Seattle Public Safety Committee Meeting
Yesterday morning Seattle had its last Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting before the summer break. The Mayor’s proposed new Director of the OPA, Gino Betts, was present for a drive-by introduction, and he will be back before the committee for a Q&A and committee vote on his appointment on September 13, which would potentially tee up the Full Council vote on his appointment for September 20, conveniently right before the madness of budget season is upon us. You can read his appointment packet here.
But the real interest of yesterday’s meeting was Greg Doss’s quarterly update on SPD’s staffing, finances, and call response times. Surprising nobody who has been paying attention, there have been 109 separations of sworn officers from SPD in the first six months of 2022, at odds with SPD’s previous projection that there would be 94 separations for the ENTIRE YEAR. Yes, you read that right. There have been 30 hires so far in the first six months of 2022, which doesn’t exactly put SPD on track for reaching their hiring projection of 125 for the year either.
These numbers mean there will be significantly more salary savings for 2022 than anticipated. However, SPD thinks they will burn through all this extra salary savings and might need even more money by the end of the year, primarily because of overtime spending, although also because of the costs of the hiring incentives bill the committee discussed at this meeting.
In a particular feisty moment, CM Lewis agreed that we don’t have the capacity to stand up alternative responses in the next few months because we should have taken the actions other cities took two years ago, a fairly safe political shot at now departed Mayor Durkan. The Council’s continued frustration at the lack of alternatives is palpable, although CM Herbold reported the joint workgroup on the subject between the Mayor’s Office and Central Staff has finally begun, and it sounds like the Mayor’s Office may be softening towards the idea of trying one or more alternative response pilots, an idea that has been memorialized in the latest consent decree filing.
As for the hiring incentives legislation being discussed, it was more of the same as has already been discussed this year, offering hiring bonuses for new recruits and lateral hires as well as providing money for more HR staff/support for SPD, more marketing, and the police chief search. It’s just now a slightly higher amount than previously discussed. One cannot help remembering CM Nelson’s comments earlier this year that it didn’t matter what the money was spent on as long as they did something, and this bill definitely feels more like a performative “Look! We’re doing something!” than a tangible, data-backed plan to actually improve public safety in Seattle. Indeed, rumors have been circulating that hiring bonuses or no, it could easily take ten years to return to pre-pandemic SPD staffing levels, meaning alternative plans are going to be needed to address public safety regardless of where on the defund spectrum any particular elected official may fall.
The legislation passed 4-1 with CM Mosqueda casting the only nay vote. In order to display “urgency,” the legislation will probably be voted on next week at Full Council on August 16 even though it would normally be delayed due to the split vote (otherwise the vote wouldn’t be until September because of the Summer Recess). You can read another account of the meeting here.
Other Seattle News
Last night the CPC held a “community conversation” with proposed Director of the OPA Gino Betts, which you can read about in more detail in the Twitter thread above. Why did I put community conversation in quotations? Because partway through the meeting, Felicia Cross, the Community Outreach Manager at the CPC, said the purpose of the meeting was actually to welcome Mr. Betts to Seattle as opposed to giving community a chance to ask him substantive questions, an assertion that showed a lack of respect for all the community members who took time from their busy schedules for what had been advertised as a conversation. To give a bit of flavor, earlier in the meeting, a retired SPD officer appeared to suggest the public needs to participate in training so as to avoid being harmed or killed by the police, and an impacted family member of someone killed by SPD was told the only way to get things done (read: possibly slightly improve things) was to agree to sit down with Betts at a later date, even though they had already clearly articulated the actions they wished to see. All in all, not the most successful meeting.
The contract for Seattle’s participatory budgeting project was finally signed last week, with a community vote on potential proposals projected for March-April of 2023.
There are two more community conversations about the new SPD police chief scheduled for this week:
Will Casey at The Stranger wrote an analysis of the Seattle City Attorney Office’s High Utilizer Initiative (HUI), finding more than half of the prolific offenders targeted by this program have a history of mental illness that means they are ineligible for misdemeanor prosecution. The initiative also replicates the criminal legal system’s racial disparities. Oops. Casey suggests a potential alternate course of action for the City Attorney’s Office:
On a systemic level, the City Attorney’s Office could use its influence within Seattle’s public safety debate to make the case that the city, the state, and the federal government needs to spend more money to build more supportive housing and to expand behavioral health services now.
Those investments would take time to change the daily conditions on Seattle’s streets, but they would also make clear for the public that the people who should be “held accountable” for our public safety crisis are the politicians at every level of government who have repeatedly defunded our social safety net since the Reagan administration.
Last week the Seattle Redistricting Commission did indeed agree on a final proposed map, which follows the proposal given by the Redistricting Justice for Washington coalition fairly closely. You can read more analysis on the new proposed map here and here. There will be two more public forums coming up to give feedback on the map.
Finally, Carolyn Bick published a retrospective of the last year of their work on problems with Seattle’s police accountability system, which is a great review and resource.