budget

A Disappointing SPOG Contract, Ignoring Community’s Interest in Accountabilty, Takes Another Step Forward

Seattle News:

Mayor Bruce Harrell announced legislation to move forward the new SPOG contract, previously discussed here. The new agreement, which gives SPOG members a total retroactive pay raise of 23%, only covers up until the end of 2023, which makes it “partial.” Negotiations for the 2024 contract are ongoing and currently in mediation. It is worth noting that if mediation fails, the next step would be to go to interest arbitration, the decision of which would be binding for both parties. 

For the most starry-eyed perspective of what this contract accomplishes, you can read the city’s press release, but it’s important to remember that this new contract does not even meet the minimum bar of achieving the 2017 Accountability Ordinance. Many advocates would like to see accountability pushed beyond an ordinance passed 7 years ago. The contract needs to be passed by City Council in order to be finalized.

I wrote a piece covering the current conversation related to SPD police officer recruitment and standards. I cover Councilmember Sara Nelson’s legislation asking to switch the officer candidate entrance exam, concerns with SPD’s backgrounding, and SPD cultural problems, including the recently filed tort claim by four female SPD officers alleging sexual harassment and discrimination. I also point out that Mayor Bruce Harrell’s recent move to hire an independent investigation firm to look into these charges comes an entire 7 months after the 30×30 report was released that uncovered these issues, and only after three separate law suits and tort claims that all allege sexual discrimination. 

The Stranger reported that “Council Member Tanya Woo let it slip last night that Public Safety Chair Bob Kettle and the City Attorney are “looking into possibly taking away the contract with King County and trying to have a contract with SCORE, private jails…” While SCORE isn’t technically a private jail, it does have serious safety concerns and would be more costly than the King County Jail, which Seattle currently uses. Whether private jails are also being looked into or Woo simply misspoke is unclear. 

In a strange display at Monday’s Council Briefing, Councilmember Cathy Moore appeared to be close to a temper tantrum over alleged uncollegial conduct from colleague Councilmember Tammy Morales after Moore voted against Morales’s Connected Communities legislation last week. The legislation would have made it easier to build more affordable housing in the city. You can watch her speech here. Thus far no journalist has been able to uncover any evidence that Morales actually said anything inflammatory. While this doesn’t have anything to do with public safety per say, it is a glimpse into a Council that continues to say bizarre things and occasionally throw facts to the wind. 

As we prepare for budget discussions this fall, it’s important to have an understanding of where the large ($240 million and growing) deficit came from. A new five-year analysis shows that around 79% of budget growth during that time came from keeping up with inflation, including increasing wages for city workers. New and expanded programs supported by the JumpStart tax accounted for 19%. 

As The Seattle Times reported, other budgetary issues have included increased legal claims against the city (much stemming from SPD’s behavior in 2020), increasing insurance costs, and costly technology upgrades.

SPD Officer Daniel Auderer, Vice President of SPOG whose claim to fame is laughing at Jaahnavi Kandula’s death, will be representing SPD at a national traffic safety conference in August in Washington DC. Taxpayers will undoubtedly be footing the expense for this trip.

Payments for the retroactive pay raise for the Coalition of City Unions, previously thought to be delayed until fall, will be given in July instead. The timeline of retroactive pay for SPOG members won’t be decided until after the City Council vote on the new contract.

SPD has ended its use of the experimental BolaWrap, a lasso-like device that they touted for using in situations where people in crisis had knives. In a report, SPD reported using the device only 3 times in 2023, and in one of these incidents the technology failed spectacularly. As The Stranger reports:

In 2021, the City agreed to restore more than $4 million for SPD’s discretionary spending fund in part based on the justification that SPD needed the money to invest in BolaWrap technology. The decision seemed rooted in the idea that new technologies can stop police violence. But cops often ignore less-lethal options in favor of their guns. In the SPD cases where they killed Caver, Hayden, and Charleena Lyles, no officer used the less lethal tools that SPD already equipped them with, such as Tasers, pepper spray, a baton, or a shield. Still, the City thought the BolaWrap, already a ridiculous concept for a device, would suddenly do the trick.”

King County News:

I wrote an article describing the new guaranteed basic income (GBI) program run by the Workforce Development Council of Seattle-King County, starting in fall of 2022. While this program benefited people from many walks of life, I focused my article on two examples of folks receiving the GBI benefit who were justice-impacted and readjusting to life outside of prison. GBI programs like these continue to show large benefits, both for their recipients and for society as a whole. 

If you’re interested in the work around recommendations regarding the King County youth jail, there will be an informational webinar on Thursday, May 23 from 6-7pm. The Care & Closure Advisory Committee is also reconvening to discuss their two recommendations that were not unanimous: the proposed respite and receiving center and short-term respite housing. Their first meeting will be on Monday, June 3rd at 4pm.

Recent Headlines:

A Disappointing SPOG Contract, Ignoring Community’s Interest in Accountabilty, Takes Another Step Forward Read More »

Will Seattle Pay SPOG a Premium to Let Others Help SPD with its Staffing Woes?

Seattle News

Most of this week has been elections, elections, elections. As of this writing, a few Seattle councilmember races are still too close to call, but we’re seeing a definitive shift to the right.

It looks like CM Mosqueda will be moving over to the King County Council next year, and she has announced she intends to step down from Seattle City Council at the beginning of next year, when the new Council will be able to appoint a replacement. In the meantime, she’ll be busy getting the 2024 budget passed as well as finishing up other budget work.

SPD Detective Cookie Boudin has followed up her spring tort claim by suing the City. She is seeking an unspecified amount of damages, saying she’s spent her whole career dealing with a pattern of racist harrassment. The trial date has been set for November 4, 2024. 

KUOW reported that a cooking show/class at PCC hosted by SPD Chief Diaz and special guest former Chief Best cost the city $2000 in overtime this past Saturday, as five other SPD employees were paid to attend: two bodyguards, a community outreach officer, a patrol officer, and an executive assistant. Four more similar events have been scheduled and in total could cost more than $9000 in overtime. “Current numbers show the department will be between $1.5 to $4.6 million over budget by year end, Jamie Housen, spokesperson with the mayor’s office, wrote by email. He said overtime costs were mostly to blame.”

The Firefighters have reached a tentative contract with the city that isn’t good news for workers. It gives minimum annual wage increases of 2-4%, as well as a 4.5% raise in 2022 and a 5.5% raise in 2023. Given these rates don’t keep up with the rates of inflation during those same years, this represents a wage cut in real terms. This could bode poorly for the Coalition of City Unions, who have currently been offered a 2.5% wage increase. As Erica C. Barnett writes:In contrast, Seattle police officers received a 17 percent pay increase after their last contract negotiation, with retroactive pay increases between 3 and 4 percent a year for the years they worked without a contract. The city council approved hiring bonuses of up to $30,000 for police last year.”

Seattle Budget and the SPOG MOU 

Seattle’s Budget Committee will be meeting on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday next week to discuss budget-related legislation and councilmember amendments. Votes on amendments are expected on Tuesday 11/14, with Wednesday’s meeting most likely to consist of discussion of budget proposals and progressive revenue options that aren’t needed to balance the 2024 budget.

There will be an opportunity to give public comment on Monday, November 13 at both 10am and at the public hearing at 5pm. Solidarity Budget will be hosting a budget rally outside City Hall on Monday starting at 4pm. Suggested talking points for public comment and emails are available here.

Solidarity Budget co-hosted a webinar on Wednesday with ACLU Washington on the problems with the ShotSpotter surveillance technology that is currently being given funding in the 2024 budget. You can watch the webinar here, look at the slides, and find more talking points about ShotSpotter here. One of the amendments slated to be voted on next week will require a racial equity toolkit be done on this technology whenever it is moved to a new neighborhood, as opposed to the original plans announced by Senior Deputy Mayor Burgess to only require an omnibus Surveillance Impact Report (SIR). Another amendment would take the $1.5 million currently allocated for this technology and instead spend it on mental health services for tiny house villages, which are currently funded at significantly lower levels in 2024 than they were in 2023.

This week the city also announced a proposal for a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG). You can read the Central Staff memorandum on the MOU on page 42 and the full text of the MOU on page 51 of this packet.

The MOU accomplishes three things:

  • It would allow the city flexibility to sometimes use parking enforcement officers to staff special events.
  • It would allow the city to implement its dual dispatch emergency alternative response program. In spite of all the hype around the launch of this pilot, it turns out that until and unless this MOU is agreed upon, police can actively request CARE members only after they’ve arrived at and secured a site for Wellness Check and Person Down Calls, meaning it’s not even a true dual dispatch yet.
  • It would allow the city to use park rangers at parks outside of the downtown area.

There are several problematic aspects of the MOU. Perhaps the biggest one is the agreement to give officers who volunteer to staff special events an additional $225 bonus for each shift worked (in addition to any relevant overtime pay). This bonus is projected to cost $8 million in additional funds through the end of 2025. So here we have a situation in which firefighters are taking a pay cut in real terms if they accept their proposed contract while police officers are getting further bonuses beyond overtime for working special events, increasing SPD’s budget bloat even further at the expense of other core city services.

The rationale behind this odd choice is that right now SPD can only staff these special events through mandatory overtime, which is putting a strain on their workforce. But SPOG is only willing to give these officers relief by allowing other people to do some of the special events work if their officers get paid an extra bonus. Meanwhile, SPD once again went significantly over their overtime budget this year and yet are still willing to spend $2000 in overtime for a cooking class, as mentioned above. 

I’ll also note that once a new section involving extra pay is added to police guild contracts, it tends to be very, very difficult to remove later. Not to mention that this doesn’t appear to show particularly good negotiating tactics on the part of the city, who are still working with SPOG to agree upon a new contract almost three years after its expiration.

Another problematic aspect of the MOU has to do with the new dual dispatch pilot. This MOU restricts the number of responders that can be hired by CARE to 24 FTEs, meaning SPOG gets to determine the size of the pilot. It restricts the call types to which they can respond to only Person Down and Welfare Check calls, hence the Director’s reluctance to suggest response to any other call types. In addition, according to the MOU, dispatching CARE responders is not to affect the number of police dispatched to any given call. And CARE responders will be required to write a report that is available to SPD officers, which could potentially dissuade people who are already wary of the police from being willing to use this new program.

The budget amendment funding this MOU will be voted on next week and provide $4.5 million of funding to cover SPD special event bonuses for October thru December of this year and 2024. It is unclear how this extra expenditure will be balanced in the budget. The legislation related to the MOU will be on the Introduction & Referral calendar on November 21 and is expected to be voted on at Full Council sometime during the first half of December.

Recent Headlines:

Will Seattle Pay SPOG a Premium to Let Others Help SPD with its Staffing Woes? Read More »

Mayor Harrell Has No Plan to Prevent Budget Austerity Next Year

Guaranteed Basic Income panel:

If this week’s newsletter seems a bit lean, it is because I am spending large amounts of time preparing for Solidarity Budget’s upcoming Guaranteed Basic Income panel. And I hope you’ll consider attending!

When: Tuesday, October 10th, 6-8PM

Where: Rainier Arts Center, 3515 South Alaska St, Columbia City

Food will be served, and I’ll be giving a short presentation on Solidarity Budget and GBI. Then we’ll learn more from a truly amazing line-up of panelists, local experts with lots of knowledge and experience with GBI.

You can RSVP here. If you can’t make it in person, the recording will be available here.

Seattle Budget News:

We’re all discussing Mayor Harrell’s proposed 2024 budget. Released last week, the proposed budget stays largely true to that approved by the City Council last year, but it wouldn’t be budget season if there weren’t some interesting nuggets buried in there. 

Probably most noteworthy is the failure of this proposal to address the large revenue shortfall we’re expecting beginning in 2025. The city could easily be short $250 million in the 2025 budget, and that’s only the beginning of several years of projected shortfalls. 

In order to address this, the city has two main choices: to cut, aka adopt an austerity budget, or to pass new progressive revenue. The Mayor hasn’t proposed any new progressive revenue and says he wishes to leave that problem to next year’s Council. The problem with this approach is that any new progressive revenue passed will take some time to implement and begin to collect, which means if we wait until next fall to discuss this, it will already be too late for any measures to meaningfully impact 2025’s budget. 

And making $250 million of cuts in 2025’s budget will be a painful process that will likely result in fewer services, less money for housing in particular (as the Mayor seems likely to raid JumpStart tax revenues to staunch the bleeding), and potential layoffs for city workers. 

Worse yet, the city will have to turn around and deal with a similarly sized shortfall in the 2026 budget.

Also in this budget proposal are funds for SPD to use Shotspotter, now rebranded as SoundThink, an ineffective gunshot location technology that does nothing to prevent gun violence and disproportionately impacts poor communities of color. If this sounds familiar, it’s because we defeated a similar proposal last year, but apparently the Mayor’s Office felt ready for some Groundhog Day-type antics.

The proposed budget also includes funding for what appears to be 213 ghost cops, or positions for sworn officers within SPD that the department has no plans or ability to fill. This continued position authority, not generally given to any other department, allows them access to their own private slush fund for unfortunate ideas like Shotspotter and officer hiring bonuses that don’t appear to actually work. 

Glaringly absent from the budget is any additional funding for diversion services as was obliquely promised during the discussion about the new War on Drugs legislation passed last month.

The budget also includes increased funding for the city’s dual dispatch alternative response pilot, which I wrote about at greater length this week over at The Urbanist

City Council will be meeting for three issue identification sessions around the budget next week, and there will be a chance to give public comment before the first one, at 10am on Wednesday, October 11. As always, you can also email your councilmembers and let them know your budget priorities. 

Other News:

The SPD officer and SPOG VP Daniel Auderer, who was caught joking about Jaahnavi Kandula’s death, has been moved off the streets and assigned to review red-light camera footage. The CPC has called for Auderer to be put on administrative leave without pay while the OPA investigates his case.

Last week Mayor Harrell released his executive order pertaining to the new War on Drugs legislation passed last month. Notably, he defines harm as pertaining to the impact on the ability of others to use shared public space as opposed to actual physical harm of another individual, which seems to confirm this new legislation is mostly another mechanism of control and criminalization over those who are unhoused.

As Publicola reports:

Harrell’s order is mostly suggestive rather than prescriptive. Officers who believe a person’s drug use inherently threatens those around them can decide, based on their training and “the totality of the circumstances,” to arrest a person or attempt to divert them to LEAD, the city’s primary diversion program. The number of arrests that officers will actually make is constrained by the booking capacity of the downtown jail, which is severely limited due to a shortage of guards.”

The executive order also requires outreach providers to create a “by-name list” of people significantly affected by the opioid crisis in a certain area of the city, which some advocates say is an inappropriate use of such a list.

In addition, the order minimizes the changes to the legislation made by Councilmember Nelson that would have given officers additional discretion over arrests.

Finally, the Stranger reported on the tragic story of Thomas J. Sturges. Ruled incompetent to stand trial due to mental illness, Sturges waited in the King County Jail for almost a year for the state to pick him up for competency restoration, his mother unable to afford to pay his $15,000 bail. Once a hospital “restored” him, he was returned to King County Jail in June of this year. 

The health department was prevented from meeting with him for a few months because of extreme understaffing, even though he needed to see them in order to resume taking medication for his mental illness. By August 27, he was transferred back to the hospital because he couldn’t stop vomiting and had lost almost half his body weight. At his most recent hearing “the judge noted he couldn’t appear because ‘he was severely malnourished in jail.’”

Recent Headlines:

Mayor Harrell Has No Plan to Prevent Budget Austerity Next Year Read More »