Bob Ferguson

Does SPD Staffing Impact Crime Rates? Looks Like Not So Much.

Seattle News:

My piece on police hiring bonuses and incentives was published in The Urbanist this week. Of particular note are the following:

  • The Council is discussing several potential incentives and perks for SPD officers, including housing subsidies. In spite of the backdrop of the $230 million budget deficit for 2025,they do not seem concerned by how much this might all cost. I’ll be interested to see how much SPD’s total percentage share of the General Fund grows in the next proposed budget.
  • The Councilmembers do not seem to want to explicitly say they’re looking into lowering standards for becoming a police officer, but they are discussing measures that have the potential to do exactly that, even before the consent decree is entirely closed out.
  • Chief Diaz said the robustness of Seattle’s accountability system is having a negative impact on officer morale, and he wants to move more minor offenses away from the OPA.
  • Last week’s public safety forum poll showed community most wants expanded addiction treatment and gun violence reduction. The latter of these would require further investment in gun violence prevention programs. 
  • Both SPD and most of the Council seem happy to ignore the report on the poor and discriminatory treatment of women officers that came out last year. In further updates, Publicola reported that SPD has lost its sole female command staff member to retirement. The article includes this interesting tidbit: “Last year, Cordner reportedly left SPD’s Before the Badge program, where she was one of the program leaders, because of one of the instructors’ views on what he called the LGBTQ “lifestyle,” including his opposition to same-sex marriage.”
  • You can read the Stranger’s take on this issue here.

While both Seattle City Council and governor candidate Bob Ferguson want more cops (more on the latter in a moment), Guy Oron of Real Change ran some numbers and found that SPD staffing and crime rates don’t correlate at all. This is critical information to understand given how many other programs Seattle may defund at the end of the year in a desperate attempt to hire more officers.

The deadline for folks to turn in their comments about the three new surveillance technologies being considered in Seattle is today at 5pm. Marcus Harrison Green wrote an op-ed for the Seattle Times entitled: ShotSpotter: Why waste money we don’t have on technology that doesn’t work? 

He says, “Demanding a technology proves its effectiveness before we purchase it does not mean we are any less outraged about the gun violence in our city. It means we very rationally would rather allocate funds toward something with demonstrable efficacy.”

On Tuesday, City Council un-did 20 out of the 36 budget statements of legislative intent (SLIs) passed with the 2024 budget. As Publicola says, “For the council to reverse most of the accountability and transparency measures imposed by a previous council is an extreme move that may be unprecedented.”

Next Tuesday’s Public Safety committee meeting will feature introductory reports from Seattle Municipal Court and the City Attorney’s Office. 

The Urbanist published a new review of protest-related events from 2020, with new footage showing SPD kettling protesters. SPD’s commander in the field was later promoted and also served on the OIG’s sentinel event review of the 2020 protests, which meant he had influence over the report’s findings. Per the article:

Only four out of 133, or 3%, of investigations completed by the Seattle Office of Police Accountability (OPA) into SPD’s 2020 protest conduct have resulted in officer suspensions without pay, according to a review of OPA files.”

WA State News:

Bob Ferguson, who is running for WA governor, unveiled his public safety plan this week. It includes boosting funding to hire more WA State Patrol troopers and give $100 million in grants for city and counties to increase police staffing. He wants to achieve universal adoption of body-worn cameras for police and improve and expand access to law enforcement data, although he doesn’t say if he’d consider using real-time crime centers to achieve the latter. You can read more about concerns about real-time crime centers here

From his website: “As Governor, Bob will build upon his work within the Criminal Justice Training Commission to expand and improve training for community-based policing, expanding co-response and non-armed responders rooted in de-escalation and behavioral health training, and improve data collection and reporting to improve public trust. He will also use the bully pulpit of his office to highlight good works by law enforcement across the state.”

He also wants to implement a crisis response plan to the fentanyl epidemic.

The Washington Observer says Ferguson’s biggest vulnerability in the governor’s race is public safety, hence this plan.

 Recent Headlines:

 

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Community Outcry against King County’s Potential SCORE Jail Contract

King County Jail News:

On Tuesday morning, a 58-year-old woman died in the King County Jail. She had been booked into the jail on Friday with a charge of burglary. We don’t yet know her cause of death. 

On Tuesday afternoon, the King County Council met to discuss, amongst other things, the $3.5m SCORE contract that would allow them to transfer 50 people (to start) from the King County Jail to the SCORE facility in Des Moines. While this is being sold as a “short-term” solution to run until the end of 2024, there is already discussion of expanding the number of inmates transferred to SCORE. 33 people gave public comment asking the CMs to vote no on this new contract. There have been several lawsuits brought against SCORE by family members of people who died in the jail, alleging the facility failed to provide adequate medical care. Being transferred to SCORE might also impact the quality of inmates’ defenses. You can see my live tweets of the CMs’ discussion here

At the briefing, CM McDermott stated that booking restrictions haven’t changed and asked for the reason for the growth of the King County Jail population in 2022. Analyst Leah Krekel-Zoppi said that pre-pandemic, the average daily population of the jail was 1900, which dropped to 1300 due to the pandemic. The average daily population now is 1500-1600. She refused to answer the CM’s question about why it’s higher now.

One possible explanation for this increase is, as Erica C. Barnett suggests, the Seattle City Attorney’s High Utilizer program, which skirts the current jail booking restrictions for misdemeanors: “In January and February 2022, before the high utilizer initiative went into effect,  the average daily population at the downtown jail was 910; for the same period this year, it was 1,220. The increase is the result of a complex mix of factors, but jailing 142 people for low-level misdemeanors is undoubtedly among them.” She also found that on average, each one of these “high utilizers” served 117 days in jail in 2022, so they each spent significant time in the jail.

Another possible factor is people in the jail waiting for competency services. As Ashely Nervobig reports: “A February 7 report from the King County Prosecutor’s office showed about 80 people waiting for competency restoration services, with the state failing to provide treatment to some of the people in the jail for more than a year, according to Casey McNerthney, spokesperson for the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.” 

Other possible factors for the difference in the jail population between 2021 and 2022 include an increase in SPD arrest reports–there were 10,601 such reports in 2022 versus 9165 in 2021–and the possibility the police are overcharging; that is, the practice of either adding charges or using a higher initial charge when such charges may not be able to be proven. This practice would be another way of getting around the King County Jail’s current booking restrictions. 

CM Zahilay asked two questions that remained outstanding and that the CMs resolved to discuss during their (confidential) executive session: 

  1. There is ambiguity over which type of booking restrictions can be mandated by a County Executive. Some say these restrictions can only apply to misdemeanor charges, but there are also some counties in Washington that may have restrictions relating to certain felonies.
  2. Is the County legally allowed to pay people’s bail? In the past (pre-pandemic) King County gave a $400k contract to the Northwest Bail Fund, but it’s not clear if any of this money was ever directly used to pay bail. It sounds like it was used to fund wraparound services that helped people qualify for bail. Data from that program showed the number of people able to post bail increased significantly during its adoption in 2019-2020. CMs were very interested to learn how many people are housed in King County’s jails because of being unable to pay bail.

If the CMs do not approve this new contract with SCORE, it would be incumbent upon them to decrease the population of the King County Jail in other ways, hence the importance of the above questions. The Shut Down King County Jail coalition is asking for the CMs to do exactly this and reduce the jail population by ceasing imprisonment of those experiencing mental health crises and stopping imposing bail, which has the impact of holding poor people in this facility while those with more resources are allowed to go free. However, some CMs signaled more interest in putting additional definitions and limitations around the SCORE contract as opposed to searching for ways to decrease the County’s jailed population in any meaningful way. 

The vote on this legislation was delayed until the next King County Council meeting on Tuesday, March 28. In the meantime, you may write or call your King County CMs and/or plan to give public comment on the 28th.

Seattle News:

SPD detective Cookie Bouldin has filed a $10m tort claim against SPD, claiming racial and gender discrimination and retaliation for whistleblowing. She says she has faced gender and racial discrimination for the entirety of her 40-year career, which began in 1980, when she was one of only two Black female officers in SPD. She is known for reaching out to communities of color and running a youth chess club, both of which she says have made her a target. The claim states: “​​She notes that the hostile work environment she has been subjected to has increased dramatically in recent years.”

In an analysis of Ann Davison’s first year as Seattle City Attorney, Guy Oron writes:

“​​The King County Department of Public Defense (DPD) has denounced the CAO’s approach to prosecution during Davison’s tenure, setting up a Twitter account at @CourtWatchSMC called “Seattle Municipal Court Watch” to monitor cases when the CAO has filed charges against poor residents and people experiencing mental health illnesses. Notable cases that the DPD has highlighted include prosecution of people for stealing paper towels, selling cigarettes without proper licensing, sleeping under a tarp in a business parking lot and staying in a building slated for demolition to stay warm. These selected anecdotes seem to align with the data, which shows that the vast majority of SMC defendants rely on public defense.”

Election News:

King County Executive Dow Constantine has announced he will not be running for governor in 2024. This was after the Northwest Progressive Institute released poll results showing Attorney General Bob Ferguson as the leading Democratic candidate in a potential 2024 governor’s race, assuming current Governor Inslee chooses not to run for a fourth term. Bob Ferguson polled at 21%, whereas another possible Democratic candidate, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, polled at 7%.

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