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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Seattle City Council Meetings

Amy Sundberg
Good morning, and welcome to the Seattle Council Briefing!
This week’s Seattle Council Briefing didn’t cover much about policing or investments into public safety, but CM Lewis did introduce a letter in support of decriminalizing psychedelic drugs. All CMs signed onto the letter except CM Strauss, who was absent, and CM Pedersen, who said he needed more time to review the letter. The Stranger reports:
Lewis said he will “almost certainly” drop an ordinance to make psychedelics the lowest-level enforcement priority for law enforcement at the city level after the task force releases its recommendations, but both he and Herbold stressed the opportunity here for state-level action.
CM Mosqueda also mentioned the possibility of using psychedelic drugs as a treatment for TBIs (traumatic brain injuries), otherwise known as concussions, a subject area where I have a personal interest, having suffered from a concussion for quite some time myself without receiving any real recommendations for treatment.
Amy Sundberg
Good morning, and welcome to Seattle’s Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting!

This morning’s Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting included a Crisis Response Continuum Roundtable with representatives present from SFD and Health One, Crisis Connections, Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC), LEAD and REACH, and the SPD crisis response unit. All these providers agree they don’t have enough capacity to meet the high demand for their services, and they don’t have enough service providers either. They also briefly discussed the new 988 system that comes online in July 2022, for which funding has been provided by the state legislature, which will make a better response possible, although they expect a much higher demand as well. CM Lewis said they need to consider LEAD as an indispensable leg of the stool of overall public safety and treat it as a standing budget priority.

Also at this morning’s meeting, Carlos Lugo of Central Staff presented his report entitled “Realigning Seattle’s Criminal Legal System through a Public Health Approach.” This report, reflecting two years of work, represents the academic piece of the conversation, while a community task force also worked on recommendations that will be presented at a later meeting. The report suggests shifting our criminal legal system from being punitive to using a public health model, using the RNR model to understand factors of why violence occurs and what prevents violence, followed by implementing interventions and monitoring their impact. He also used the sequential intercept model that we’ve seen before in Council meetings during the last year. The intercept model looks at points where it’s possible to divert people from the criminal justice system to alternatives.

My takeaway from his presentation? He suggests investing in programs that reduce criminogenic needs and ACEs (adverse childhood events), possibly through participatory budgeting and possibly using money saved by negotiating to reduce jail services purchased from King County. When asked specifically by CM Morales, he said they should absolutely use funds diverted from SPD as well, calling out as an example the fact that if you use summons instead of arrests for misdemeanor crimes, that would save a lot of officer time.

Other News

Charter Amendment 29 (CA-29) would enshrine Seattle’s current ineffective and harmful practice of sweeping unhoused residents and their homes from public places into the City’s Charter, while doing nothing to meaningfully address homelessness. The criminalization of poverty is not only unconstitutional, but an inappropriate way to address the long-standing and intersecting issues of housing affordability, Seattle’s racial wealth divide and community displacement, and the history of structural inequity in housing.
A reminder: mayoral candidates Bruce Harrell and Jessyn Farrell are on the record as supporting this charter amendment, and Casey Sixkiller has said he supports continued homeless sweeps. And speaking of the mayoral candidates, you can read how they would address structural racism if they are elected to office.
Meanwhile, SPD has the largest new officer class in 20 years. They are trying to increase hiring to as fast a rate as possible to keep up with their high rate of attrition.
Carolyn Bick finished their excellent series on OLEO and its former director’s troubled relationship with the KCSO and KCPOG. The article includes a discussion of the recent police scorecard data released, where the King County Sheriff’s Office got an unimpressive 39% out of 100. Its police accountability score was 10%.OLEO

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