911 dispatch

Alternative Response in Seattle is Behind…Again

Seattle News

There’s a lot to catch up on, so let’s start off with the big news that the Social Housing Initiative 135 has passed! Next steps include bringing together a board of directors and seeking funding.

Mayor Harrell gave his State of the City speech last week. Apparently the white paper about a third public safety department that was supposed to be completed last year is still forthcoming. As this was supposed to be the main tangible step forward in 2022, the failure to deliver this white paper in a timely fashion is disappointing to say the least. But at least the new department has a name now, which obviously took many hours of painstaking work: CARE, the Civilian Assisted Response and Engagement Department. Apparently we’ll also be hearing more about police officer hiring this year, which is hardly a surprise, although given the difficulty police departments across the country are having hiring, these are conversations that seem unlikely to deliver the desired results.

Last week the Adley Shepherd case was dismissed by a U.S. District Court Judge. Adley Shepherd is a former SPD officer who was fired after punching a handcuffed woman in the back of a squad car. His case has been filtering through arbitration and courts ever since, most recently as a suit brought by him against the City of Seattle.

The City of Seattle settled the CHOP lawsuit for $3.65m, $600k of which was due to the missing texts of former Mayor Durkan, former SPD Chief Best, and others. This money, as well as additional costs of defending the lawsuit, comes from taxpayer dollars.

At this week’s Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting, the CSCC presented on their 911 Protocols Software that would enable them to dispatch calls to responders other than the police. Right now the plan is to implement dual dispatch including SPD, although CM Herbold was quick to remind us that dual dispatch doesn’t necessarily mean a police officer will be on the scene in every instance, but rather in some cases SPD would simply be situationally aware of the dispatch of a civilian responder. That being said, it was made clear at the meeting that the nature of the dual dispatch model has yet to be determined

Shocking no one, given we’ve been holding our breath for a particular white paper since December, all the work on alternative response appears to be behind schedule. None of the deliverables outlined on the term sheet regarding developing alternative response between the Mayor’s Office and Central Staff appear to be complete. Some of this delay was attributed to the hiring and on-boarding of the new interim Director of the CSCC, Rebecca Gonzales, although of course everyone already knew when deliverable dates were set that a new director would need to be found. CM Lewis was frustrated enough to say that if more progress isn’t forthcoming in future briefings, the Council might need to take a more assertive role in this work. Given Seattle has been waiting two and a half years for alternative response with nothing to show for it, this reaction seems quite measured.

The protocols and work flow of the new triaging dispatch system also won’t be complete until late this year. CM Herbold called out that we continue to be told of reasons why we can’t move forward on implementation of alternate response: SPD’s RMD analysis, the overdue white paper from the Mayor’s Office outlining the new third public safety department, and now this triage dispatch system. She expressed her hopes that launching an alternate response pilot for person down and wellness checks won’t depend on the dispatch system being complete. CM Lewis pointed out other cities with alternative response have triage systems that dispatch to fully civilian responses, not just dual dispatch. And so the slog to push alternative response continues sluggishly forward as Seattle continues to fall behind many other cities who have been able to do this work.

Due to objections from SPOG, SPD discontinued use of Truleo software that analyzed police body-cam footage to look for potential police misconduct. Unfortunately, SPD’s use of several other surveillance technologies was approved by the Seattle City Council earlier this week, including “cell phone and laptop extraction tools, a geospatial analysis technology called GeoTime, remotely operated vehicles, crash retrieval forensics and hidden GPS trackers and cameras.” Seattle has its own Surveillance Advisory Working Group, and the CMs failed to implement many of this work group’s recommendations relating to the use of these technologies.

A recent report shows that Seattle’s automated traffic cameras disproportionately target Communities of Color. In fact, 65% of automated traffic cameras are placed in neighborhoods with relatively more people of color and immigrants; Seattle’s most dangerous roads tend to be in these communities because of displacement. In 2022, Seattle’s automated cameras issued almost 200,000 traffic tickets, which is almost fifty times more than the number given by police. It’s also worth noting that these camera-generated tickets currently require review by police, meaning such a large volume requires additional resources given to SPD in order to review them; to do otherwise would require a law change. An op-ed in the South Seattle Emerald by Ethan C. Campbell and Nura Ahmed outlines several ways to address issues of equity surrounding traffic cameras in Seattle. 

CM Herbold wrote the following about violent crime in Seattle in 2022:

Although, over the entire year, the data shows violent crime higher than it’s been for years, the SPD Crime Dashboard shows that there were 363 violent crimes reported in December 2022; this is the lowest number of violent crimes reported for a month since February 2021, when 329 violent crimes were reported. The December 2022 figure is lower than the 403 violent crimes reported in December 2019 (before COVID-19, before the murder of George Floyd, and before 500 officers left SPD).

A further review of the SPD dashboard shows that moving into 2023 (the report only covers 2022), 371 reported violent crimes in January, slightly lower than January 2020, with 373 reported violent crimes.

Shots fired, while higher overall in 2022, are also dramatically declining, according to the Chief.”

When discussing violent crime in 2022, it would be remiss not to reiterate the increasing violence experienced by unsheltered people.

The turmoil at the Seattle Human Rights Commission (SHRC) and the Community Police Commission (CPC) continues. Two more SHRC commissioners have recently resigned as commissioners continue to receive legal threats from the City Attorney’s Office about trying to seek amicus status in the consent decree, and the CPC Executive Director Brandy Grant resigned on February 10. Cali Ellis has been named as the interim director. After events at a CPC community engagement meeting on February 14 and the CPC’s regular meeting on February 15, both Castile Hightower and Howard Gale have filed complaints with the OPA about SPD Officer Mullens, who also sits on the CPC. 

King County News

The ACLU of Washington filed a lawsuit on Friday against King County and Executive Constantine arguing they are in breach of a settlement agreement regarding the King County Jail mandating certain staffing levels and inmate access to medical care and court hearings. Advocates held a press conference and rally outside the jail on Monday morning.

Election News

Becka Johnson Pope, who has spent the last three years managing King County’s budget, announced her run for the King County Council seat for District 4. Sarah Reyneveld has already announced her run for the same seat.

Seattle CM Dan Strauss has announced his intentions to run for re-election in District 6.

ChrisTiana Obeysumner has declared their candidacy in District 5. They are one of six filed candidates so far for the district.

WA State Legislature

Sadly, the bill banning solitary confinement has died again this year. The new drug possession bill also doesn’t look promising.

HB 1513 (traffic stops), HB 1025 (qualified immunity), HB 1579 (independent prosecutor), and HB 1445 (AG investigations & reform) are all headed for floor votes. March 8 is the cut-off date for bills to be voted out of their house of origin. 

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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!

Another Wednesday, Another Budget Meeting Read More »