Mayor Refuses to Acknowledge the Clear Roadmap of How Police Accountability Can be Improved in the SPOG Contract

Seattle News:

Mayor Bruce Harrell recently sat down for an interview with Cascade PBS and spoke at length about issues relating to public safety. The whole thing is worth a read, but I do want to call out one thing he implies, that people asking for more accountability in SPD aren’t being specific: “So rather than people saying nebulous claims that we want more accountability, tell me specifically.”

Police accountability advocates in Seattle have in fact been incredibly specific, even in the face of really technical issues that can be fairly opaque. For example, asking for the ability to implement the 2017 Accountability Ordinance is a very specific demand, and the details of what that would take have been laid out many times by many people and organizations. People Power Washington sent an incredibly detailed letter in 2022 laying out exactly what accountability improvements Seattle needs to make, a letter that has been circulated widely to the Mayor’s Office, last year’s City Council, this year’s City Council, and the OPA, among others. It is incredibly disingenuous for Harrell to say people are “saying nebulous claims” of wanting more accountability. There is nothing nebulous about what people are asking for.

Speaking of Mayor Harrell, his office announced a shakeup of staff this week. Budget Director Julie Dingley has resigned and her last day will be Friday, May 17. As a reminder, the Mayor usually presents the proposed budget the last week of September, so this is interesting timing for the resignation of the person in charge of preparing said proposed budget, particularly considering the looming $241 million budget deficit. 

A new hire is Natalie Walton-Anderson as the Mayor’s new director of public safety. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Walton-Anderson recently left her job at the City Attorney’s Office as the Criminal Division Chief. During her time at the City Attorney’s Office, she wrote the infamous memo laying out the office’s new policy of filing an affidavit of prejudice on Seattle Municipal Court Judge Pooja Vaddadi for all criminal cases. She announced her departure soon after the mistrial of the Stop the Sweeps protester who was tried for attempting to stop the police from moving an RV while its owner obtained a spare tire in order to move it herself. 

PubliCola reported: “Walton-Anderson was known for aggressively filing charges in drug-related cases that would ordinarily get channeled into the city’s pre-booking diversion program, LEAD, and Davison credited her with instituting the “high-utilizer initiative,” which targets people accused of multiple misdemeanor offenses for more punitive approaches than other defendants.”

And on the accountability front, the new SPOG contract, which will only cover from 2021-2023, will receive its final Council vote at the City Council meeting on Tuesday, May 14 at 2pm, skipping a committee hearing. Per the Central Staff memo, the contract will cost the city $96 million this year, and will add around $40 million per year to the SPD budget starting in 2025. As has been previously reported, the city has negotiated for very few accountability improvements in exchange. If you would like to email your councilmembers or prepare a public comment, there is more information here.

The Governance, Accountability, and Economic Development committee met on Thursday and voted unanimously to pass the SPD officer recruitment bill out of committee. It will likely receive a full Council vote on May 21. A few amendments were added, including one walked on by Councilmember Rob Saka and written by Councilmember Tammy Morales (who does not sit on this committee) that will require more reporting from SPD on how they’re doing with the 30×30 initiative that has to do with hiring women officers. This is in the wake of several women officers coming forward in the last six months alleging sexual discrimination and harassment.

Meanwhile, the Council has been signaling for some months its interest in finding another jail with which to contract due to the King County Jail’s booking restrictions for low-level non-violent misdemeanor crimes, including possibly the SCORE jail in Des Moines. Not only did the SCORE jail experience a large number of inmate deaths last year, but it is inconvenient for public defenders, and doesn’t provide the same access to basic things like video calls that work, privacy for an attorney to speak with their client, and ability to get people to their court appearances. 

The Stranger reported that the King County Public Defender’s union SEIU 925 said if Seattle uses SCORE, it could obstruct defendants’ constitutional right to an attorney. It could also extend case times. The Stranger continued in its usual trenchant fashion:

Sending someone to SCORE for a crime such as criminal trespass—which could mean that an unhoused person tried one too many times to use the bathroom at a grocery store—also seems like a waste of resources. SPD officers would have to drive that person about 16 miles to Des Moines, book them into SCORE, then drive 16 miles back, not to mention all the changes Seattle Municipal Court would need to make, either transporting more defendants or setting up video only appearances for people in jail. All that, so SPD could focus less on crimes with a real public safety risk, and instead boost officers “morale” by throwing people in jail for low-level crimes.”

This week Mayor Harrell announced the organizations who will receive $7 million in capital funds for facility improvements to provide post-overdose care, opioid medication delivery, and case management services. The Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC) will receive $5.65 million, and Evergreen Treatment Center will receive $1.35 million, subject to federal approval. DESC will operate a post-overdose stabilization center on Third Avenue, with renovations to begin by quarter 1 of 2025. They will pilot services from their Crisis Solutions Center in the CID starting in June. Evergreen Treatment Center will launch a new mobile clinic this summer.

It is the end of filing week! I sat down for an interview with Alexis Mercedes Rinck, who is running for the City Council at-large seat this November. It also seems that Shaun Scott, who is running to be a state representative for the 43rd LD position 2, now has a challenger in Andrea Suarez, the founder of We Heart Seattle. Suarez first filed for position 1 in the 43rd LD against Nicole Macri, but it turned out she accidentally filed for the wrong position.

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