SPD Expects More Separations than Hires for Another Year, in Spite of Huge Raises

Seattle News:

First off, my piece on gun violence, student mental health, and the debate on whether student resource officers should return to Seattle schools was published in The Urbanist this week. The Seattle Times also ran an interesting piece reviewing ideas for improving safety in schools.

Last Friday Councilmember Cathy Moore asked interim SPD Chief Sue Rahr to place two members of SPD command staff currently under criminal investigation on leave: Assistant Chief Tyrone Davis and Deputy Chief Eric Barden. Davis is under investigation for alleged sexual assault and Barden is under investigation for alleged domestic violence. As King 5 reported: “Multiple law enforcement experts who spoke with KING 5 called it unusual for an officer under criminal investigation not to be placed on leave.” However, Rahr has said she hasn’t seen substantiated evidence to justify placing either man on leave at this time.

SPD has announced it will end the year with a net loss of officers once again. So far this year, SPD has experienced 40 departures and hired 15 new officers. Their revised projection says there will be 918 deployable officers at the end of 2024. 

Harrell’s office released an interesting statement to KOMO regarding this news: “It is incredibly disappointing that the PSCSC concluded that [the] Public Safety Test (PST) is not a valid exam option for the City of Seattle and did not complete an independent validation study to determine if another entry-level exam would meet our needs and maintain high standards. The PSCSC report indicates that PST declined to participate in their review, yet the PSCSC report also concludes that the PST test is flawed despite this information gap and despite PST expressing interest in partnering with Seattle. We reject PSCSC’s unsubstantiated conclusions.”

This statement appears to exhibit a fundamental misunderstanding of the report PSCSC released last week, which stated that PST asked not to be considered as a testing vendor for Seattle. Furthermore, the PST did participate in some preliminary parts of the review.. And the reasons why the PSCSC recommends against the PST test are clear-cut: a different custom PST test would have to be developed for SPD specifically, which would mean officer candidates would still not be able to submit the results of the same PST they would be taking for smaller jurisdictions. In addition, there are significant legal difficulties with Seattle offering two different tests with such different pass rates. 

That being said, Public Safety Chair Bob Kettle is also upset about the PSCSC report, beginning this week’s public safety committee meeting with remarks about “misleading media reports” regarding the council’s attempts to replace the current police entrance exam with a different exam with a higher pass rate. As reported by PubliCola, “Kettle said he liked the idea of ranking applicants by their test scores and hiring only highly ranked applicants, but added that the city no longer has that luxury because the previous council drove down police applications.”

PubliCola goes on to point out the lower staffing at police departments is a nationwide trend. The Seattle community needs to consider whether we are willing to significantly lower standards for police officers because of this trend.

At the public safety committee meeting this week, councilmembers also discussed Seattle waterways safety and City Attorney Ann Davison’s proposed legislation instituting a $500 fine for street racing.

In legal news, Auburn officer Jeffrey Nelson was found guilty of murder and assault for shooting Jesse Sarey. He is the first police officer in Washington state to be found guilty of murder for on-duty actions. And the city of Seattle must pay $680,000 to four people arrested for writing chalk graffiti onto temporary concrete barricades outside SPD’s Western Precinct. As PubliCola reported:

 ““Based on the evidence presented at trial, the jury found the defendants arrested and booked the plaintiffs because of the content or viewpoint of their speech,” an attorney for the four plaintiffs, Braden Pence, said in a statement. “We hope this verdict will be a warning and a lesson to police officers and other government officials across the country who violate the First Amendment—that they are and will be held accountable when they arrest and jail people for protected speech.””

On Wednesday, Mayor Bruce Harrell announced the CARE pilot program of dual dispatch alternative response will expand, with plans to hire 18 new responders and 3 supervisors. This expansion is being partially paid for by a federal grant. More on this soon. 

Erica C. Barnett of PubliCola wrote about how the new council hasn’t passed a single substantial piece of legislation since taking office at the beginning of January. 

King County and Washington State News:

King County’s Law and Justice committee met on Wednesday to discuss Councilmember Reagan Dunn’s motion declaring the King County Council’s intention to maintain operations at the county’s youth jail. Councilmember Jorge Barón proposed a striking amendment that states the King County Council intends to maintain operations of the youth jail until viable alternatives become operational, supports priorities that emerged from the Care & Closure work, and supports continued engagement with Executive Dow Constantine around this work. 

The committee didn’t have three votes to move anything forward. Councilmember Dunn opposed the motion to table, but Councilmember Claudia Balducci said it was important to be deliberate. Councilmembers Balducci, Barón, and Dembowski voted to table this discussion until the next meeting. 

Also at the meeting, the Office of Law Enforcement (OLEO) presented on their 2023 annual report.

After being rolled out almost two years ago, Washington State’s 988 is answering 91% of calls received. This is slightly better than the national average of 88%.

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