Ann Davison

Seattle Homicides Down in 2024 in Spite of SPD Staffing “Crisis”

Seattle News:

PubliCola broke the news this weekend that SPD knew while he was still in training that Officer Kevin Dave, the officer who killed Jaahnavi Kandula last year, had a “checkered history” at the Tucson Police Department, which fired him in 2013. As a lateral hire, Dave received one of the controversial $7500 hiring bonuses from Seattle. His history in Tucson included a possible drunk driving incident and a “preventable collision,” and he was the subject of five other investigations in his 18 months there, including one for violating general standards of conduct. 

As of the end of March, homicides have decreased in Seattle by 36%, Axios has reported. In hard numbers, there were 9 homicides in the first three months of this year that took place in Seattle, as compared to 14 that took place during the same period last year. And Axios further reported that “Detective Brian Pritchard, a spokesperson for the Seattle Police Department, told Axios that as of April 9, there have been 12 homicides in the city this year, compared to 19 in the same period in 2023.” Axios also said “at this pace, the homicide rate in the U.S. could match its level in 2014, when many cities saw 30-year lows in violent crime and homicides.”

This backs up local journalist Guy Oron’s numbers finding that SPD staffing and crime rates don’t correlate at all.

Mayor Bruce Harrell has announced he has submitted emergency legislation to amend Seattle’s Fire Code and allow the fire department to order and execute demolition of vacant buildings that present a fire hazard. There were 130 fires in vacant buildings in Seattle last year. The legislation will be co-sponsored by CM Bob Kettle and CM Tammy Morales and will go through the public safety committee.

City Attorney Ann Davison has hired Fred C. Wist II to fill the Criminal Division Chief position. Wist comes from the Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, where as PubliCola reported, he came under fire for investigating a special drugs investigations unit, several members of whom later sued him, another deputy prosecutor, and several sheriff’s department officials. Wist uses a sheriff’s badge with a “thin blue line” mourning band as his profile picture on Facebook.

The Criminal Division Chief at the Seattle City Attorney’s Office was previously held by Natalie Walton-Anderson, who notably wrote the memo outlining the strategy for the office to file affidavits of prejudice in all criminal cases against Seattle Municipal Court Judge Pooja Vaddadi. Walton-Anderson resigned soon after the hung jury in the case the office brought to trial against a Stop the Sweeps protester. 

Public Safety Civil Service Commission (PSCSC) Director Andrea Scheele attended a Community Police Commission (CPC) meeting this week, where she pushed back against several assertions made by Council President Sara Nelson. She said Seattle using the NTN test instead of the PST test in the past has never been a deterrent for applicants, that the PSCSC already has regular contact with applicants as soon as they apply, and that customizing the PST test would not take 8 weeks as Council President Nelson suggested but more likely 6-12 months. 

The CPC will be holding a community meeting on Tuesday, April 23 from 5:30-7:45pm at Van Asselt Community Center on 2820 S Myrtle to discuss the recent proposed SPOG contract in a “guided conversation.” And there will be light snacks!

Recent Headlines:

 

Seattle Homicides Down in 2024 in Spite of SPD Staffing “Crisis” Read More »

The Seattle City Attorney Has Been Busy

Personal News:

I had a novel come out this week! My Stars Shine Darkly is a YA science fiction novel and a dystopian romance. 

Book cover of My Stars Shine Darkly by Amy Sundberg, showing a teenage girl in a fancy dress and a golden Venetian mask

“In a story awash with Shakespearean intrigue and hijinks, join our intrepid heroine as she struggles against the dystopian patriarchy of her world.”

You can purchase it here or request it from your local library.

Seattle News:

Soon after I hit publish on my issue last Friday, the news dropped that the Seattle City Attorney’s Office would be filing an affidavit of prejudice on Seattle Municipal Court Judge Pooja Vaddadi on all criminal cases going forward. I dug more deeply into the issue with my story at the Urbanist. Perhaps most concerning is how this decision undermines the independence of the court from other branches of government.

Meanwhile the court is also in turmoil because of the rollout of a new case management system this week that has been bumpy at best. As The Seattle Times reports: “Court hearings have been exceedingly slow. Where it previously took a half a day to work through first appearances, when a judge sets bail, it’s now taking a full day, meaning some people are spending longer in jail than they otherwise would.

Yesterday at the State of Downtown event hosted by the Downtown Seattle Association, City Attorney Ann Davison said shesupports setting a limit on the number of times a person is allowed to overdose in public before they’re arrested and booked into jail.” While this law would supposedly only go into effect if a person refused treatment after an overdose, in practice treatment is often unavailable.

The City Attorney’s Office also announced they would be charging SPD Officer Kevin Dave, the officer who struck and killed Jaahnavi Kandula, with what amounts to a traffic ticket. Publicola reported that Dave received a hiring bonus of $15k after being hired in November of 2019: “Dave was previously an officer in Tucson, Arizona, but was fired from that previous position in 2013 after failing to meet minimum standards during his 18-month probation period.”

Daniel Auderer, the SPOG vice president who got caught in a recording laughing at Kandula’s death, was scheduled to have his disciplinary hearing with Chief Diaz this past Tuesday. Auderer has not yet had his pre-termination or “Loudermill” hearing, which would be required before he could be fired.

In other news, Publicola reported that SPD is continuing to operate under a crowd control policy that is against the law. SPD ignored the city’s new less-lethal weapons law (passed in 2021) for a few years before finally submitting a proposal in December 2023:

“Accompanying the policy: A memo from SPD denouncing their own proposal as “dangerous” and unworkable and asking the court to instead approve the department’s existing “interim” crowd control policy, which does not ban or substantially restrict the use of a single less-lethal weapon.”

The article goes on to state, “Antonio Oftelie, the court monitor overseeing the consent decree, told PubliCola that his office and the DOJ have decided to step back and see if SPD, working with the mayor and new city council, can come up with a policy in the first quarter of this year that complies with the consent decree and is something all sides can live with.

One example of SPD ignoring the new law was back in February when they dispersed a Pro-Palestine rally with pepper balls, which wouldn’t have been available for use if SPD had a policy in line with the existing legislation.

Mayor Harrell announced a new contract with the Coalition of City Unions with the following specifications:

“The proposed contracts include a 5% Annual Wage Increase (AWI) retroactively applied for 2023 and a 4.5% AWI for 2024, totaling a two-year 9.7% adjustment. The 2025 AWI will be based on a two-year average of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue-area with a 2% floor and a 4% cap. The 2026 AWI will be calculated similarly but then be increased by 1% with a 3% floor and a 5% cap.”

The contract has already been approved by union members and will now go for a final vote before City Council. It is currently unclear to me whether this increase in wages has already been calculated into the city’s looming deficit for 2025. According to Publicola, city departments are preparing plans to lay off employees (while already operating under a hiring freeze).

King County News:

This week Executive Constantine announced a five-prong strategy for addressing the fentanyl crisis and preventing overdoses. The five prongs are as follows:

  1. Treatment: launching a 24/7 buprenorphine prescribing line; increasing staffing for both the youth and adult mobile crisis programs; hiring 6 new community navigators to connect people with treatment
  2. Behavioral health beds: partnering with Pioneer Health Services to open 16-bed residential treatment program for people with both mental health and substance abuse disorders; re-opening a 24/7 SUD sobering center; opening post-overdose recovery center
  3. Overdose reversal meds and fentanyl testing: distributing more naloxone kits and test strips; testing drug samples; increasing number of fire depts providing leave-behind naloxone
  4. Behavioral health workforce: adding 100 apprenticeships statewide with half in King County
  5. Reduce disproportionality in overdose: investing $2 million in disproportionately impacted populations

KUOW reported that no new money is being allocated for this project, and when exactly any of this will happen is unknown. Neither Executive Constantine nor anyone else at the press conference would specify a timeline. Clint Jordan of Pioneer Human Services, however, did comment on when a 16-bed residential treatment program could open.

“We’re targeting a six month open,” Jordan said. “I think that puts us in October, November, somewhere in there.””

WA State Legislature News:

Initiative 2113, which changes the state-wide policy on vehicular pursuits, was passed in the state legislature on Monday. Unlike the reform on pursuits passed in 2021 and then weakened in 2023, this initiative doesn’t restrict pursuit based on type of violation in any way. Opponents say this change will almost certainly cause collateral damage, likely leading to more deaths and injuries. As Publicola reported, “Going back to 2015, Morris found that of 379 people killed by police in Washington state, 26 percent involved vehicular pursuits. Of the 32 deaths in Washington caused by collisions during pursuits, more than half were bystanders, passengers, or officers.”

Crosscut reported on two new gun control laws that are likely to make it through this year’s legislative session: one on reporting stolen guns and another on gun dealer security measures. 

Speaking of, this year’s legislative session is officially over. The WA State Standard reported that “Republicans had a pretty good year” and “big progressive priorities flared out.” 

Recent Headlines:

The Seattle City Attorney Has Been Busy 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 »

Seattle City Council Votes Against New War on Drugs

Seattle News

On Tuesday, the Seattle City Council voted against criminalizing simple drug possession and public drug use in a close 5-4 vote, with CMs Herbold, Lewis, Morales, Mosqueda, and Sawant voting no. The swing vote is widely understood to be CM Lewis, who said in his remarks he’d arrived at the meeting prepared to vote in favor of the bill but found that he simply couldn’t because the public deserved more discussion. He cited the recent unilateral decision by City Attorney Davison to end Seattle’s Community Court as a key factor in his decision, saying he felt the Council should figure out how they would do the diversion and treatment component as part of the package. He also mentioned how well the legislation was polling (one source says his district polled 60% in favor), but that this vote was more important than retaining his seat (CM Lewis is up for re-election in November.) For more details, you can read Ashley Nerbovig’s excellent write-up.

Council Central Staff had reported the City Attorney’s office hadn’t bothered to run a racial and equity analysis of this legislation, nor would they say how many new cases they anticipated pursuing or how much that would cost. Because the legislation skipped the normal committee step, councilmembers were not even able to ask the sponsors questions about the bill. It seems possible we’ll see a different version of this bill in the future, assumedly one with clearer information about its impacts and with diversion and treatment programs to go along with it—although where the money for such programs would come from is an open question, given current budget constraints. 

It is also important to note the effect of this legislation not passing is NOT legalizing drug use and possession. Seattle police officers can still arrest people for possessing and using drugs, as well as seize drugs as contraband. This bill determined the matter of jurisdiction, meaning where these cases would potentially be prosecuted. For now, they will continue to be prosecuted by the King County Prosecutor’s Office instead of by the City Attorney’s Office. The City Attorney’s Office can, however, still prosecute drug use on buses and bus stops as this was already part of municipal code.

King County News

Allen Nance, the director of King County’s Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD), has written to the state supreme court asking them to rescind a ruling barring local courts from issuing warrants against and jailing young people who fail to appear at their hearings or violate other court orders. This ruling was originally made in 2020 and made permanent in 2021. If it were to be rescinded, Anita Khandelwal, director of King County’s Department of Public Defense, says the result would be a spike in youth incarceration, especially for youth of color, who she says received 82-84% of warrants in 2019.

Recent Headlines

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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

 

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American Police Still Kill an Average of Three People per Day

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd. It is a natural time to reflect on what progress has been made to address the systemic racism that is part of the foundation of the United States, and in particular how we are addressing policing and criminal justice in this country, which currently disproportionately impacts Black and Brown people. It’s worth noting that American police are still killing an average of three people per day. We still have a lot of work to do.

Seattle Council Briefing & Public Safety Meeting

Amy Sundberg
It’s time for the Seattle Council Briefing!
On Monday CM Morales asked to add the finished legislation around the participatory budgeting process to the introduction and referral calendar. This would allow the Council to skip the usual committee vote and have the legislation go directly to the full Council meeting on June 1.
CM Herbold introduced an amendment that allowed the Council to go forward with the transfer of the 911 call center to the new safety center while giving the PEOs until September 1 to try to find agreement between their two unions as to whether to move to the new center or to SDOT.
Meanwhile, Kevin Schofield reported that the reason the legislation to cut the SPD budget (originally by $5.4m, now by ~$2m) didn’t appear on this week’s agenda after all was because:
The problem, it appears, is that only seven of the nine Council members were present today, with Gonzalez and Juarez having excused absences. A bill requires five votes to pass the full Council, and with Sawant and Morales already on the record as hard “no” votes, that left no room for error: Herbold needed all five of the remaining Councilmembers on her side. Rather than play those odds, she apparently decided to wait a week (or perhaps more) until all nine Councilmembers are in attendance.
It is unclear whether even with full attendance, CM Herbold will have enough votes to pass this legislation, which many feel no longer holds the SPD accountable for going over budget last year. Complicating matters, the Police Monitor is on the record as opposing even a $2m budget cut. If the legislation doesn’t pass, the proviso will remain in place and the status quo of the budget will be maintained.
Amy Sundberg
Good morning, and welcome to the Seattle Public Safety and HSD committee meeting. CM Pedersen is attending in place of CP González today.
This week’s Public Safety and Human Resources committee meeting heard the 2020 annual report from the OPA (slide deck here). CM Herbold opened the meeting by talking about the swinging pendulum of racial justice and her fear that City Hall is losing its sense of urgency. She directly stated her belief that the consent decree is a barrier, while also going over the last year’s achievements.
The OPA annual report shows us that 40% of sworn SPD officers received at least one complaint in 2020, with professionalism, use of force, and bias being the three most common complaints. Use of force complaints rose dramatically. 18% of OPA investigations resulted in sustained findings, and disciplinary appeals decreased 70% from 2019.
Director Myerberg reported on his progress with the investigation into the six SPD officers present in Washington DC on January 6 during the insurrection. He expects to issue his findings in the case in early July. The Terry Carver case is also completed but the findings haven’t been issued; he expects an update there within 30 days.
Director Myerberg also talked about his efforts to change state law in order to reform the objective reasonableness standard in his investigations, which is extremely preferential to police officers; this reform was not enacted by the state but could be worth some energy to pass in a future session. There was also some discussion of how the SPOG contract prevents the OPA from hiring more than two civilian investigators; some experts believe having at least 50% civilian investigators could lead to better accountability. He called out the enacted state decertification bill, saying it could be a sea change on police accountability. He closed by saying Seattle is using the best existing model for accountability systems and cautioning against change that isn’t driven by research and data.
The new board will have powers beyond this: It will be able to investigate police misconduct — and, to complete its work, will be able to subpoena documents and compel the release of evidence, witness testimony, and the cooperation of sworn officers. Rather than recommend discipline, the board will impose it itself — it will even be able to fire officers, including those found to have lied when presenting evidence or testimony during the course of the inquiry.
And the new board will have the ability to make policy; should the department reject a rule created by the board, that rule will automatically be sent to the city council for a vote, and the council could vote to institute it.
However, the new board has already, unsurprisingly, hit some snags. Still, it is expected to be running in a year and a half. It will be interesting to see if it can overcome the hurdles to its implementation and perhaps set a new “best existing model” for police accountability in the nation.

Also in Seattle

Paul Kiefer reports that Inspector General Lisa Judge recently sent a recommendation to Interim Chief Diaz “asking him to start phasing out traffic stops for “civil and non-dangerous violations”—violations that, unlike DUI or reckless driving, do not endanger the public.” He also reports on continuing concerns over the Chief’s overturn of the OPA’s misconduct finding in the pink umbrella case.
Meanwhile, former Police Chief Carmen Best appeared on a podcast talking more extensively about the decision (or lack thereof) to abandon the East Precinct last summer, prompting the Seattle Times to interview her again as well.
And with the filing deadline passed for Seattle election candidates, we now know the full slate running in the primary in August. Fifteen candidates have filed to run for Seattle mayor, and incumbent City Attorney Pete Holmes has two challengers, Ann Davison and abolitionist Nicole Thomas-Kennedy. The open Council Seat 9 has three leading fundraising candidates, and for Council Seat 8, incumbent CM Mosqueda has attracted ten challengers, none of whom have raised any sizable contributions.

American Police Still Kill an Average of Three People per Day Read More »