2020 protests

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 »

Seattle’s 2020 Violent Police Response Worse Than Responses in Any Democratic Country

Seattle News:

First off, the City of Seattle settled in an excessive force lawsuit involving 50 protesters who were injured during the summer of 2020, paying them $10 million. In addition, the City spent around $30 million on legal costs defending the case. And in a year when the City is facing a huge budget deficit to boot! I covered this story here at the Urbanist. A particularly shocking quote:

Dr. Clifford Stott, an expert hired by the City to analyze the early days of the protests, said he had not seen that level of aggressive violent police response against protesters in any democratic state.”

The law firm who represented the plaintiffs says they’d like to release the hundreds of hours of depositions they took from figures such as former Mayor Durkan, former Chief Best, current Chief Diaz, and a bunch of other police. If they’re able to make good on this promise, we might see some further interesting information emerge.

Today the closing arguments were delivered in the case against the Stop the Sweeps protester currently being tried at Seattle Municipal Court. The protester is being charged with misdemeanor obstruction in the sort of case that usually doesn’t make it to trial. The protestor allegedly tried to prevent an RV from being towed by standing on its roof while a spare tire was being obtained. The delay was only 12 minutes. 

This follows what might be becoming a disturbing national trend of an attempt to criminalize people for helping other people, either by making sure their home doesn’t get towed or by trying to give them food. You can see Ashley Nerbovig’s live tweets at the trial today here. We are now awaiting a verdict.

Also this week, the OPA found that the remarks of Officer Daniel Auderer about the death of student Jaahnavi Kandula, which took place about a year ago, were “inhumane,” “biased,” and “callous.” A disciplinary hearing was supposed to be held this Tuesday, and we are now waiting for Chief Diaz to announce his decision as to what discipline Officer Auderer will receive. 

The officer who struck and killed Jaanavi Kandula with his vehicle, Kevin Dave, was fired from the Tucson Police Department in 2013. Meanwhile, as reported in Publicola

SPD has not released information about what discipline, if any, Dave has received, and the King County Prosecutor’s Office has not revealed whether it will prosecute him.”

In what many (including myself) were calling a foregone conclusion, the City Council voted 5-3 to appoint losing D2 candidate Tanya Woo to the open city-wide seat on the Council. 

And Mayor Harrell announced the City is facing even more significant fiscal challenges now than was forecast a mere few months ago and is therefore instituting a hiring freeze. The hiring freeze will impact almost all city departments, except for–you guessed it!–the Seattle Police Department. The Seattle Fire Department and the CARE department will also be exempt from the hiring freeze. The city would have likely hired 800-900 regular employees and over 1,000 temporary employees in 2024. 

This move illustrates the human impact of austerity in the city. More jobs are likely to be lost to address the $229 million deficit for 2025, and basic city services are likely to be impacted. 

King County News:

King County held its first Law and Justice committee meeting of the year this week, now chaired by new CM Jorge Barón. The committee heard a presentation about the County’s gun violence prevention efforts, which are partially funded by American Rescue Plan dollars that run out at the end of the year. Given the program only has a $13 million budget over the biennium (which means $6.5 million per year), this isn’t perhaps an insurmountable gap. My understanding has been that part of this $6.5 million is already being covered by the City of Seattle. In fact, this highlights how gun violence prevention programs are already underfunded in our region and how much they urgently need further investment. 

You can look at the list of current legislation in process that is likely to be heard by this committee in 2024. 

King County also held its first Budget & Fiscal Management committee meeting of the year this week. The committee is now chaired by CM Girmay Zahilay. You can read my live tweets here. It provided a good overview of the King County budget process.

The most important point to highlight is that if you want to share your budget input and priorities, you should reach out to departments and councilmembers very soon. The committee will pass a budget priorities motion in March or April.

WA State News:

It’s hard to believe that we’re already at the end of Week 3 of this legislative session. The first cut-off date is Wednesday, January 31, so we’re going to see a lot of dead bills next week.

A companion GBI bill has now been introduced in the Senate and will receive a hearing on Tuesday, January 30 at 10:30am. You can sign in PRO for the bill now. 

Recent Headlines:

 

Seattle’s 2020 Violent Police Response Worse Than Responses in Any Democratic Country Read More »

Real Change Reporting Reveals Federal Monitor Oftelie Getting Cozy with SPD

Seattle News

In a fascinating piece of reporting in Real Change, Glen Stellmacher wrote about how SPD and the City of Seattle controlled the media narrative around the 2020 protests and the Defund Movement. I highly recommend reading the entire article, but here are some key points:

  • In a June 19, 2020 survey, SPD leadership recommended at least 12 areas of service within SPD that would be better with civilian employees.
  • In the face of defund demands, SPD claimed they would have to cut the SW precinct, SWAT, or traffic enforcement if cuts went too far. However, this narrative was shown to be false by both the June 19, 2020 and June 27, 2020 surveys of SPD leadership.
  • By August 2020, SPD and the City were aware that 45% of SPD patrol service hours didn’t require an officer. However, Mayor Durkan requested a second IDT; the results, not available until June 2021, also said nearly half of calls could be handled by a civilian response. At that point, you may remember SPD insisted on a risk managed demand report, which wasn’t completed until September 2022.
  • SPD played with the numbers to make the loss of diversity in the force, should there be layoffs, seem as bad as possible.
  • It appears then-SPD Chief Strategy Officer Chris Fischer may have ghost-written a Crosscut op-ed for Antonio Oftelie; Crosscut says they didn’t know SPD was involved and has since removed the op-ed from their site. Two days after publication, SPD’s Executive Director of Legal Affairs was pushing for Oftelie to be named the new Monitor of the consent decree. He was named the new Monitor the next month, beating out several qualified candidates. 

This Sunday, July 23 from 12-7pm in Othello Park, there will be a Participatory Budgeting cookout to launch the idea collection phase of participatory budgeting. You can also submit a proposal here.

In a court ruling this week, a judge ruled the City of Seattle has been using an overbroad definition of “obstruction” to justify its sweeps activity, writing that it constitutes “cruel punishment.” The definition was expanded in 2017, increasing obstruction removals in the City. The lawsuit is scheduled for trial in September.

On Tuesday, an SPD officer shot a man downtown. SPD is supposed to release video footage of what happened within 72 hours.

The Office of Police Accountability (OPA) is investigating the incident of the mock tombstone of a man killed by SPD police displayed in an SPD breakroom. Chief Diaz has ordered inspections of precinct HQs for other potential inappropriate displays. At a CPC meeting this week, Chief Diaz had very little information to share.

And finally, it’s supplemental budget time! The proposed supplemental budget includes around $815k in additional funding for SPD, including increasing overtime to pay for more downtown emphasis patrols, paying for additional online crime reporting, and hiring six civilian positions, including four new public disclosure officers. It also adds an additional $19 million for the City to pay for lawsuits, many of which are related to police misconduct. The City already added $11 million to the 2023 for lawsuits last year, but apparently that wasn’t enough.

In addition, the supplemental budget funds a graffiti clean-up team, and because the contracts have already been executed, the Mayor’s Office has potentially forced the Council’s hand into cutting other Seattle Public Utilities programs to pay for this. More money is also being requested for the CSCC for its dual dispatch pilot and updating its call center technology and for OIG to take over the consent decree’s Monitor duties. 

There is a vote scheduled on the supplemental budget on the morning of August 2. 

Recent Headlines

Real Change Reporting Reveals Federal Monitor Oftelie Getting Cozy with SPD Read More »

Seattle to Launch “War on Health”

Seattle News

Mayor Harrell has announced the formation of a 24-member Fentanyl Systems Work Group to work on addressing the opioid crisis, using the baffling tag phrase “war on health”. He expressed his support of passing a city ordinance to allow the City Attorney to prosecute drug possession and drug use in public while also providing more treatment and diversion options. The timeline for the work group to come up with a plan is tight, with the goal to be finished by July 1, the date that the new state law goes into effect. To be clear, if the City were to miss this deadline, nothing particularly catastrophic would happen; Seattle never moved to adopt the State’s temporary new drug law passed in 2021 into the municipal code. It will be interesting to see what agreements the 24 people in this work group will be able to reach in only a few weeks, or if they instead end up blowing past the deadline.

CM Lewis is talking about the possibility of a new therapeutic court, which could potentially replace the recently ended community court. Meanwhile the City Attorney’s Office will be dismissing around another 1,000 misdemeanor cases filed before 2022

SPD has referred the case of Officer Kevin Dave, who hit and killed pedestrian Jaahnavi Kandula this January, to the King County Prosecutor, who will decide whether to charge Dave. It is unclear whether SPD referred the case because they believe Dave may have committed a crime or because they were required by law to do so. 

More lawsuits related to the George Floyd protests in the summer of 2020 have been filed: Molly Moon’s ice cream shop and Hugo’s Properties LLC are both suing the City. The family of Antonio Mays Jr., who was killed near the CHOP in the summer of 2020, are also suing the City, former Mayor Durkan, and CM Sawant. The missing text messages will almost certainly be relevant in all these cases.

CM Pedersen has proposed a capital gains tax for Seattle. The 2% tax would replace a current tax on water bills, a move some opponents have criticized because low income households are eligible for a 50% discount on their water bills, meaning removal of the water tax might mostly serve as a subsidy to well-off homeowners. However, the implementation of a capital gains tax and the removal of the water tax are being moved through Seattle City Council as two separate ordinances, opening the possibility that the capital gains tax may be passed without repealing the water tax.

A US District Court has issued an injunction against Seattle enforcing its ordinance banning graffiti, saying it is likely too broad and might violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments. From The Stranger:

In response to the order, SPD released a statement saying cops could do nothing about property damage. Of course, SPD failed to mention the reason for the order—SPD officers blatantly abusing their power to arrest as a way to discourage free speech. In any case, the City Attorney’s office clarified that the order only applies to the part of the ordinance that describes damage done by writing, painting, or drawing on property. People can still complain that the judge decriminalized graffiti.”

The Community Police Commission (CPC) has requested changes be made to the 2017 accountability ordinance, all of which are directly concerned with the CPC’s operations, including adding additional stipends, adding constraints to stipends, changing the CPC’s ability to remove commissioners, and deleting the phrase “to help ensure public confidence in the effectiveness and professionalism of SPD” from the description of the CPC’s role. Some of the changes appear to be reflective of some of the recent struggles the CPC has been undergoing.

Meanwhile Castill Hightower, sister of Herbert Hightower Jr, who was killed by an SPD officer, has said the CPC is continuing tosilence, undermine, belittle, mock and now threaten with violence the very communities they were initially created to center.” She asks that they stop their interference with creation of the Affected Persons program and relinquish control over the complainant appeals process, among other demands. The CPC was originally supposed to create such an appeals process, but after years of delay, that duty was transferred to the group working on developing the Affected Persons program. You can read her full letter here.

Recent Headlines

 

Seattle to Launch “War on Health” Read More »

SPD Responsible for 1 out of 10 Killings in Seattle, Data Scientist Says

Seattle News

First up, I wrote an article for The Urbanist about the proposed drug legislation being voted on in Seattle next week. If you’d like to email your councilmembers and/or give public comment at the City Council meeting next Tuesday June 5, you can find a quick email submission here, and scripts here and here. It looks like the vote will be a close one.

Late last week, City Attorney Davison informed the Seattle Municipal Court she will no longer be participating in their community court, effectively shutting it down. Those people on the High Utilizers Initiative list were already barred from using community court, which was a court for people who had committed certain low-level crimes. This step is likely to significantly add to the caseload of the City Attorney’s prosecutors. It will be interesting to see how the office’s case clearance rate, rate of dismissals, and attrition rate will be impacted by this change in the months to come. CM Lewis has been vocal in defense of community court, tweeting, “Misinformation about Seattle Community Court success rates is circling in the media, so let’s get a few things straight. Approximately 75% of people who enter Community Court complete the program, and 80% of them go on to commit no new criminal law violations.” 

It has come to light that during the 2020 George Floyd protests, SPD called for help from at least 23 different law enforcement agencies. Officers from these agencies were not ruled by SPD policy relating to use of force, reporting, and accountability, and used weapons such as “Stinger” rubber pellet blast grenades, 12-gauge beanbag “shotgun” rounds, military style SAF smoke, HC smoke, and Aerial Flash-Bang devices. As Glen Stellmacher reports:

If SPD holds a backdoor policy that allows for the use of these weapons, that policy is not available to the public, nor are the conditions for the use of these specific weapons. If SPD solely relied on communication with these agencies to prevent the use of certain types of weapons, that dialogue appeared chaotic and indecisive.”

There were at least 547 uses of force by these other agencies during the 2020 protests, and it doesn’t look like any of them were investigated by the OPA. The OIG is performing an audit about SPD use of “mutual aid,” but no results of this audit have yet been made available to the public. It also appears that SPD orchestrated their infamous Proud Boy “ruse” because they didn’t know how to deal with crowd control without their mutual aid partners.

Meanwhile, Seattle has spent a whopping $20.1 million on outside legal fees for four lawsuits related to the 2020 protests.

The 2020 protests are also haunting Bob Ferguson, who launched an exploratory campaign for governor at the beginning of May. He announced the endorsement of former SPD Chief Carmen Best on Twitter this week. His base in Seattle didn’t take kindly to this news, as Best admitted to deleting text messages and was in charge of SPD during the tear gassing of Seattle neighborhoods during the 2020 protests. 

On the Consent Decree

This week, Judge Robart held a hearing in response to the DOJ and City of Seattle’s request for reduced oversight and an imminent end to the consent decree that has been in place for over eleven years. While it is unclear when the judge will issue a ruling, he signaled he will be rewriting parts of the proposed order but that overall he is proud of the work SPD has done under the consent decree. Not everyone agrees with this assessment:

“Ultimately, Seattle’s experience shows consent decrees to be a trap — one that results in more expensive police departments, but which leaves untouched the violence at the heart of policing. Consent decrees first offer communities validation for the harm police have caused them, along with a promise of someone else coming in and “fixing” the police. In practice, they cut off community voices, inflate police budgets at the expense of everything else, and legitimize the very police force that continues to harm the community.” 

Meanwhile, data scientist Dr. Sherry Towers wrote to the judge before the hearing to share some alarming findings, saying, “During my examination of police shooting and homicide data from 2015 to 2021[*] in my research, I found that the rates of police killings per homicide in Seattle were significantly higher than in other areas of the US (nationwide around 3% to 4% of all homicides were due to police killings, whereas in Seattle during that time period that number was 11%, well over twice the national average – to put this in perspective, one out of ten people killed in Seattle since 2015 was killed by a police officer).” 

She went on to say, “I found that by all measures I examined, fatal police violence and racial disparities in police shootings became worse after the consent decree, both in total number and per homicide.  In addition, significantly more police officers were involved in each shooting incident after the consent decree (2.5 on average), compared to before (1.5 on average), and police shootings became significantly more likely to be fatal.” 

Finally, a particular wrinkle of police union contract bargaining was discussed at the hearing. In general, if the negotiations between the City and the police union reach an impasse, the next step is to go to interest arbitration. However, the only issues that are allowed to go to interest arbitration are those that were included in the list of contract issues to be bargained that is created at the start of negotiations. So if a new issue comes up in the middle of negotiation, that can’t be forced into interest arbitration. This had huge implications for the 2017 police accountability ordinance, which hadn’t been included on the list of contract issues for the SPOG contract that was approved in 2018. 

Recent Headlines

 

SPD Responsible for 1 out of 10 Killings in Seattle, Data Scientist Says Read More »

The Homelessness-Jail Cycle

Seattle News

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has released their fourth and final SER report on the 2020 protests in Seattle. One of the report’s most noteworthy recommendations is that SPD apologize to protestors for its response. SPD provided KUOW with a statement saying Chief Diaz did apologize for the 2020 protests in June of 2021: I’m sure all the protestors who were harmed in 2020 feel much better now.

The SER report was produced by a panel that was chosen “with the assistance of the Planning Group.” When weighing the report, it’s important to take note that of the 12 members of the panel, 5 are employed by SPD and 3 are employed by city accountability bodies (OIG, CPC, and the Monitor). Thus only 4 participants were community members.

Earlier this week Mayor Harrell announced his new plan to activate downtown, which is marked by more enforcement of the distribution and sale of drugs, although detail is lacking in how this would differ from previous failed attempts at hot spot policing and criminalizing drug users, some of whom turn to low level dealing in order to support their habits. One of Health One’s three vans will also be used to respond to overdose calls, although no more money is being made available to Health One for this purpose, bringing up the question of whether they’ll have to turn down more calls due to lack of capacity. The Mayor also supports the idea of contingency management treatment, which would provide people with gift cards for participating in treatment. However, the new plan does not involve providing safe consumption sites, even though way back in 2017 King County found that such sites improve outcomes.

Missing from the plan is any further provision of housing or services for downtown’s large houseless population. This lack, combined with a tougher enforcement policy, could lead to an exacerbation of the homelessness-jail cycle. As Chloe Cockburn recently noted, several research studies have found “strong connections between homelessness and the criminal legal system, with causation going both ways. Unhoused people are extremely vulnerable to criminalization, and having a criminal record can make it very difficult to find housing.”

Following up on the case where SPD Officer Dave struck and killed Seattle student Jaahnavi Kandula in January, Erica C. Barnett has confirmed the caller to whom Dave was responding had used cocaine, not opiates. SPD has said officers need to be present when the fire department responds to opiate overdose calls to provide backup (a claim that lacks general consensus), but since this call was related to heroin, this policy would not have applied in this case.

WA State Legislature:

The state legislature passed HB 1324 preventing convictions under age 18 from being automatically counted in adult court. “According to Department of Corrections data collected by the ACLU, significant racial disparities exist in the current system of mandatory sentence enhancements using juvenile judgments. More than 40% of currently incarcerated Indigenous people have a juvenile felony on their record, as do 39% of Black people currently incarcerated. People of color are facing longer sentences because they were involved in the juvenile system as children.”

Unfortunately the Senate and House bills differ in terms of retroactivity, and the two chambers will need to come to an agreement on this issue. 

Recent Headlines

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OPA releases findings for first few cases from summer protests

The whole city is talking about the first set of findings on the Seattle summer protest cases the OPA released this morning. The two most high-profile cases of the five summaries released were the incident of the child being pepper-sprayed, which was found to be unsustained, and the incident of the officer putting a knee on a protester’s neck, which was partially sustained. More details can be found here and here. Kevin Schofield also interviewed OPA Director Myerberg on these findings yesterday.

The CPC have made a statement talking about the inadequate policies of the SPD and saying “It is also important to understand these disciplinary decisions are being made under the flawed disciplinary system created by the current police contracts.” Philip Weiss, who has been doing excellent work this summer reviewing OPA summaries on Twitter, gives his analysis of the OPA summaries in two Twitter threads:

Twitter avatar for @kingrat

Philip Weiss @kingrat
OPA cases have been released. And the first one I’m reading on the kid being pepper sprayed is making me fucking mad at @SeattleOPA .
Twitter avatar for @kingrat

Philip Weiss @kingrat
I think OPA is wrong on the policy too: 8.100 “Officers shall conduct a threat assessment so as not to precipitate an unnecessary […] use of force by placing themselves *OR OTHERS* in undue jeopardy.” Emphasis on OR OTHERS by me.
Twitter avatar for @kingrat

Philip Weiss @kingrat

The analysis is that because there was no policy of trying to not hurt bystanders, this was just fine. “there was no section of the policy that caused directed pepper spraying to be improper simply because it inadvertently affected another individual in the immediate vicinity.”

We also have an excellent investigative journalism piece in the South Seattle Emerald about the quest for police accountability from a journalist who permanently lost her hearing in one ear during a protest this summer. This piece painfully chronicles the bureaucratic twists and turns involved in the accountability process, illustrating some of the flaws in the current SPD accountability system. The injured journalist wouldn’t have gotten as far as she has in the process without hiring a lawyer, and even so, it is by no means certain she will receive any accounting whatsoever for the actions of the police officer who threw a flash bang at her while she was resting away from the protest.

In other news about accountability, Black Lives Matter Seattle King County filed a request with the OIG yesterday to investigate SPD’s potentially unlawful actions against protesters earlier this year.

Meanwhile, The Urbanist published a closer look at the history of the consent decree and recently resigned Monitor Merrick Bobb, which quotes former Mayor Mike McGinn at some length, laying out reasons the consent decree has failed and going into more depth of the influence SPOG has had on Seattle city politics over the last several years. Obviously there is a political battle being played out here, and hearing the other side of the argument is educational.

Finally, we have a a couple articles on reform on the county and state levels. While my focus here in this newsletter is primarily on Seattle, it’s important to remember that changes at every level of government can have impact. The King County 2021-2022 budget proposal is being introduced next week by Executive Dow Constantine, and this new plan “includ[es] alternatives to jail, community-based public safety alternatives, and divestments from the current criminal legal system.”  He also envisions a $1.9m decrease in spending on the county jail. He presents this budget to the King County Council on September 22. Andrew Grant Houston did a Twitter thread of Omari Salisbury’s interview with Nikkita Oliver about her reaction to this budget announcement And the Washington State Department of Corrections has drafted a strategy calling for a reduction of 30% of the state’s prison population over the next year.

I’ve heard the City Council might not be discussing the veto of the revised 2020 budget on Monday after all, possibly postponing that discussion until later in the week. CP Gonzalez previously stated the last day they can act is September 24, so we’ll see how things play out. This news seems to suggest a deal has yet to be reached between the Mayor and the Council.

Hope you have a good weekend!

OPA releases findings for first few cases from summer protests Read More »

Notes on today’s Council Briefing

The Council Briefing this morning:

Here is my Twitter thread.

The bulk of the briefing this morning was spent discussing the sales tax increase to benefit public transit that needs to be voted on soon in order to make it onto the November ballot. The mayor had proposed a .1% sales tax, and two CMs had proposed amendments increasing that amount to .15% (Gonzalez) and .2% (Morales). The CMs were also divided as to whether this sales tax should go into effect for four or six years, mostly because they really want to shift to a more regionally-focused transit system in partnership with King County, something that was in process earlier this year and then got derailed due to the pandemic.

BIPOC-led groups overwhelming called in to support the .2% tax. Even though sales taxes are regressive, this small an increase would still be better for most low-income people who rely on transit and who would otherwise have to buy a car, and even the .2% tax would require transit cuts. However, the .2% tax was voted down 4-5, with Herbold, Pedersen, Juarez, Lewis, and Gonzales opposed. It’s also worth noting Herbold voted against this increase even though she wants more money for West Seattle transit given the bridge closure. The .15% tax was passed as a compromise, and they decided to pass it for the six-year period so if something goes wrong on King County’s end in 2024, there won’t be a gap in service.

Also discussed at the meeting was the indiscriminate force used by the SPD at this weekend’s protests, as well as their targeting of journalists and legal observers.

Twitter avatar for @stimesmcarter

Mike Carter @stimesmcarter
@RevWalden @sydbrownstone I’ve spent much of my 43 years as a journalist reporting on law enforcement and police accountability (or lack there of). You know me. This is retaliation. People should be outraged.

This targeting is disturbing and undemocratic, interfering as it does with the operation of the free press. Also interfering with the free press is the subpoena served by the SPD to several local news outlets to release their unpublished videos and photos from the May 30th protests, which a judge ruled enforceable on Thursday. Meanwhile, a judge passed a temporary restraining order on Friday evening on Council-passed legislation banning the SPD from buying and using less-than-lethal crowd control weapons, as this was in opposition to the consent decree. The judge will decide what to do about the conflicting policies after various briefs and responses are filed later in August. Unfortunately, word on the streets was that with this restraining order in place, the SPD used even more flash-bangs than at previous protests, and there were numerous recorded incidents where the SPD was obviously using more force than warranted or using these weapons in ways they were not intended to be used. Big shocker there, I know.

Finally, several CMs spoke out against the harassment and threats made to various public officials, including CM Juarez and CM Pedersen and their staffs, and particularly spoke against the use of misogynistic and racist language and the use of such threats at the councilmember’s homes.

Continuing Budget Talks:

The discussion about the revised 2020 budget will continue all day Wednesday, including proposed amendments having to do with the SPD. Public comment will happen Wednesday morning at 10am, with signups at 8am. An additional budget meeting was scheduled for Friday morning at 10am to continue these talks. CM Mosqueda also signaled there might be another budget meeting next Wednesday the 5th, which would mean the final vote scheduled to take place on August 3rd would have to be postponed.

Something I’ve hinted at before that could have bearing on this revised budget is the increasing rift between the Mayor and the City Council, which you can read more about here: “As council members have noted, with visible frustration, several times over the past few weeks, “We can’t force the mayor to spend the money we appropriate.”” If I’m understanding this correctly, in terms of defunding the police department, the Council can take away money to be spent by the department, but if, say, they allocate some of that money to community-led organizations that are scaling up to serve public safety, the Mayor could refuse to spend that money. We’ve already seen it implied during Council meetings that she hasn’t spent money allocated for 2020 for tiny home villages even in the midst of a pandemic that spreads more quickly in congregate settings, making the need for tiny home villages even more urgent, so that doesn’t bode particularly well. However, if we’re lucky the increased public interest in police brutality and lack of accountability might act as a counterbalance.

In any case, the budget talks are going forward, and I’ll be attending the Wednesday and Friday meetings this week and letting you know what happens next.

Notes on today’s Council Briefing Read More »

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.

 

 

Victory for the Defund Movement and the Mayor has a hard weekend Read More »

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 »