Another Wednesday, Another Budget Meeting

Another long Wednesday of budget meetings!

Mayor Recall:

Mayor Durkan has filed a motion to reconsider the judge’s certification of the recall petition. This is a precursor to a probable appeal, and we’re now waiting for the petitioner to respond. If you’re interested in how this recall effort works, this is a great analysis. The key point revolves around whether Mayor Durkan is ultimately the individual responsible for the use of tear gas and other chemical crowd control agents by SPD during the pandemic, or if that responsibility resides with Chief Best. As the article states, delaying the possible recall is in the Mayor’s best interests even if she loses her appeal, both because it allows more time to pass for Seattleites to forget what happened during the protests in June, and because if Biden were to win the presidential election, she might get a new cushy appointment in DC in January.

Timeline:

After today, we have two more weeks of budget meetings, including a potential extra meeting next Thursday, and the Council hopes to vote on the revised budget on Monday, August 3. The City Council will take a vacation the last two weeks of August. The Mayor is expected to bring her proposed 2021 budget sometime in mid-September, beginning a new set of budget meetings that will probably extend until sometime in November. I believe the new SPOG contract negotiations are supposed to begin in December and can last around six months.

Today’s Budget Meetings:

The first part of today’s budget meetings were concerned with amendments on two bills, the COVID relief proposal and the Jump Start Seattle Detailed Spending Plan. If you’re interested in the details, you can see my Twitter thread.

Aside from observing the dynamic at work within the Council, another interesting thing that came up during this part of the meeting was during a spirited discussion about tiny home villages, when it came up that money put aside in the original 2020 budget to build these villages hasn’t yet been used. Several CMs expressed concerns that the Mayor wouldn’t actually use the money allocated to building tiny home villages in the Jump Start Seattle package either. The possibility was also brought up that this concern (that the Mayor wouldn’t spend the money as allocated) might apply to the entire package.

Twitter avatar for @amysundberg

Amy Sundberg @amysundberg
She expects the Mayor might refuse to spend the money on tiny home villages because they are being too prescriptive.

 

The second part of the budget meeting was issue identification on the 2020 Proposed Rebalancing Package, which came with a huge memo from Central Staff. The section detailing the SPD policy issues and budget amendments that CMs have proposed thus far related to the police department begins on page 104, or you can look at the slides beginning on page 23. This part of the meeting involved presentations by Central Staff on a variety of subjects, as well as a panel from Decriminalize Seattle and King County Equity Now talking about their four proposed stages for divesting from the SPD and investing in community organizations. Here is my Twitter thread on this part of the meeting.

Important Points:

  • Review: the Mayor has proposed $20.3m in cuts to the SPD. Those funds have been included in the overall rebalancing of the 2020 budget and are not available to invest in community-based solutions to public safety. None of these cuts should require bargaining. Aside from $500k put aside for re-imaging the police and public safety, other aspects of the Mayor’s plan wouldn’t get funding till 2021.
  • To date the SPD has already run through their entire overtime budget for the year. This is after the Mayor made some cuts on that line of the budget to reach the $20m figure.
  • CM Herbold asked if they’d be able to get out of paying the remainder of hiring bonuses promised to recently hired officers, which was kind of shocking from a labor standpoint.
  • Decriminalize Seattle and King County Equity Now are asking for immediate cuts from the police budget beyond the Mayor’s proposed cuts, along with funds to begin their proposed 4-Step Process, which is as follows:
  • 1. The community research phase should start right away and run through the summer and fall, and they need immediate money to start the process. CM Morales suggested the Council shift over the $500k mentioned in the first point above to do this.
  • 2. Investing in scaling up community-led organizations with technical support and capacity building. This needs to start in 2020 (ideally Sept-Dec) so the organizations can be ready to take over functions from the SPD sometime in 2021.
  • 3. Transition 911 call and dispatch under civilian control. They believe we can move to do this immediately. The Mayor doesn’t want to do it until next year. There was some discussion about potential interim first responder options while training up a CAHOOTS-style response system, and Central Staff is going to look into how quickly this transition could be implemented. There was also a brief discussion about decriminalizing misdemeanors.
  • 4. Support immediate survival needs by investing in housing. This includes dissolving the navigation team, stopping sweeps, and not requiring police referrals for homeless folks to get assistance. That last could be implemented quite quickly, but:
  • Anything having an impact on labor when it comes to these cuts gets complicated because it will have to be bargained with SPOG. Even if the Council passes amendments to lay off officers, to cap officers’ pay, etc. those provisos can’t go into effect until after bargaining, meaning the money freed up from those costs can’t be recovered to reinvest until an agreement with SPOG is reached. This doesn’t prevent the CMs from passing these amendments, but it does mean it’s going to be a tricky business for them to find the funds to invest in this four step process this year, especially given the already existing budget crisis due to the pandemic.
  • There seemed to be a general consensus that having clearly defined policy objectives in regards to defunding the SPD is important since otherwise the SPD could remove services the CMs want to maintain (for example, the Southwestern Precinct).
  • The proposed amendments to the 2020 revised budget, including those related to the SPD, are at the one sentence level of formation right now and need a lot of further development.

What does this all mean? Well, a lot needs to happen in the next two and a half weeks, unless the Council decides to delay that September 3rd vote. Because of labor issues and the time it will take to scale up organizations, I don’t know how feasible a 50% cut to the remaining SPD budget for 2020 is in practice. It partially depends on how quickly certain functions/departments can be moved from under the SPD umbrella (these sorts of changes are less likely to trigger labor issues), but while reorganization could help the Council get closer to reaching a 50% cut goal, it won’t free up any funds to reinvest in community organizations. And without the funds, those organizations can’t scale up, which endangers the entire proposal.

The Council’s challenge in the coming weeks will be to find the necessary funds to implement at least part of this four-step plan (I’m not sure how much they’d need to at least get a good start) and to figure out how to effectively signal they’re serious about divesting in the police force while navigating the thorny labor issues.

Exciting times indeed!

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Victory for the Defund Movement and the Mayor has a hard weekend

It has been an eventful few days, and with such a storm of activity comes the understandable confusion and inevitable misinformation as people scramble to keep up. I’m going to do my best to bring you up-to-date now. Take a deep breath and let’s dive in.

Let’s start with last Thursday, July 9, when journalist Andrew Buncombe published his story of being arrested by the SPD while trying to report on the ongoing protests, giving us insight into what happens once protestors are arrested and brought to a precinct for booking while also showing a shocking disregard for the freedom of the press.

Twitter avatar for @Lisa_Herbold

Lisa Herbold @Lisa_Herbold
herbold.seattle.gov/wp-content/upl…. The Constitution and Municipal Code protections for the press, and observers, do not exist for the convenience of government, to be cast aside whenever they happen to be inconvenient to government.” @Omarisal @AndrewBuncombe

The next day, Friday July 10, seven out of nine Seattle council members came out in support of defunding the SPD by 50% and reinvesting the money in community needs. This is noteworthy because this is a veto-proof majority of CMs, meaning they can pass an amended budget without the Mayor’s approval. The two hold-outs? CM Juarez and CM Pedersen, no surprises there; neither of them were likely to support this plan. The CMs who waited to announce their support until Friday were CM Herbold, CM Lewis, and CM Strauss; these are the CMs that need the most ongoing support/pressure to stick with their position. CM Strauss in particular has publicly asked for continued public pressure to hold the Council accountable, including protests, public testimony, calls, and emails. These will all need to be kept up till the beginning of August at minimum, and then probably again later in September.

Deputy Mayor Fong and Police Chief Best were upset about the council members’ commitment, to say the least. Meanwhile, the SPD took to Twitter to share that lay-offs in the department would mean a large decrease in BIPOC officers.

That being said, CM Herbold suggests there’s a way to avoid this problem:

Twitter avatar for @Lisa_Herbold

Lisa Herbold @Lisa_Herbold
@Masters131 @NikkitaOliver Layoff out of order. PSCSC ED “may grant permission for layoff out of the regular order, upon showing by the appointing authority (Chief Best) of the department of a necessity therefore in the interest of efficient operation of his or her department…”

Also on Friday, a King County Superior Court Judge approved a petition for an election to recall Mayor Durkan. Okay, what does this mean? Well, there were originally two petitions to recall the Mayor filed; I’m not sure what happened to the other one. With this one, the Judge allowed one charge to stand, which was that Mayor Durkan allowed tear gas and other crowd control weapons to be used during the pandemic. The Mayor is allowed to appeal this ruling; otherwise, the next step is to collect around 55-56k signatures of registered Seattle voters. If the requisite number of signatures are collected within six months, then the Mayor would be recalled. While that might sound like a high number of signatures, proponents of the Tax Amazon campaign collected around 30k signatures in six to eight weeks during Phase 1 of the pandemic (see the responses to this tweet for the full information).

Twitter avatar for @daeshikjr

Dae the Lawless @daeshikjr
FYI @eyesonthestorm reminded me that the tax amazon campaign collected 30k signatures in like a month. 56k signatures in 6 months is nothing with the way Durkan has endangering the lives of her constituents. We can have a new Mayor by the start of 2021.

Given the widespread anger about Mayor Durkan’s handling of the protests, this recall does seem possible, although it’s hard to predict its potential success rate with any certitude. Meanwhile, several protesters have filed suit against the city, county, and state, claiming excessive police force.

Which brings us to this morning, when Mayor Durkan and Chief Best held a press conference. You can find my live tweet stream here.

First let’s recap. The City Council has a veto-proof majority of members committed to defunding the police by 50% and a Judge has ruled that the recall petition for the Mayor may continue. The Mayor is not in the good position right now. In addition, the role she played in the consent decree that Seattle entered into back in 2012 means its perceived failure casts doubt on her as a leader. As Kevin Schofield wrote: “Her legacy, not to mention much of her political credibility, is tied to her work on negotiating the consent decree. For her to abandon it, this close to the perceived finish line, would probably sink her future political ambitions.”

Given all this, it’s not a big surprise that at the press conference this morning, Mayor Durkan came out swinging. Her very political survival is at stake. She is very adamant about her commitment to reimagine the police (you could play a drinking game with her use of the word “reimagine”), but her timeline for accomplishing this is less certain. The sense I got from her comments is that she wishes to reorganize the police department, and she’s basically on board with the idea of removing the 911 emergency response unit from under the auspices of the SPD. In addition to continuing a hiring freeze and cutting back on overtime (probably that related to events), she’s estimating cutting $60m from the SPD budget in 2021; that money will still be spent on the same purposes, just not under the SPD umbrella.

What she doesn’t seem to support are any lay-offs to the actual police force or the subsequent re-investment of those funds into community organizations. This is where her plan and the demands of community organizations, which the City Council is responding to, vastly differ. She attacked the City Council repeatedly, saying things they’ve done almost no analysis on the SPD budget, that they haven’t met with Police Chief Best, that they don’t have a plan, that you can’t govern by Twitter or bumper sticker, and that she hopes after consideration the Council will change their minds. She said if the Council doesn’t change their plan, she will veto (an empty threat as long as they can hold onto their veto-proof majority).

There is also an open question as to how many community organizations the Mayor has actually been meeting with, in spite of her public claims:

Twitter avatar for @NikkitaOliver

Nikkita Oliver @NikkitaOliver
.@MayorJenny your community engagement is inauthentic and disingenuous. And in some instances, you are straight up lying. https://t.co/jUPTrOjlgZ
Twitter avatar for @Omarisal

Omari Salisbury @Omarisal

#UPDATE – I asked @MayorJenny who she has been meeting with in the Black Community in her efforts to Reimagine Seattle. Her office responded with this list of people and organizations. According to her office all meetings were official and available through freedom of info. https://t.co/DRPAOjKUlq

I want to respond directly to the Mayor’s attack on the City Council that they don’t have a plan and are behaving irresponsibly, because from what I’ve seen, this isn’t a fair characterization of what’s been happening. I saw the CMs commitment to a 50% divest and re-invest goal as a public statement that they are taking the demands of the community seriously and that they aren’t going to be simply paying lip service to the idea of transforming public safety, but rather have a serious intent toward change. While it is true they don’t yet have a plan for achieving this, Central Staff is already hard at work at developing a plan, and this is exactly what the next few weeks have been allocated to do. It seems clear the Mayor wants to erode support for the Council’s general commitment to defunding and scare the public before the Council has had a chance to finish developing their plan. Now, if it’s a bad plan, then yes, we have a problem, but we need to wait to see the plan before passing judgment.

CM Herbold responded to the Mayor’s accusations at the press conference here:

Twitter avatar for @Lisa_Herbold

Lisa Herbold @Lisa_Herbold
I want to thank my Council colleagues for their words supporting our efforts to defund SPD so that we can reinvest in evidence-based public safety community interventions by reducing the kinds of 911 calls officers respond to. THREAD:

In addition, the Seattle Times reports the following response: “González described Durkan’s remarks as spin, while Strauss said council members understand a transition period will be needed as Seattle builds a setup that can send people other than police officers to more 911 calls.” I’ve heard various community groups also emphasize that they’ll need time to scale up, so I think everyone involved is aware of this constraint.

And with that, I think we’ve covered all the major developments of the past five days. I’ll be covering the City Council’s budget meetings on Wednesday. There will be more budget meetings the next few weeks, and if all goes as planned, the Council will vote on the revised 2020 budget on August 3.

 

 

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The History of the Police in the US

The British Police Force Model

The “original” police force is believed to be the London Metropolitan Police, founded by Sir Robert Peel in 1829. Peel had developed his ideas about a police force while he was managing the British occupation of Ireland. He didn’t have the troops to quell increasing riots and civil unrest there, so he instead formed a professional force to manage crowds by infiltrating themselves amongst the protesters to identify and neutralize their leaders and particular “troublemakers.”

Meanwhile, widespread poverty and increasing industrialization back home in the UK led to similar issues. The state needed a way to enforce new vagrancy laws, as well as to protect property, quell riots and strikes, and produce the disciplined workforce for industry the Empire needed, and thus Peel formed his police force based on the principles he’d developed in Ireland.

The US: Fear of Immigrants and Labor Organizing in the North

The first funded full-time police force in the US was founded in Boston in 1838, partly based on Peel’s police force, and the idea quickly spread through other Northern cities. Before this, cities had private for-profit security forces as well as voluntary night watches. However, large waves of immigrants and increased city populations as well as social unrest and riots due to industrialization (inequality was rising rapidly and workers had low wages, long hours, and unsafe working conditions) led to a call for increased law and order.

It is notable that there is no evidence of an actual crime wave at this time. However, the elites needed a system to maintain a stable and disciplined workforce and a safe community for commerce. They blamed the “dangerous classes” for social unrest and rebranded social control as crime control. Vice laws began to be created and enforced, giving more power to intervene into people’s social lives. The focus of the police was on “bad individuals” rather than on the social and economic conditions that might be underlying newly criminal behavior.

Early police officers were often chosen based on political connections and bribery. There was usually no formal training, and police were used by the political parties and local politicians to suppress voting and monitor and suppress workers’ organizations and strikes. It was common for detectives to act as fences for stolen goods and spy on political radicals. A system of payments (bribes) to the police was formed and remained standard in many departments until the 1970s.

Slave Patrols in the South:

In the South, some of the first policing institutions were slave patrols who chased down runaway slaves and put down slave revolts; the first documented slave patrol began in 1704. Some Southern cities had paid full-time police based on the slave patrols as early as 1783. After the Civil War, these slave patrols evolved into police departments whose main concern was to force newly freed black people into subservient economic and political roles. Vagrancy laws forced black people to accept employment, often in the sharecropping system. Voter suppression tactics were adopted, and policing became a central tool of maintaining racial inequality throughout the South. Meanwhile, in the North, political leaders, afraid of the migration of newly freed Black slaves, established urban ghettos to control this population, with police on hand to contain and pacify them.

Police in the late 19th and early 20th centuries:

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, American police departments were a primary tool for creating corruption. By the late 1880s all major US cities had a police force. Police systematically received payoffs for allowing illegal drinking, gambling, and prostitution. Police captains and sergeants for each precinct were often chosen by the local political party ward leader, who used the police for their own benefit politically. Labor unrest was widespread, and the use of police to break strikes confused the issue of workers’ rights with the issue of crime, which was convenient for elites.

At the beginning of the 20th century, police were acting as the enforcement arm of organized crime in most big cities. Prohibition (1919-1933) made the situation even worse, with organized crime becoming more open and dealing directly with the police. Police corruption by the end of Prohibition was almost total.

Efforts to Reform and Professionalize the Police:

As cries for police reform increased, commissions began to be formed to examine the problem, including President Hoover’s Wickersham Commission in 1929. To make police independent from political party ward leaders, the map of police precincts was changed to not correspond with political wards. Other reforms included selection standards, training, new technology, and becoming more bureaucratic with a clearer chain-of-command. Professionalism continued to be touted as the means for reform in the 1950s and beyond.

Police departments were broken up into ever more specialized tasks and units.  More focus was placed on science and technological advancements, including crime lab technology, communication and record systems, and more recently, citizen surveillance. Emphasis was placed on efficiency and crime-fighting, with social work aspects of policing being discouraged. And nearly every large city police department became unionized by the late 1970s.

The Civil Rights Movement, Militarization of the Police, and More Recent Times:

The Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s led to more repressive policing to try to manage the unrest. In the South, the police became the front line for quashing the movement, including beating and threatening protesters, denying them permits, not protecting them from vigilantes, making discriminatory arrests, etc., while in the North and West some protests were allowed but only as long as they didn’t grow in any way militant. The police was recognized as a source of social tension during this time, and there were many riots and protests against police brutality specifically. The police handling of the protests against the Vietnam War in the late 1960s and early 1970s was also controversial.

Meanwhile, at the same time the US government operated a major international police training initiative called the Office of Public Safety (OPS). The training emphasized counterinsurgency, espionage, bomb making, and interrogation techniques. Many of these trainers later moved into domestic law enforcement and applied the lessons they had learned abroad.

Beginning in 1965, when the War on Crime rhetoric began, a massive expansion of federal funding for the police provided more training and equipment, leading to the development of SWAT teams, mass incarceration, and the militarization of the police. Interestingly, law and order rhetoric (“the Southern strategy”) was originally used as a political strategy for Nixon to convince Southern whites to vote Republican, winning him two presidential elections. Eventually the idea of appearing tough on crime was embraced by the Democrats as well. The War on Crime and the War on Drugs, another initiative begun by Nixon and strengthened by Reagan and Clinton, both criminalized vast swathes of the population, including a disproportionate number of Black people.

“Broken-windows”-style policing came into favor in the 1980s. This theory stated that if cities wanted to maintain crime-free neighborhoods, they needed to apply pressure to make residents conform to social orderliness. The easiest way to accomplish this was to have a visible police presence to promote order, including more police arrests, harassment, and violence. Proponents of this theory believe that crime causes poverty and social disorder instead of the other way around.

Also in the 1980s, police forces began to consider the strategy of community policing. As Dr. Gary Potter writes, “Community policing is the latest iteration in efforts to (1) improve relations between the police and the community; (2) decentralize the police; and, (3) in response to the overwhelming body of scholarly literature which finds that the police have virtually no impact on crime, no matter their emphasis or role, provide a means to make citizens feel more comfortable about what has been a seemingly insoluble American dilemma.”

Policing Today:

The American police force was born in an effort to control “the dangerous classes,” whether that was Black and Brown people, immigrants, or union organizers, and those roots can still be seen today. The wealthy and politically powerful still benefit from exercising social control over the masses to maintain the status quo and accumulate ever more wealth. Thus they have a vested interest in keeping police forces unchanged. It is no surprise that we’re seeing a resurgence of police violence in response to the recent protests. Throughout their history in this country, police have been used to quell strikes and riots, often with whatever force is necessary.

Unfortunately most police reform efforts have met with mixed to no success. Many reforms are used as ways to paper over the existing problems to lull the public’s concerns rather than make meaningful change. When we talk about defunding the police, we’re speaking from the knowledge that decades of attempt at reform have not borne fruit.

I’d like to end by quoting Alex S. Vitale, who in his conclusion to The End of Policing wrote, “Powerful political forces benefit from abusive, aggressive, and invasive policing, and they are not going to be won over or driven from power by technical arguments or heartfelt appeals to do the right thing….This does not mean that no one should articulate or fight for reforms. However, those reforms must be part of a larger vision that questions the basic role of police in society and asks whether coercive government action will bring more justice or less.”

It is that larger vision, one in which equity is centered and we commit to lifting up all people, not just certain groups, that we are now trying to make a reality.

Sources:

Martin, Michel. “The History Of Policing And Race In The U.S. Are Deeply Intertwined.” All Things Considered, NPR, 13 June 2020.

Potter, Gary. “The History of Policing in the United States.” EKU Online, June 2013.

Vitale, Alex S. The End of Policing. London: Verso Books, 2017.

Waxman, Olivia B. “How the U.S. Got Its Police Force.” Time Magazine, May 2017.

(If you’re interested in a critique of The End of Policing, you can read Vox’s “The End of Policing left me convinced we still need policing.” I don’t agree with everything Matthew Yglesias says here, but I think it’s educational to read both sides of the debate.)

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Seattle City Council Budget Meetings 7/8/20

I am now going to do my best to summarize the five hours of budget meetings that took place earlier today. Here is the Twitter thread, which is very long.

We began with a panel presentation by community experts including Angélica Chazaro from Decriminalize Seattle and Kristania De Leon from the Participatory Budget Project on defunding the police department and creating a participatory budget process for the city of Seattle. Ms. Chazaro said the time for police reform has passed because more training and more accountability hasn’t improved the situation. Therefore, they’re asking the City Council to cut 50% of the remaining SPD budget for this year. It’s worth noting the SPD has expanded by 43% in the last ten years. She laid out where they recommend cuts (hiring freeze, cut sworn officer jobs, cut PR, training programs, end overtime pay, etc.) and what to invest in instead:

  1. Replacing the 911 system with a civilian-led system independent from the police department
  2. Scale up community solutions
  3. Invest in housing for all
  4. Fund a community-led process to create a roadmap to life without police

We have several community organizations that can be scaled up to meet a lot of these needs, and we also need to invest in incubating new organizations. The hope for #4 is to create a participatory budget process that can be followed annually to give residents of Seattle a greater voice into how public funds are spent in our city while emphasizing equity. The idea is to start scaling up community solutions, including a new 911 dispatch service, while gradually scaling back SPD in a phased way, with the process starting this year and then continuing in 2021 and beyond.

We then had a presentation on participatory budgeting.

It’s worth noting the CPC (Community Police Commission) has endorsed the idea of defunding SPD by 50%. CM Strauss also noted that it takes about four years to be able to see how new policies are working, so this is a long term project.

SPOG and the police union contract that ends this year were only briefly touched upon, so I’m not sure how much they expect that contract to affect this process. I was surprised that wasn’t further discussed, but it’s possible all the participants of the meeting already understand that aspect of this process.

We then moved onto the 911 call analysis, led by SPD’s Dr. Fisher. Almost half of SPD’s sworn workforce is employed by responding to 911 calls. They can be broken out by criminal vs non-criminal calls, although that classification can be fluid depending on how things develop on the ground, by various call types, and by priority level. You can also classify calls based on number of calls fielded or amount of time spent in response. Criminal calls take a lot more time to deal with. Everyone is concerned with which calls need to be responded to by sworn officers versus which calls could be dealt with by other outside agencies. CM Mosqueda was also interested in figuring out which calls dealt with crimes due to poverty and homelessness. CM Herbold pointed out that outside data from the NYT suggests that calls involving violent crime only make up 1.3% of calls received.

In the afternoon budget session, we went over questions about the Mayor’s proposed revised 2020 budget. We spent a long time discussing homelessness, especially in the context of COVID and trying to move people into non-congregate shelters in order to keep them safe from the virus, especially those at high risk. It’s tough because we need to act quickly and spend a bunch of money on this, but we’re also experiencing a huge budget shortfall so there is some push-and-pull between the council members and the budget office as a result. There is likely to be continued revenue shortfall in 2021 and 2022, so they are going to have to continue to make really hard decisions for the foreseeable future.

Deputy Mayor Ranganathan spoke about the community engagement process for reforming the SPD. She says the community engagement process will work in phases. The first phase will lead to the Mayor introducing her proposed 2021 budget in late September, at which point they’ll launch into a phase of reimagining public safety and also figuring out how to allocate the $100m the Mayor has promised to BIPOC communities. Where that $100m is coming from remains unclear. CM Mosqueda asked for this timeline to be provided in writing and pressed this request, which the Deputy Mayor ultimately agreed to. She also flagged that it’s important to talk carefully about what community demands actually are and to work with organizations that have community trust and long-standing relationships with their communities, which I think might have been a shot at the Mayor haphazardly meeting with some organizations and not others in recent weeks.

Now the City Council is supposed to come up with their own recommendations about how to amend or reallocate funds within the revised 2020 budget. They will continue to have budget meetings every Wednesday until the end of July, and are hoping to vote on the revised 2020 budget at the beginning of August.

A lot of ground was covered today. The SPD budget is complicated, and figuring out how to best defund the police department and reallocate those funds is a huge job. There are lots of details in the linked documents and my Twitter thread if you’re interested, but this is all still at a very preliminary stage. I will say it’s encouraging that we’re even able to have this conversation right now, something that was politically impossible just a few months ago.

In the meantime, I’m almost done with my overview of the history of the police in the US, so I should have that out to you by the end of the week. I looked at several sources, thinking this history might be somewhat controversial, but there seems to be a lot of agreement on the main points. Hopefully this piece will help give some context for the situation regarding the police that we find ourselves in today.

 

 

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Seattle City Council Briefing 7/6/20

This morning the Seattle City Council had their regular Council Meeting briefing, and you can find that Twitter thread here.

As you can imagine, many of the council members wanted to discuss the ongoing protests and police brutality, as well as expressing their condolences to the family and friends of Summer Taylor and best wishes to Diaz Love for her recovery. These are the two protesters hit by a car while protesting on I-5 this weekend.

There is still much confusion about the nature of the threats made against the East Precinct and whether they were specific or more general in nature. The Mayor has said they were specific, but in private briefings more than one CM has been told the threat was more general, made by the FBI regarding three different cities. CM Herbold says the SPD has been continuing to use less-than-lethal weapons such as blast balls, pepper spray, and sponge rounds. It is worth noting the legislation the Council passed a few weeks ago banning chokeholds and less-than-lethal weapon use by the SPD goes into effect on July 26.

Relating to the Council’s ongoing conversation about defunding the SPD, CM Lewis brought up the idea of basing a first-responder system on the CAHOOTS program used by the city of Eugene in Oregon. I’m sure this program will come up again, so it’s worth going into a few of the details.

CAHOOTS teams respond to about 20% of Eugene’s 911 calls. They are independent from the police, unarmed, and don’t have the power to arrest. They can elect to involve the police if necessary, but rarely do (the numbers given were 150 referrals to police out of 24,000 calls responded to). 60% of their caseload is working with homeless people. This program is cheaper than having police respond to these calls and has been in place since 1989. Here in Seattle, we have a Mobile Crisis team, but they aren’t hardwired into the 911 dispatch system. It’s possible we can reorganize and scale up already existing programs to do something similar.

There will be more information about this and similar programs discussed at Wednesday’s budget meetings. CM Gonzalez emphasized that she wanted to have a conversation about the full spectrum of emergency response options and then thoughtfully select what would work best for Seattle.

CM Morales gave a statement about the current police response to protests that you can read here:

Twitter avatar for @CMTammyMorales

Tammy J. Morales @CMTammyMorales
People have always put their lives on the line for justice. They take that risk because our government is not serving them. But this kind of police-induced crisis leads to police violence and is literally killing people. (1 of 8)

Something worth noting for your ongoing planning: CM Gonzalez emphasized the importance of public pressure in the Council’s work on defunding the police. This is work that will be ongoing through the fall. So it’s important to continue protesting, calling, emailing, and otherwise showing your desire for this work to be prioritized.

Twitter avatar for @amysundberg

Amy Sundberg @amysundberg
We need the pressure and the movement to keep building towards execution of these demands, and we need to continue to see and feel that they want us to prioritize this work. A good way to do that is to take to the streets.

It is also worth remembering the barrier the police union contract raises in the effort to defund the SPD. You can read more about it, but in a nutshell the current contract with SPOG means that if cuts are made to the SPD before a new contract is negotiated, they will happen based on seniority instead of, for example, based on records of violence. The SPD could also potentially cut more of their civilian positions instead of sworn positions. All in all, this is a tricky situation.

Meanwhile, the new Jumpstart tax was passed in the Council meeting this afternoon. This payroll tax on big businesses will help raise money for the city’s COVID response as well as housing and community development. On Wednesday, I’ll be reporting on the budget meetings continuing the process of looking into the SPD and the proposed revision of the 2020 budget. There will be a period of public comment about the 2020 revised budget (including defunding the police as a priority) on Wednesday at 4pmYou can sign up for a spot beginning at 2pm. Alternately you can call or email. And I hope to have a longer piece on the history of the police in the US up by the end of the week.

Finally CM Gonzalez reminded us that we’re experiencing a spike in cases of COVID-19 in Seattle, in King County, and in the entire state. Please stay safe!

Seattle City Council Briefing 7/6/20 Read More »

On Political Theater and the Mayor’s Press Conference Today

This afternoon the Seattle City Council was supposed to be meeting to further discuss the revised 2020 budget, along with proposed cuts to the SPD. I was hoping we might also get the delayed 911 call report. Unfortunately, the conversation about the new progressive tax legislation ran long, and this was postponed until next week.

But don’t worry, there’s still stuff to talk about. As you probably already know, the CHOP was cleared out early this morning after Mayor Durkan signed an executive order to do so late the night before. There were some reports of rubber bullets and pepper spray being used, as well as badge numbers still being covered and most police officers not wearing masks. There were at least 32 arrests.

Mayor Durkan, along with Police Chief Best, held a press conference about this operation this afternoon, and I tweeted most of the press conference. You can find that thread here.

However, I would take anything said at that press conference with a grain of salt. It was a highly scripted PR affair, and the questions asked by journalists were, for the most part, softballs that didn’t uncover much information. Mayor Durkan certainly put on a good show, talking about wanting to reimagine public safety with her best friend Chief Best by her side (I say this because she thanked her repeatedly), about wanting to reinvest in community, about the systemic racism that runs through our city, about letting the community lead, etc. She repeated several times that this work can’t be done overnight, but that Seattle could lead the way in showing how this work could be done. However, she did not commit to any specific actions regarding the police department, like a percentage goal of defunding or any demands she’ll be taking to the SPOG negotiations later this year.

We’ll have to wait and see what happens on the ground over the next few days and the weekend in terms of the treatment of protestors, and what happens in policy discussions over the next several months. There’s been a lot of political theater the past couple days, with Mayor Durkan asking for CM Sawant (who has herself been calling for the mayor’s resignation) to be investigated by her fellow council members; with the late night signing of the executive order to clear the CHOP; with the press conference scheduled opposite the city council budget meeting that was originally supposed to be about continuing defunding efforts. The protests have definitely placed a lot of pressure on the city government to respond, but as I said at the end of my Twitter thread today, in order for words to matter, they must be followed by concrete action. Continuing the pressure until that concrete action (both budgetary and legislative) is enacted is crucial.

Meanwhile, the Washington state Attorney General is calling for a state law to track and report police use of deadly force publicly. The AG’s office identified 21 deaths and 9 serious injuries in Washington state from January to May 26, 2020. That’s one death A WEEK involving police. And how did the AG’s office identify these? Through media coverage. That’s how shockingly terrible our system of police accountability is. At some point this legislation will be worth a letter or phone call to your state reps. However, unless a special session is called, the state legislature won’t be meeting again until January 2021.

Finally, I’d like to say to my subscribers, thank you for your interest and support! I’m starting work on a piece about the history of the police that I hope will be ready soon. I’ll be referencing Alex S. Vitale’s The End of Policing as well as various articles on the subject. Also next week is the regular City Council meeting on Monday, where I believe they’ll be voting on progressive tax legislation discussed today, and another budget meeting on Wednesday.

On Political Theater and the Mayor’s Press Conference Today Read More »