alternative emergency response

SPD and Community Safety Issue Identification

We have a lot to cover this time! This week the City Council’s budget meetings consisted of presentations from Central Staff including issue identification, along with statements from CMs about their Form As. Form As are a preliminary way for CMs to mark their interest in and support of various topics during the budget process. Form Bs, due tomorrow, are the next step in this process, each requiring sponsorship by at least 3 CMs.


SPD Issue Identification and Form As

You can also reference the meeting’s slide deck and related memo.

First, a reminder of where we are. 81% of SPD’s budget goes to personnel and overtime. The Mayor’s proposed 2021 budget changes the following: 1. 1,497 sworn positions reduced/ abrogated to 1,450 sworn positions, only 1400 of which are actually funded, along with associated salary reductions; 2. parking enforcement, 911 call center, and office of emergency management transferred out of SPD, along with some back office support monies; 3. a new OPA inspector supervisor position is funded; and 4. funding for more automated traffic enforcement.

SPD Identified Issues:

Staffing: The Mayor’s plan tries to maintain the status quo on staffing issues, with staffing returning to 2019 levels by the end of 2022. If instead the hiring freeze were to be maintained through the end of 2021, that would result in 1213 fully trained sworn officers in 2022, compared to 1329 in the Mayor’s proposal, which is a significant difference. The Council’s options include: 1. maintaining the hiring freeze and shrinking the force in this manner; 2. reduce SPD budget to capture the savings from unfilled positions/attrition; 3. reduce SPD budget to reflect a target of shrinking the force that involves retirement incentives and buyouts; 4. proviso the SPD budget to reflect layoffs in 2021, potentially specifying out-of-order layoffs.

There was also discussion about Chief Diaz’s redeployment of more officers into patrol, how to decide the proper size of the police force, and how all response times to 911 calls aren’t equal (in that calls vary, most are not criminal, and not all require a fast response). They also discussed Chief Diaz’s intention to continue to prioritize patrol over specialty units should the number of officers continue to decrease, which would potentially mean no change to 911 call response times but less detective and investigative work.

Overtime reductions: The Mayor’s proposal has a small overtime reduction of $2.7m because of fewer special events due to COVID and the elimination of emphasis patrols. The Council needs to decide whether to decrease the overtime budget further and whether to reinstate emphasis patrols.

Consistency with the 2020 revised budget: The Council needs to decide whether to annualize changes in staffing, command staff pay cuts, and travel and professional services budget cuts to carry forward into 2021.

The last two issues are trying to consolidate different dispatch services for economy of scale and fixing some small issues related to moving the Office of Emergency Management outside SPD.

SPD Form As:

The CMs submitted 19 Form As related to the SPD, although one is actually about the fire department. CM Pedersen submitted four asking for various reports. CM Morales submitted one to reduce staffing and use participatory budgeting to invest the savings in BIPOC communities. CM Sawant submitted one to straight out defund the SPD by 50%, as well as one to transfer the CSO program to the Department of Neighborhoods and one that will place more rules around moving encampments in order to reduce harm.

CP Gonzalez is interested in making sure the OIG doesn’t need more resources given all the units moving out of SPD, ensuring officers receive training on how to appropriately engage with sex workers, capturing the spending of any unfilled SPD staffing, and transferring SPD’s Performance, Analytics, and Research unit, at least partially, to the OIG. CM Herbold submitted several Form As: to rename the Seattle Emergency Communications Center and add parking enforcement officers to it; to get monthly reports on SPD overtime spending (she also expressed interest in reducing the budget for OT spending); a similar funds capturing from unfilled positions as CP Gonzalez; potentially transferring some functions of Harbor Patrol to the SFD, although it sounded like there were complications here; and annualizing the changes made in the 2020 revised budget.


Community Safety & Violence Prevention Issue Identification and Form As:

Twitter avatar for @amysundberg

Amy Sundberg @amysundberg
Good morning, everyone! It’s almost time for the Seattle City Council budget meeting on community safety and violence prevention issue identification!

You can also reference the meeting’s slide deck and related memo.

This presentation looked at public safety programs that take place before or in place of law enforcement involvement, as well as harm reduction strategies within law enforcement, primarily crisis intervention teams comprised of a mental health professional and an officer. We also briefly went over the complicated structure the Mayor is proposing to reimagine public safety, which involves a work group, a task force, and three IDTs. There’s also a small amount of money that has an unclear purpose and might be available for other expenditures.

Identified Issues:

The City’s Community Safety and Violence Prevention Response: Basically the Council needs to decide how much to invest in each different type of response. Their options include community services that decrease opportunities for law enforcement (CSOs, call-in nurses, crime prevention programs) ; non-law enforcement government response instead of law enforcement response (Health One and similar); and law enforcement response that is paired with crisis response (crisis response units).

Health One expansion: The Mayor’s proposed budget expands this program to add a second team. The Council needs to decide whether to proviso this money until dispatch is adjusted, set it aside and wait for community input, or go ahead with this.

Lack of RSJI Lens and Duplicating Community Efforts: This is the biggest issue before Council in this area. Basically it is not clear that the Mayor’s plan has gone through a racial equity analysis. The worry is that since this analysis has not been done (or at least not been made public), it might (possibly unknowingly) further perpetuate racism in the city. This also covers the concerns about the lack of consistency around money allocated for purposes that disproportionately benefit BIPOC groups now being taken away to be given back in a different form to BIPOC groups.

Suggestions to deal with this issue include putting a proviso on some of these funds (probably on the $100m at the very least) until a racial equity analysis is done and made public; do not allocate these funds at all and instead spend them elsewhere; restore $1.08m to the Office of Civil Rights for criminal legal system alternatives (the issue here is the money in 2020 isn’t being sent out until December, so theoretically that money won’t be spent until 2021, meaning they can resume this funding in 2022 without an actual funding gap); and restore the $30m of the Strategic Investment Fund that we talked about last week that was supposed to go to equitable development and affordable housing from the sale of the Mercer Mega Block.

Another issue discussed is the conflict of interest of having the Office of Civil Rights not being independent. Their purpose is to speak truth to power, and yet their jobs are under the purview of the Executive, so that’s a problem.

Community Safety Form As:

Both CM Mosqueda and CM Lewis are potentially interested in expanding Health One beyond the Mayor’s planned expansion. CM Lewis is also interested in adding funding for a reentry program for the Native community, for a case manager for Native women facing domestic violence and sexual assault, and to SFD 911 dispatch for a consulting nurse. CM Juarez is interested in adding funding for Aurora Commons, which provides commercial sexual exploitation services. CM Herbold is interested in a report about needed funding for LEAD and in legislation that would help decriminalize poverty. CM Sawant is interested in getting draft legislation from legal about forming an elected Community Oversight Board that would have full powers over police accountability.


What does this all mean?

We’ll know more when we see the Form Bs, but we’re seeing a lot of friction play out between the Mayor’s vision and the Council’s vision. In terms of public safety, the Mayor is advocating for a mostly status quo budget while all her planning groups do stuff over the next year or two (some of which seems duplicative), and at the same time she’s moving money around in interesting ways. The Council has been taking a more hands-on approach since the summer and have their own ideas of how to proceed.

Certain CMs are not going to want to fund the Mayor’s promised $100m investment into BIPOC communities with its appointed task force, disregard for participatory budgeting, and her $30m Strategic Investment fund cut that allocated funds for similar purposes (not to mention the concern of where these funds will come from in future years, when JumpStart tax revenues have already been allocated to investments in things like affordable housing). There is a real concern about the lack of a racial equity analysis and an inconsistency of approach here. The Mayor hasn’t presented a plan that inspires a lot of confidence, and we’re seeing a lot of political maneuvering as a result.

CMs might try to capture some savings from the SPD budget to give to BIPOC communities instead, probably through a participatory budgeting process, and possibly less than $100m in order to retain the $30m in the strategic investment fund (and maybe also to fund the $13m gap in the balanced budget because of investments to community organizations for public safety that were supposed to be made this year).

Of course, enacting their own plan could cause more animosity between the Mayor’s office and the Council. Will it spill over and up-end their recent new deal regarding how to replace the Navigation Team, negotiated by CM Lewis? It’s hard to say how strong a commitment the Mayor has to this new plan.

One interesting point to reiterate is that with Chief Diaz’s priority of patrol staffing, a gradual shrinkage of the SPD wouldn’t necessarily impact 911 call response times all that much. Instead it would impact specialty units. This is noteworthy because so much of the public discourse on the subject of downsizing the police department has been focused on call response times.


Next week there is another evening public hearing on the budget on Tuesday, October 27 starting at 5:30pm, with signups beginning at 3:30pm. If you’d like to tell the Council your thoughts about the 2021 budget, this is a great time to share them! The rest of the week will entail budget meetings presenting CM budget actions and statements of legislative intent.

An Interview with the Mayor

Not quite as much happening this week, but there are still a few things to note.

King County Equity Now is currently asking anyone who is a resident of King County to take a survey about their research program regarding public safety. It’s a quick five minutes to fill it out.

The City Council Briefing didn’t involve discussion about public safety this week.

The Council should be discussing the vetoed 2020 revised budget next Monday the 21st. The next Public Safety & Human Resources committee meeting will be on Tuesday the 22nd. The Mayor’s proposed 2021 budget is expected on Tuesday, September 29.

What can we expect next week in regards to that veto? The Council has two options at this point: to reach a deal with the Mayor that still results in a balanced budget or to overturn the veto. Here’s an interview with Council President Gonzalez in which she speaks of her hope of reaching a compromise. It’s hard to say exactly what the details of any deal between the Council and the Mayor might be, although I don’t see the Mayor budging on the Navigation Team or indeed, on any officer layoffs whatsoever beyond what they might achieve by attrition. If you would like the Council to overturn the veto or if you have ideas about what concessions would make a deal more acceptable (prioritizing community investment, for example), now is the time to write to your CMs to share your views. What happens next week will set the tone for the ensuing conversation about the 2021 budget.

Today Crosscut held an interview with Mayor Durkan, led by journalist David Kroman.

I much preferred this format to the usual press conferences and was pleased by the caliber of questions asked. In terms of “re-imagining policing,” a buzz phrase from the summer, Mayor Durkan appears to have two main goals: a change to crowd control policies (which are also being called into question by the OPA/OIG/CPC trifecta and the demands of the consent decree) and a revamp of the 911 response system to include the possibility of response by people other than armed police officers. It seems like she doesn’t necessarily expect to fully achieve either within the next year but hopes to make progress in these two directions.

Aside from that, as per usual she prefers to focus on her commitment of $100m to Black and Brown communities in 2021, and she said we should expect to see that commitment fulfilled in her proposed 2021 budget. While I’m pleased about the allocation of these resources, it is worrisome that while she repeatedly states systemic racism is a problem in policing and criminal justice, and that this needs to be dismantled, she is unwilling to speak of how to achieve greater police accountability within the SPD.

It is worth noting that new research shows no evidence implicit bias trainingmental health training, the use of body cameras, or community representation in policing are effective in reducing police violence. (H/t to Campaign Zero for compiling the research.) It would be encouraging to see more discussion of other options by our elected officials, including a strong commitment to negotiating a police union contract that enables greater accountability, an acknowledgement of the flaws and loopholes currently exigent in the current community oversight system (OIG/OPA/CPC); more discussion of ways to effectively demilitarize the SPD; and more acknowledgment of the racism inherent in broken-windows and community policing. Meanwhile Mayor Durkan also isn’t speaking about any ways to ameliorate mass incarceration, even while acknowledging its harmful impacts on Black and Brown communities.

Obviously there is a lot of work to do, and it can’t all be addressed overnight, but these points do have direct bearing on the current conversation in Seattle about public safety and do need to be kept in mind even when they are skillfully talked around.

In related news, it sounds like Mayor Durkan’s main hope for filling the city budget shortfall from the pandemic in the next few years is for Biden to win the presidency and increase federal aid. Otherwise our city services might take a real beating. She is also more on board with regional solutions to increasing revenues and dealing with problems such as homelessness and transit, as opposed to Seattle-specific ones.

Next week should be an interesting one! In the meantime, stay safe and let’s hope some of this smoke clears by the weekend.

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!