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 »

All Kinds of Power Struggles in Seattle This Week

Seattle News:

This week there are some interesting follow-ups on developing stories we’ve discussed in the past.

First, Publicola reported that CM Nelson plans to propose legislation that would require the Public Safety Civil Service Commission (PSCSC) to switch police officer tests to the Public Safety test. The current National Testing Network test is more rigorous and was developed with the City of Seattle’s consent decree in mind. The Public Safety test, on the other hand, has a 90% pass rate on the first try. Contrary to what Nelson said in the previous public safety committee meeting on the topic, this seems likely to in fact compromise the standards for police officers in Seattle.

But the plot thickens! The PSCSC has sole authority over developing and holding testing, and changing this would require a law change. From the Publicola article: “Courts have upheld the PSCSC’s authority in the past, Scheele notes. “The last time the Council passed an ordinance undercutting the commission’s independence it had to be repealed,” she said, after a state appeals court ruled that the city council acted outside its authority when it passed a law moving many of the PSCSC’s “substantive” duties, including officer testing, to the city’s Human Resources Department.” So a court case regarding this issue may be in our future. 

Meanwhile, hiring new officers has become difficult across the country and is much more likely to be related to the fact that perceptions of being a police officer have shifted and people aren’t as interested in pursuing a career in law enforcement. 

Relatedly, SPD issued a tepid and disingenuous defense of their treatment of female officers. On the same day, KUOW published an investigative report on sexism and harassment within the department that emphasized how scared these female officers were to even speak to the press: “These women started talking with each other and agreed to speak with KUOW on condition of anonymity, because they feared retaliation. Floyd was the only one to let KUOW identify her. The women said that if found out, they could be investigated for speaking to the press without permission. One woman shook through her interview with KUOW. Five women declined to speak with KUOW, saying through intermediaries that they were scared of retaliation.”

In other news, City Attorney Ann Davison charged the six protesters at a City Council meeting in February with gross misdemeanors for trespassing. And we also got some more information about why Davison might have made the decision to disqualify Judge Pooja Vaddadi from all criminal cases at Seattle Municipal Court. The Stranger reported that Davison asked a higher court to review Vaddadi’s decision to disqualify an assistant city attorney from prosecuting a case. The day after this decision of Vaddadi’s was the day then-Criminal Division Chief Natalie Walton-Anderson sent out the infamous memo that I covered here, announcing the new policy of disqualifying the judge from all future criminal cases.

The Stranger published an in-depth piece on the problems currently faced by Seattle’s dual dispatch program, aka the “alternative” emergency response program that doesn’t follow the best practices of such programs run elsewhere. Ashley Nerbovig reports that the program is currently underutilized and mostly getting referrals from SPD instead of from 911 dispatch. Here is a particularly pertinent quote from the article:

Right now, Smith acknowledges the City is watching whether this program can exist without pissing off either the police or fire union. Police union president Mike Solan has expressed a distaste for police alternatives, appearing to view them as an insult to SPD officers. The City’s contract with SPOG prevents it from shifting any work from sworn-officers to civilians without negotiations. Given how much leverage the City has already given away in the MOU, and given the repeated emphasis from the Mayor and the council on hiring more police officers as the only solution to public safety concerns, it seems unlikely that they’ll push hard to take lower-priority work off the plates of officers who constantly complain about having all this low-priority work on their plates. The other lingering question is whether the City plans to actually fund the program long-term.” 

Finally, Publicola reported on two smaller stories. First, the City Council are having embarrassing budget conversations in which they call out problems of efficiency with the budget that do not in fact exist. And second, CM Bob Kettle exposed City Hall to COVID when he knew he’d been exposed but did not choose to work from home until he got a positive test. For those who are unaware, it is in fact possible to spread COVID before you test positive. 

Jail News:

The Seattle Times reported about a 24-year-old who hung himself while in the Klickitat County Jail last year while withdrawing from fentanyl, which highlights how underprepared many Washington jails find themselves for dealing with the current fentanyl crisis. The article says, “As of 2019, Washington’s county jails had among the highest death rates in the nation. Suicide has been the leading cause of death in the state’s jails and in jails nationally.”

And Publicola reported on the death of a woman in the SCORE jail last year. She died of dehydration, malnutrition, low electrolyte levels and renal failure. 4 people died in the SCORE jail last year, which is a very high number given its population. About the fatality report, Publicola had this to say: “The report said Majoor was well-known to staff at SCORE and implied that this may have led to inadequate care: “Over familiarity with the decedent and previous detox experiences were discussed as possible issues.””

At the King County Law and Justice committee meeting this past week, councilmembers discussed the plan to close the County’s juvenile detention facility. In 2020 Executive Dow Constantine promised to close the facility by 2025, but that date has been recently pushed out until 2028, and judging by the committee discussion, is likely to be pushed out even further. Indeed, some councilmembers did not seem convinced that actual achievement of zero youth detention will ever be possible.  

The main points of contention appear to be whether the newly proposed respite and receiving centers for youth would feature locked doors and what the differences might be between security and safety. 

Councilmember Jorge Barón spoke eloquently about the problem, saying, “It strikes me as a failure of our society that we have people at a young age engaged in harm-causing behavior, including very serious criminal behavior. We need to really reflect on that. What kind of society are we creating and how do we change that?” He spoke about how the current system contributes to harm-causing behavior rather than reducing it. 

The County will start public engagement on the Care & Closure plan soon, as well as releasing recommendations for improvements that can be made to the existing facility that can be included in Constantine’s budget proposal this fall. Meanwhile, the advisory committee will continue to meet to hash out the question of security vs. safety.

Recent Headlines:

All Kinds of Power Struggles in Seattle This Week Read More »

Does SPD Staffing Impact Crime Rates? Looks Like Not So Much.

Seattle News:

My piece on police hiring bonuses and incentives was published in The Urbanist this week. Of particular note are the following:

  • The Council is discussing several potential incentives and perks for SPD officers, including housing subsidies. In spite of the backdrop of the $230 million budget deficit for 2025,they do not seem concerned by how much this might all cost. I’ll be interested to see how much SPD’s total percentage share of the General Fund grows in the next proposed budget.
  • The Councilmembers do not seem to want to explicitly say they’re looking into lowering standards for becoming a police officer, but they are discussing measures that have the potential to do exactly that, even before the consent decree is entirely closed out.
  • Chief Diaz said the robustness of Seattle’s accountability system is having a negative impact on officer morale, and he wants to move more minor offenses away from the OPA.
  • Last week’s public safety forum poll showed community most wants expanded addiction treatment and gun violence reduction. The latter of these would require further investment in gun violence prevention programs. 
  • Both SPD and most of the Council seem happy to ignore the report on the poor and discriminatory treatment of women officers that came out last year. In further updates, Publicola reported that SPD has lost its sole female command staff member to retirement. The article includes this interesting tidbit: “Last year, Cordner reportedly left SPD’s Before the Badge program, where she was one of the program leaders, because of one of the instructors’ views on what he called the LGBTQ “lifestyle,” including his opposition to same-sex marriage.”
  • You can read the Stranger’s take on this issue here.

While both Seattle City Council and governor candidate Bob Ferguson want more cops (more on the latter in a moment), Guy Oron of Real Change ran some numbers and found that SPD staffing and crime rates don’t correlate at all. This is critical information to understand given how many other programs Seattle may defund at the end of the year in a desperate attempt to hire more officers.

The deadline for folks to turn in their comments about the three new surveillance technologies being considered in Seattle is today at 5pm. Marcus Harrison Green wrote an op-ed for the Seattle Times entitled: ShotSpotter: Why waste money we don’t have on technology that doesn’t work? 

He says, “Demanding a technology proves its effectiveness before we purchase it does not mean we are any less outraged about the gun violence in our city. It means we very rationally would rather allocate funds toward something with demonstrable efficacy.”

On Tuesday, City Council un-did 20 out of the 36 budget statements of legislative intent (SLIs) passed with the 2024 budget. As Publicola says, “For the council to reverse most of the accountability and transparency measures imposed by a previous council is an extreme move that may be unprecedented.”

Next Tuesday’s Public Safety committee meeting will feature introductory reports from Seattle Municipal Court and the City Attorney’s Office. 

The Urbanist published a new review of protest-related events from 2020, with new footage showing SPD kettling protesters. SPD’s commander in the field was later promoted and also served on the OIG’s sentinel event review of the 2020 protests, which meant he had influence over the report’s findings. Per the article:

Only four out of 133, or 3%, of investigations completed by the Seattle Office of Police Accountability (OPA) into SPD’s 2020 protest conduct have resulted in officer suspensions without pay, according to a review of OPA files.”

WA State News:

Bob Ferguson, who is running for WA governor, unveiled his public safety plan this week. It includes boosting funding to hire more WA State Patrol troopers and give $100 million in grants for city and counties to increase police staffing. He wants to achieve universal adoption of body-worn cameras for police and improve and expand access to law enforcement data, although he doesn’t say if he’d consider using real-time crime centers to achieve the latter. You can read more about concerns about real-time crime centers here

From his website: “As Governor, Bob will build upon his work within the Criminal Justice Training Commission to expand and improve training for community-based policing, expanding co-response and non-armed responders rooted in de-escalation and behavioral health training, and improve data collection and reporting to improve public trust. He will also use the bully pulpit of his office to highlight good works by law enforcement across the state.”

He also wants to implement a crisis response plan to the fentanyl epidemic.

The Washington Observer says Ferguson’s biggest vulnerability in the governor’s race is public safety, hence this plan.

 Recent Headlines:

 

Does SPD Staffing Impact Crime Rates? Looks Like Not So Much. Read More »

Are $230 Million in Seattle Budget Cuts Even Possible? Budget Director Says No.

Seattle News:

This week at Seattle’s Public Safety committee meeting, the committee discussed SPD testing, recruiting, and retention. Then on Thursday night, Mayor Harrell hosted a public safety forum at the Seattle Public Library. He plans to hold more informal public safety forums by precinct in the month of April.

Fascinating things were said at both of these meetings, and I’m currently working on a longer piece analyzing them more thoroughly. More on this, hopefully next week! 

City Council is teed up to vote on a resolution at next week’s 3/19 meeting that appear to eliminate several Statements of Legislative Intent (SLI) passed by last year’s Council. One of the SLIs not appearing on the new list is the request for an evaluation of Seattle’s current gun violence prevention programs. More specifically, the SLI requested that “HSD and CSCC/CARE perform a gap analysis of the City’s current and priority investments in gun violence prevention as compared to the recommendations in the King County Regional Community Safety and Wellbeing (RCSWB) Plan, and identify complementary, duplicative, or gaps in services provided by the City and King County.” 

It is ironic that at a time when the city is trying to pressure through three concerning surveillance technologies with the justification that the city is struggling with gun violence, they are not willing to even finish a basic evaluation of already existing investments that won’t cost a penny.

Following up on the news about the City Attorney trying to disqualify Judge Vaddadi from hearing cases, the Seattle Times reports that certain defense attorneys are independently trying to find a way to fight back by having Vaddadi sign subpoenas and then arguing her signature on these documents means she shouldn’t be unilaterally removed from hearing the cases:

In an interview, Vaddadi confirmed attorneys had sent her “fewer than a hundred” subpoenas to sign, which she did, but said she was unaware of any strategy by attorneys to get her back on the calendar. She, and at least some of her colleagues, interpret the court’s rules to mean that any judge can sign any subpoena sent to them.

“I would never strategize with one party or another, that would be incredibly unethical,” she said.”

Regarding Seattle’s upcoming enormous budget deficit, Crosscut recently reported that Julie Dingley, the city’s budget director, had said they will not be able to make $230 million worth of cuts by the beginning of 2025, and has suggested they will have to come up with one-time strategies to stagger implementation of such a large amount of cuts. It’s worth noting that Seattle is required by law to have a balanced budget. 

The same article reports that Councilmember Kettle supports having JumpStart tax funds go directly to the general fund to help balance it instead of honoring the spending plan for the tax that is currently in city statute. The JumpStart tax is currently the top source of funding for affordable housing in the city, so redirecting it in such a way would have consequences to the already meager store of affordable housing. 

Election News:

Tanya Woo has officially declared her candidacy for the Seattle City Council seat that she currently holds as an interim appointee. No other candidates for the seat have yet filed.

Perennial state lawmaker Frank Chopp has announced his retirement, and Shaun Scott has announced his candidacy to take over the 43rd Legislative District seat. And he is coming out swinging! Here is the first paragraph of his press release announcing his candidacy:

“The past four years have dealt a lifetime of challenges to residents of the 43rd Legislative District. The working class has seen costs of living increase, while major corporations dominate local elections and evade taxes. Renters can’t afford rent. For young people, the reality of a permanently altered climate lingers like smoke. Students are punished for attending state universities with a life sentence of debt. Disabled and immunocompromised Washingtonians enjoy few public accommodations, and Long COVID looms as a public health emergency. While Washingtonians hope a Democrat-controlled State Legislature and Governor’s office will support staple programs such as special education funding and the resumption of free meals in public schools, MAGA Republicans in cahoots with the billionaire class have launched initiatives to rollback recent state-level wins on climate sustainability and fair taxes.”

Scott is the Policy Lead at the Statewide Poverty Action Network, which is the advocacy arm of Solid Ground, which was founded by his predecessor Chopp. He is known for his run for City Council for D4 in 2019, a race he lost to Alex Pedersen by 4 points while being wildly outspent. Scott also authored the state-level guaranteed basic income (GBI) pilot in 2022.

King County News:

The Washington State Bar Association recently passed new standards for public defenders that will reduce their caseloads. While these standards will affect the entire state, they particularly impact King County because attorneys in King County are required to follow standards that the WSBA adopts.

Publicola reported that Executive Constantine was “alarmed enough” about this possibility that he had his general counsel send a letter to the WSBA asking them not to adopt these new standards. It is likely he is concerned about how this will impact funding for public defense, given the County is currently facing a two-year $100 million budget deficit. 

Publicola said: “According to DPD director Anita Khandelwal, that means the county must either hire enough attorneys—along with support staff like paralegals, social workers, and investigators—to meet the new standards or invest in alternatives to prosecution and incarceration, reducing caseloads by reducing the number of cases.” But Khandelwal argues it doesn’t have to be a budget question, as the County has three years to potentially ramp up alternative programming that would reduce their dependence on the traditional criminal legal system.

Recent Headlines:

 

Are $230 Million in Seattle Budget Cuts Even Possible? Budget Director Says No. Read More »

The Seattle City Attorney Has Been Busy

Personal News:

I had a novel come out this week! My Stars Shine Darkly is a YA science fiction novel and a dystopian romance. 

Book cover of My Stars Shine Darkly by Amy Sundberg, showing a teenage girl in a fancy dress and a golden Venetian mask

“In a story awash with Shakespearean intrigue and hijinks, join our intrepid heroine as she struggles against the dystopian patriarchy of her world.”

You can purchase it here or request it from your local library.

Seattle News:

Soon after I hit publish on my issue last Friday, the news dropped that the Seattle City Attorney’s Office would be filing an affidavit of prejudice on Seattle Municipal Court Judge Pooja Vaddadi on all criminal cases going forward. I dug more deeply into the issue with my story at the Urbanist. Perhaps most concerning is how this decision undermines the independence of the court from other branches of government.

Meanwhile the court is also in turmoil because of the rollout of a new case management system this week that has been bumpy at best. As The Seattle Times reports: “Court hearings have been exceedingly slow. Where it previously took a half a day to work through first appearances, when a judge sets bail, it’s now taking a full day, meaning some people are spending longer in jail than they otherwise would.

Yesterday at the State of Downtown event hosted by the Downtown Seattle Association, City Attorney Ann Davison said shesupports setting a limit on the number of times a person is allowed to overdose in public before they’re arrested and booked into jail.” While this law would supposedly only go into effect if a person refused treatment after an overdose, in practice treatment is often unavailable.

The City Attorney’s Office also announced they would be charging SPD Officer Kevin Dave, the officer who struck and killed Jaahnavi Kandula, with what amounts to a traffic ticket. Publicola reported that Dave received a hiring bonus of $15k after being hired in November of 2019: “Dave was previously an officer in Tucson, Arizona, but was fired from that previous position in 2013 after failing to meet minimum standards during his 18-month probation period.”

Daniel Auderer, the SPOG vice president who got caught in a recording laughing at Kandula’s death, was scheduled to have his disciplinary hearing with Chief Diaz this past Tuesday. Auderer has not yet had his pre-termination or “Loudermill” hearing, which would be required before he could be fired.

In other news, Publicola reported that SPD is continuing to operate under a crowd control policy that is against the law. SPD ignored the city’s new less-lethal weapons law (passed in 2021) for a few years before finally submitting a proposal in December 2023:

“Accompanying the policy: A memo from SPD denouncing their own proposal as “dangerous” and unworkable and asking the court to instead approve the department’s existing “interim” crowd control policy, which does not ban or substantially restrict the use of a single less-lethal weapon.”

The article goes on to state, “Antonio Oftelie, the court monitor overseeing the consent decree, told PubliCola that his office and the DOJ have decided to step back and see if SPD, working with the mayor and new city council, can come up with a policy in the first quarter of this year that complies with the consent decree and is something all sides can live with.

One example of SPD ignoring the new law was back in February when they dispersed a Pro-Palestine rally with pepper balls, which wouldn’t have been available for use if SPD had a policy in line with the existing legislation.

Mayor Harrell announced a new contract with the Coalition of City Unions with the following specifications:

“The proposed contracts include a 5% Annual Wage Increase (AWI) retroactively applied for 2023 and a 4.5% AWI for 2024, totaling a two-year 9.7% adjustment. The 2025 AWI will be based on a two-year average of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue-area with a 2% floor and a 4% cap. The 2026 AWI will be calculated similarly but then be increased by 1% with a 3% floor and a 5% cap.”

The contract has already been approved by union members and will now go for a final vote before City Council. It is currently unclear to me whether this increase in wages has already been calculated into the city’s looming deficit for 2025. According to Publicola, city departments are preparing plans to lay off employees (while already operating under a hiring freeze).

King County News:

This week Executive Constantine announced a five-prong strategy for addressing the fentanyl crisis and preventing overdoses. The five prongs are as follows:

  1. Treatment: launching a 24/7 buprenorphine prescribing line; increasing staffing for both the youth and adult mobile crisis programs; hiring 6 new community navigators to connect people with treatment
  2. Behavioral health beds: partnering with Pioneer Health Services to open 16-bed residential treatment program for people with both mental health and substance abuse disorders; re-opening a 24/7 SUD sobering center; opening post-overdose recovery center
  3. Overdose reversal meds and fentanyl testing: distributing more naloxone kits and test strips; testing drug samples; increasing number of fire depts providing leave-behind naloxone
  4. Behavioral health workforce: adding 100 apprenticeships statewide with half in King County
  5. Reduce disproportionality in overdose: investing $2 million in disproportionately impacted populations

KUOW reported that no new money is being allocated for this project, and when exactly any of this will happen is unknown. Neither Executive Constantine nor anyone else at the press conference would specify a timeline. Clint Jordan of Pioneer Human Services, however, did comment on when a 16-bed residential treatment program could open.

“We’re targeting a six month open,” Jordan said. “I think that puts us in October, November, somewhere in there.””

WA State Legislature News:

Initiative 2113, which changes the state-wide policy on vehicular pursuits, was passed in the state legislature on Monday. Unlike the reform on pursuits passed in 2021 and then weakened in 2023, this initiative doesn’t restrict pursuit based on type of violation in any way. Opponents say this change will almost certainly cause collateral damage, likely leading to more deaths and injuries. As Publicola reported, “Going back to 2015, Morris found that of 379 people killed by police in Washington state, 26 percent involved vehicular pursuits. Of the 32 deaths in Washington caused by collisions during pursuits, more than half were bystanders, passengers, or officers.”

Crosscut reported on two new gun control laws that are likely to make it through this year’s legislative session: one on reporting stolen guns and another on gun dealer security measures. 

Speaking of, this year’s legislative session is officially over. The WA State Standard reported that “Republicans had a pretty good year” and “big progressive priorities flared out.” 

Recent Headlines:

The Seattle City Attorney Has Been Busy Read More »

2024 Has Not Been Kind to Seattle Protesters Thus Far

Lots to cover from the last two weeks! Let’s get right into it. 

Seattle News:

First off, King County prosecutors declined to prosecute SPD Officer Kevin Dave, who ran over pedestrian Jaahnavi Kandula going 74 mph in a 25 mph zone last year, killing her. The case was referred by SPD as a felony traffic case last summer, and now the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office has said they would be unable to prove felony charges beyond a reasonable doubt. The Stranger reported thatDave joined the department in 2019 and received a hiring bonus. He previously had his Arizona driver’s license suspended in 2018 for unpaid traffic fines and failure to appear in court, according to reporting from DivestSPD.” The OPA will now re-start their own investigation of Dave: “the formal complaint against Dave accuses him of behaving unprofessionally and violating the emergency driving policy, among other potential violations.”

This week, six protesters were arrested at the full City Council meeting on Tuesday. Council President Sara Nelson limited public comment to 20 minutes, in spite of there being many present to ask for help funding housing for asylum seekers currently camping outside a Tukwila church. CP Nelson called for security to clear the room, and then when protestors continued to bang on windows from outside, CM Cathy Moore asked for a police presence to arrest the individuals. You can read more about her remarks here.

As a result, six protesters were arrested and booked into the King County Jail, where they were each required to post $1000 for bail. Given the current booking restrictions at the jail, this is particularly noteworthy. This follows the case pursued by the Seattle City Attorney brought to trial about the Stop the Sweeps protester who tried to prevent an RV from being towed for a few minutes while its owner obtained a spare tire. 

Also taking place this week was the “final” hearing on the three new surveillance technologies being proposed for SPD: AGLS, CCTV, and RRTC software. Seattle Solidarity Budget submitted a letter opposed to these technologies signed by over 70 community organizations and 1,200 individuals. At the end of this hearing, it was announced the public comment period for these technologies was being extended until March 22. You can fill out feedback forms about these technologies here, and you can find talking points to help you here. You can also read more about the final public hearing here.

In accountability news, the two SPD officers who waited 20 minutes to respond to a shooting call, first reported on by DivestSPD, were given a day off without pay as a consequence. The SPD communications office has been experiencing turmoil lately; since its head, Lt. John O’Neil was appointed in August 2022, the division has experienced turnover of “more than 100 percent,” per Publicola, and an office that previously had 3 men and 3 women is now all men, with one of the women leaving SPD and the other two accepting demotions of rank and now working in patrol.

SPD Officer Mark Rawlins is being investigated by the OPA after throwing a handcuffed 58-year-old Black man onto the ground, an action that was reported by King County Jail supervisors. Rawlins has been investigated by the OPA in 8 different cases since he joined SPD in 2017.

Washington State News:

A bill might be passing the legislature this session that would allow DACA recipients to work as police officers and firefighters. Many supporters of this legislation say it would help hire more police officers.

This week the legislature is also looking into significantly reducing the rules around police pursuits, even though studies show these sorts of chases have been killing 2 people per day in the US the last few years. The new initiative would allow police to start a car chase if they had any reason to believe the person violated any law, which could include traffic infractions and other low-level, non-violent offenses (or no offense at all). This represents a significant rollback of reform initiated in previous sessions.

The Seattle Times ran an in-depth piece examining the current crisis of public defenders in Washington State. There aren’t enough public defenders, which causes a vicious cycle of absurd case loads, burnout, and long wait times to receive free legal advice. 

Recent Headlines:

2024 Has Not Been Kind to Seattle Protesters Thus Far Read More »

City Council Talks SPD Staffing While Ignoring Damning Report on the Department’s Treatment of Women

Seattle News

My article on the three new surveillance technologies currently undergoing impact reports is up now at The Urbanist: Harrell Plans Hasty Rollout of Massive Surveillance Expansion. And here’s another great resource for learning more about these technologies.

I strongly encourage you to get involved in this conversation by doing one or more of the following:

  • You can sign on as a group or individual to this letter.
  • You can attend a public meeting that is part of the SIR process and give public comment on Tuesday, February 27, from 6-7pm at Bitter Lake Community Center (or remotely)
  • You can fill out survey forms for each of the three technologies. More possible talking points are here.

Last year SPD commissioned a report that describes the harassment and discrimination faced by their women officers. The report describes womens’ difficulties being promoted, discrimination about getting pregnant, sexist behaviors and comments, being excluded, and sexual harassment, among other issues. 14.4% of SPD sworn officers are women, down 1% since 2017

Publicola reported that in 2023, out of 61 new officers hired, just five were women, according to Jamie Housen. One of the talking points of the Executive’s Office seems to be that “almost half” of SPD’s command staff is women, but actually only 5 out of 13 are women, with only one being a sworn officer. The other 4 hold civilian positions that are typically held by women. 

In addition to last year’s lawsuit brought by Detective Cookie Boudine, another lawsuit was brought against SPD last month by Deanna Nollette alleging gender discrimination.

The Seattle Times reported: “Most of the report’s interviewees would not tell other women to join the department, James wrote.

“Well, if I were to tell my daughters or, you know, my friends, I tell them to run in the opposite direction, you know, because of the experiences that I’ve had,” one participant said.”

While SPD’s Chief Diaz mentioned wanting to specifically recruit more women at the year’s first Public Safety committee meeting this week, not one council member saw fit to ask him about this report. This lack of oversight fit nicely with the committee’s new attitude of bending over backwards to support SPD.

New Public Safety Chair Robert Kettle emphasized how the problems in Seattle stem from a “permissive environment” and named 6 pillars to address this: police staffing, legal tools, unsecured vacant buildings and lots, graffiti, public health, and “One Seattle engagement with the County and the State.” As Publicola points out, this is in stark contrast to the previous mission of this committee, which “previously highlighted police accountability, alternatives to arrest and jail, and “programs to reduce the public’s involvement with law enforcement and decrease involvement with the Criminal Legal System.”

In other words, it’s all about deterrence and punishment now, with strains of broken windows theory coming round yet again to haunt us.

CARE department head Amy Smith, who everyone called Chief, said that she’d like to expand the hours of the alternate responders. They now cover from 11am-11pm, and she’d like to cover the 11pm-2am window as well. She also mentioned that the responders sometimes have joint trainings with SPD officers.

SPD gave an update on 2023 crime numbers and staffing. In 2023, there was a 9% reduction in overall crime, a 10% reduction in property crime, and a 6% reduction in violent crime. There was a 1% decrease in total shots fired and shooting events, a 23% increase in homicides (although apparently some of these were delayed deaths, the Chief said), and a 3% increase in shooting events alone. The first month of 2024 saw a large reduction in homicides from previous Januaries. The number of rounds fired has increased recently due to high capacity magazines that hold many more rounds.

SPD lost 36 more officers than they were able to hire in 2023. This is a smaller decrease in staffing than any year since 2019, when they had a net gain of 16 officers. Over the last five years, they have lost 715 personnel. For January of this year, they are breaking even in terms of officers leaving vs officers being hired.

The average response time to a Priority 1 911 call is seven and a half minutes; their goal is seven minutes even.

He mentioned they want to close out the consent decree in 2024 and expressed pride that SPD would be one of the first departments to be able to do that. 

There was a lot of discussion of how to increase officer morale, make them feel more supported, increase staffing, and help them recover from the trauma they endured after George Floyd. There was also talk about how not having a new contract is harming SPD in terms of recruiting since officers aren’t being paid enough compared to other agencies. Chief Diaz mentioned doing a lot of recruiting from nearby military bases, citing Portland’s success in increasing staffing in this way. 

CM Moore said they were going to allow police to police and not engage in the micromanagement of the past. She complained that the city is paying for jail space it’s not getting, saying they are paying for 190 jail beds per night but only getting 40, which is a problem, as she wants to send a message of holding people accountable. She suggested the idea of the city looking elsewhere for jail space, which could mean another spotlight on the SCORE jail in Des Moines. As of October 2023, 4 people had died in the SCORE jail in 2023, a very high number.

Publicola ran an article about SPD and the City Attorney’s Office continuing to crack down on sex work:

“Criminalizing sex work is broadly unpopular; during jury selection, echoing national sentiment, 23 of 25 potential jurors said they didn’t think sex work should be illegal. But the city remains deeply invested in penalizing the practice—and pouring resources into prosecuting men who patronize sex workers.

Like James, most of the people prosecuted for patronizing prostitutes are men of color, and defense attorneys say many are immigrants—mostly Latino—who don’t speak English fluently or at all.”

The article also explores what a huge amount of resources these stings and trials take (a single sting can involve as many as 20 officers), and how in City law and SPD policy, sex work and human trafficking are practically the same thing. 

WA State Legislature:

A quick update here. HB 1579–the independent prosecutor bill–and SB 6009–a bill banning hog tying–both passed their houses of origin. Unfortunately, the traffic safety bill HB 1513 has died. HB 1445–the bill giving the Attorney General investigatory power over systemic practices of police agencies–is also dead. HB 2065–the bill about juvenile points–passed out of its house of origin and has a hearing and an executive session scheduled for next week. 

HB 1932 –the bill to allow even year elections–has passed from its house of origin.

Housekeeping:

I’m on vacation next week, so you’ll be hearing from me next in early March. 

Recent Headlines:

City Council Talks SPD Staffing While Ignoring Damning Report on the Department’s Treatment of Women Read More »