation of no knock warrants; an independent state agency to investigate and prosecute police misconduct relating to deadly force; a statewide requirement for deescalation; a robust decertification system and reporting on officer misconduct by other officers; a publicly searchable database of officer misconduct and also potentially various effectiveness measures; arbitration reform; reforming collective bargaining so that accountability laws aren’t part of bargaining; etc. It’s going to be a busy session, although it’s also good to keep in mind that the legislative process is designed to cause the majority of bills to fail.

The representatives from police groups and unions spoke about the need for more education and training, including implicit bias training, as well as the importance of health, wellness, and resiliency programs for officers. While there are a few areas of overlap for support of reforms depending on the group, overall these groups are not in favor of many of the reforms discussed above.

A moment worth highlighting was when Rep. Lovick asked Tim Burgess why reforms up to this point have not worked. Mr. Burgess had a lengthy reply to this question, and among other things, he said, “The ability of police unions to build in obstacles to reform is extremely detrimental.”

Finally, San Francisco has launched a pilot program for a Street Crisis Response Team now responding to 911 calls related to mental health and addiction. We’ve talked about developing a similar response team in Seattle based on the CAHOOTS model, and it’s great to see other cities jumping on board with this idea.