SPD Sure is Excited About Increasing Surveillance in Seattle

Seattle News:

In a quick and dirty recap, Seattle City Council approved the budget on November 21, and Mayor Harrell signed it into law on December 1. The Stranger had this to say:

Last week, the Seattle City Council passed its supplemental 2023-2024 budget without any clear solutions for the looming 2025 budget shortfall but with about $385 million allocated for the Seattle Police Department (SPD), or about 24% of general funds. The Council made no mid-term adjustment to SPD’s staffing budget, despite the department failing to meet any of its staffing projections from 2023. SPD vowed to hire a record number of officers next year, and the Council allowed the department to keep all the funds for this potential influx of officers, all while other City workers continue to fight to bump their pay increase from 1% up to 2.5%.”

City Council ended up following the Mayor’s lead in not addressing the large budget gap the city will be facing in a year’s time. Yes, that’s right, no new progressive revenue options have been passed, which means next year’s budget season might get very interesting (and not in a good way).

City Council also passed the SPOG MOU on Tuesday, which I’ve written about previously and also discussed in a Hacks & Wonks podcast. The MOU passed in a 5-2 vote, with CMs Mosqueda and Morales voting against and CM Sawant and CP Juarez absent. It’s worth remembering the $8.1 million this MOU will cost the city over the next two years is NOT coming from SPD’s already bloated budget but instead is being drawn from a reserve that is meant for general labor expenses, meaning this money could have been spent on contracts for other city workers and/or to cover at least some of the large amount of backpay that is expected to be due when a new SPOG contract is agreed upon.

House our Neighbors, which ran the successful I-135 social housing initiative that passed this February, will be running a new initiative in 2024 focusing on obtaining funding for social housing in Seattle.

In participatory budgeting news, six projects were selected through the voting process and will be receiving funding over the next six months or so. One project selected will spend $2 million towards a “people not police crisis response team.” 

A timeline for adoption of the ShotSpotter (or similar) surveillance technology has been announced. The city will begin soliciting bids from technology companies by early next year. The plan remains to complete the surveillance impact report (SIR), including a racial equity analysis, in the first quarter of 2024, in the hopes of launching the use of the technology by summer. The City Council will need to vote to approve the SIR before the new tech can be deployed. 

In more surveillance news, SPD is planning to massively expand their surveillance of where people drive their cars through automatic license plate readers (ALPRs). SPD currently only has ALPRs installed in 19 SPD and parking enforcement vehicles, but this expansion would place an ALPR in all 300 vehicles in SPD’s fleet. Any data these license readers pick up would be stored for 90 days and accessible via public record request. Other states require law enforcement agencies to purge their files of license plates not connected to any crime much more rapidly (in New Hampshire, within 3 minutes). But SPD has said they cannot connect the license plate data to potential crimes within 48 hours.

Before this technology is installed in all 300 vehicles, it must go through another SIR, for which public comment is required. You can provide public comment at this site, and all comment is due tomorrow (12/8).

SPD officer and SPOG guild president Mike Solan has complained that the OPA conducting a second interview with him as the sole witness of the conversation he had with Officer Auderer regarding the death of Jaahnavi Kandula, who was hit by a patrol car driven by another SPD officer, is “union discrimination.” He claims the OPA was trying to intimidate the guild by asking for this second interview. 

Publicola published a piece on SPD’s emergency driving policy, which is vague and doesn’t specify what kind of calls justify emergency driving:

“While much of the recent debate over police driving has focused on whether or not to limit pursuits, similar risks associated with responding to emergency calls have largely slipped under the radar. Publicly available data on high speeds and risky behavior by SPD officers is virtually nonexistent.”

King County and Washington State News:

The Stranger published an op-ed giving an inside look into what happened with the bill banning solitary confinement in this last legislative session. It’s worth reading the entire piece, but I do want to call out something I found interesting at the time, namely that the bill was stymied by a large fiscal note being attached to it. The Department of Corrections claimed phasing out solitary confinement would cost the state a lot more money than continuing the status quo. This is in spite of data showing that solitary confinement is actually more expensive than housing someone in a prison’s general population:

Calculated by the Office of Financial Management using models constructed by the DOC, the note advised that reducing solitary would cost $78 million in the next fiscal period, and an additional $98 million in each of the two following fiscal periods.

These were curious numbers. The average cost of housing a person in solitary is three times higher than housing that same person in general population, $25,000 annually versus $75,000 dollars annually, according to UC Irvine professor Keramet Reiter.  

Why DOC would need a supplemental $274 million dollars to house prisoners in substantially less expensive living units has never been satisfactorily explained.”

What has also not yet been adequately explained is why the state legislature allowed a mysterious fiscal note not backed up by available data to be the deciding factor in halting a much needed bill protecting the human rights of Washington residents.

In news on juvenile solitary confinement in King County, the new ordinance has been paused as some legal issues have come up, so it will be returning to committee instead of receiving a final County Council vote.

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