The End of the Consent Decree is Tied to the Next SPOG Contract

Seattle News:

The push for a new war on drugs continues. Publicola reports that DESC will be running the new overdose recovery center from its Morrison hotel building on Third Avenue. King County has committed $2 million to renovating the second floor of this building for this purpose, and Seattle will spend $2 million on construction (out of the $7 million total the Mayor said he’d be using on capital projects related to the fentanyl crisis). What the remaining $5 million will be spent on is currently unclear. The slightly more than $1 million Mayor Harrell has been talking about investing every year for services would not be able to fund operations at this overdose recovery center 24-7. This response seems inadequate given King County is about to surpass 2022’s number of overdose fatalities with four months remaining in the year. 

The Public Safety and Human Services committee is scheduled to discuss and vote on the new drug war legislation at 9:30am next Tuesday 9/12, and there will be an opportunity for the public to give public comment at that time (one script is here). If the legislation passes out of committee, it could be voted on by the Full Council as soon as September 19. If, however, the legislation were to stall in committee, the upcoming budget season could potentially delay a final vote until after Thanksgiving.

Speaking of, budget season is coming up fast, with Mayor Harrell’s proposed budget expected on Tuesday, September 26. Solidarity Budget is having their launch event this Saturday from 1-3pm at Rainier Playfield in Columbia City, where attendees can enjoy food, music, a photo booth and more while learning about the city’s budget process and Solidarity Budget’s demands for nine guarantees. For those who wish to volunteer with Solidarity Budget, there will be a volunteer orientation on Thursday, September 14 from 6-7:30pm over Zoom. 

One of the hot topics we can expect to be discussed during budget season is the upcoming gap in Seattle’s General Fund and how and whether the city should pursue additional progressive revenue to fill this gap. Real Change offers a few different opinions on this issue here and here.

A hearing for the consent decree was held on Wednesday, with a written ruling released on Thursday morning. Judge Robart opted to terminate many sections of the consent decree, but not all; he wrote: “As a result, the court finds and concludes that the City and SPD must meet additional milestones to demonstrate sustained full and effective compliance with the use of force and accountability requirements of the Consent Decree and to achieve final resolution of this matter.” He is specifically concerned with use of force as it pertains to crowd control after SPD’s actions in 2020. 

The ruling goes on to lay out a timeline of various tasks that must be completed in order for the consent decree to be fully and finally terminated. Several of the deadlines fall in December 2023, with additional deadlines in the first few months of next year, culminating in a report from the Monitor due March 29, 2024. 

Pivotally, it sounds as though Judge Robart’s willingness to end the consent decree rests on the contents of the next SPOG contract, how it deals with issues of accountability, and specifically whether it enables the 2017 Accountability Ordinance to finally go into full effect. This is an interesting twist, as both Mayor Harrell and SPD are highly incentivized to close out the consent decree, so this warning on the Judge’s part could have ramifications at the bargaining table. In his comments on Wednesday, Judge Robart mentioned that he doesn’t believe issues of discipline and accountability should be a part of bargaining in the first place.

Judge Robart also took another shot at the defund movement, blaming it for Seattle’s struggles to recruit more police, even though police departments across the country are having the same problem. As The Stranger’s Ashley Nerbovig reports, “Defend the Defund organizer BJ Last called it “extremely disingenuous” for the judge to blame the defund movement as the reason why people don’t want to join a profession that increases a person’s likelihood of suicide by 54%.” She also mentioned the Judge’s comments that cop TV shows are “the worst enemy of good police work.” 

For more analysis on how the consent decree has failed in its promise, you can read my op-ed at The Urbanist, where I discuss the high cost of the decree, its removal of community agency, and its failure to address biased policing, including a reminder of Dr. Sherry Towers’s analysis that 1 out of 10 killings in Seattle are committed by a police officer.

King County and Washington State News:

The Seattle Times published a positive piece on the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO)’s director Tamar Abouzeid, calling him “an unapologetic reformer who thinks America’s criminal legal system is racist and broken, and needs to be radically changed or scrapped.” OLEO recently released its 2022 annual report. There was a 22% drop in complaints for the year, with the bulk of the drop being for complaints initiated by Sheriff’s Office employees. The number of investigations OLEO declined to certify more than doubled from 2021 to 13% (OLEO certified 101 investigations and declined to certify 15). Deputies with three or more allegations account for approximately 5% of the sworn force, but approximately 40% of all allegations. The number of allegations of excessive force rose from 58 in 2021 to 73 in 2022, but none of the allegations that were closed were sustained.

Meanwhile, over at King County’s Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD), the staffing issues are so bad that sometimes corrections officers must work up to 16 hours a day for multiple days, with one officer registering 1000 hours of overtime last year. 60% of officers have doctor’s notes that protect them from having to work overtime, up from 15% in 2018. As Ashley Nerbovig reports, “The jails have what amounts to a 29% job vacancy rate due to the number of actual open positions combined with the number of officers restricted to “light duty.””

In state redistricting news, a federal judge ruled Washington must redraw one of its legislative districts in Yakima Valley and set a progress report deadline of January 8. This deadline means the state legislature would have to convene a special session in order to vote to reconvene the state redistricting commission; if they do not, the court can decide on a new legislative map instead. At present it is not even certain whether the legislature would have the necessary votes to reconvene the commission, even if they were to hold a special session. Therefore, a court decision on a new map seems likely.

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