coalition of city unions

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 »

New SPOG Contract Would Reportedly Give Police More Money Without Additional Accountability

Seattle News:

The huge news in public safety in Seattle this past week has been the announcement of a tentative new contract between the city and the Seattle Police Officers Guild, or SPOG. The last contract was approved in 2018 and expired at the end of 2020, so this new contract has been a long time coming and provides one of the few opportunities to make real improvements to Seattle’s police accountability. 

However, news in that regard is not good. While the full contract has not yet been released, PubliCola reported that “The city approved a contract with the Seattle Police Managers Association last year that included new accountability measures, but SPOG’s contract reportedly fails to replicate many of these measures.” The new contract would also only apply until the end of 2023, while the next contract that would begin in 2024 is in mediation and could be delayed for an indefinite amount of time.

While it sounds like we won’t be seeing necessary accountability measures in the new contract, what we will be seeing is raises and back pay for police. PubliCola reports that retroactive wage increases for the past three years (2021-2023) would amount to a 23% pay raise: “The raises would increase the starting pay for new officers, before overtime, from just over $83,000 to nearly $103,000. Officers who have worked at SPD for six months would see their base pay increase to $110,000, and so on up the seniority line.” These raises would mean SPD officers would be receiving the highest base pay in the region. 

If this sounds like terrible negotiation strategy to you, giving SPOG members a huge raise while not making real gains in accountability, then we are in agreement. But we’ll have to wait to see the contract to see exactly what is happening here. 

In other labor news, the City Council finally voted on the contract with the Coalition of City Unions, which provides a 9.7% cumulative raise: 5% for 2023 and 4.5% for 2024. City workers will also receive raises in 2025 and 2026 based on the region’s consumer price index. 

How will this affect Seattle’s budget? The Stranger reports that the City has the money to cover the extra $10.5 million this contract will cost for 2023 and 2024 because of saving $20 million from this year’s hiring freeze and JumpStart bringing in $40 million more than anticipated in 2023. Looking forward into 2025, the contract will cost $11 million more than expected, potentially bringing the budget deficit from $230 million to $241 million. (That being said, it’s possible the remaining hiring freeze savings and extra 2023 JumpStart monies might be applied to decrease this deficit, although of course spending JumpStart funds outside of its spending plan is a fraught question.)

What we don’t yet know is how much that deficit will be affected by the new SPOG contract. 

Washington State News:

You can check out my interview with WA state legislature candidate Shaun Scott in the Urbanist from earlier this week.

Results from the latest Healthy Youth survey are out; this is a biennial survey for Washington state students designed to assess their mental health. Crosscut reported that “improved health behaviors and mental health along with increased social support were among the findings from this year’s survey, in comparison to 2021 results. At least seven in 10 reported feeling moderate to high hopes in 2023.”

The article goes on to quote Maayan Simckes, the principal investigator for the survey, theorizing that the improvements in student mental health might be due to increased supports at home and school, with almost 60% of youth saying they had an adult to turn to when they felt depressed. 

That being said, while things have definitely improved, we still have a lot of young people suffering in the state. 55% of 12th graders and 49% of 10th graders said they’d been “unable to stop or control worrying in past two weeks,” while 32% of 12th graders and 30% of 10th graders said they’d been “feeling sad/hopeless in past year.” 15% of both 10th and 12th graders considered attempting suicide in the past year. 

I’m also struck by that 40% of youth who did NOT have an adult to turn to when they felt depressed. We still have work to do. 

Housekeeping:

I’ve received several Substack “pledges” in recent weeks with notes about wanting to support local journalism, which I think is fantastic! However, I’m not going to turn on Substack’s subscription service. Instead if you’d like to support my work, you can do so with a monthly donation through my Patreon or through a one-time donation via Paypal.

And of course, I applaud you if you’re offering your support to any of our fine local media outlets, such as Real Change, The South Seattle Emerald, PubliCola, The Stranger, or my current home The Urbanist.

Recent Headlines:

New SPOG Contract Would Reportedly Give Police More Money Without Additional Accountability 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 Drug User Diversion (LEAD) Will Max Out Its Capacity in Spring 2024

Year End and Looking Forward:

As this is the closing edition of this year of the newsletter, I want to extend a big thank you to all my readers. I hope you’ve found my reporting this year to be helpful in keeping you updated on what’s happening in the public safety and criminal legal spaces in Seattle, King County, and Washington State. 

Looking forward, public safety will remain front and center as an issue of interest. A short state legislative session will be beginning in January; historically short sessions tend to focus more on policy and less than on fiscal issues. We’ll have a couple new faces on the King County Council and 7 new faces on the Seattle City Council. King County and Seattle will also both face large fiscal deficits for their 2025-2026 budgets, which they’ll hammer out in the fall. We’ll also see more developments with both Guaranteed Basic Income (GBI) and social housing.

I’d like to give extra thanks to those who support this work via Patreon for helping make Notes from the Emerald City possible. And I’m making a small request. Donations this year are not quite going to cover the hosting fees for the Notes from the Emerald City website. So if you find this work valuable, now would be a really great time to give a small donation to help keep things running. You can give a monthly donation via Patreon or a one-time donation via Paypal.

Thank you so much, and here’s looking forward to more reporting and learning in 2024!

Seattle News:

At the last Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting of the year (and the last presided over by Chair Lisa Herbold), LEAD gave a report on how they’re doing with the new influx of police referrals following the passage and implementation of the drug criminalization ordinance. They are only continuing to accept community referrals (meaning not from SPD) from three geographic areas: upper Third Avenue, the CID, and Rainier Beach (the latter only because King County is specifically providing funding to provide this service there). Fewer community referrals in general are being made as they are so likely to be turned down by LEAD.

LEAD is predicted to reach an absolute capacity ceiling in late April or early May of 2024. At that time, if more funding is not provided–either from the city, from the state, or from federal grants–LEAD will have to start rejecting not only community referrals but also referrals from the police. 

Lisa Daugaard, the co-executive director, also said that people are coming in at the highest level of clinical need they’ve ever seen, and that there are insufficient resources and options to offer these people. LEAD provides case managers who connect people with the services they need, but if those services are unavailable, the model cannot work as designed. One particular area where more service is needed is wound care as people are losing their limbs, and there aren’t resources to address this that are mobile.

In accountability news, an arbitrator has ruled that a former SPD officer who was fired for “using excessive force and violating the department’s de-escalation policies” was done so unlawfully and should at most have been suspended without pay for 60 days. Because she was fired back in 2017, the arbitrator didn’t order that she be given back her job, but he did order that she receive over $600k in backpay.

A new firefighters contract has been announced, which the local firefighters ratified with an 86% vote. This contract covers the period between December 21, 2021 and December 31, 2026 (meaning it covers two years in the past and three upcoming years). Cost of living adjustment (COLA) increases in the new contract are based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue with increase minimums and maximums that vary by year but are mostly a 2% minimum and a 4% maximum increase. The contract also includes a COLA bank that allows firefighters to bank excess cost of living increases when inflation is higher than 4%.

The back pay for the firefighters for the last two years (2022 and 2023) will cost $22.3 million. Going forward, the contract will cost an additional $21.4 million in 2024. The estimated total additional cost for the contract from 2022-2026 is $106.5 million. 

The Coalition of City Unions has also reached a tentative deal with the city. It hasn’t yet been approved, but it would provide a 5% COLA increase for 2023 and a 4.5% COLA increase for 2024. After that wage increases would be tied to the CPI for between 2-4%, just like the firefighters. 

In her wrap-up Bad Apples column for 2023, Ashley Nerbovig has this to say when summarizing the year:

And what a year for the Seattle Police Department, even aside from the OPA investigations. Barely a month into 2023, Seattle Police Officer Kevin Dave hit and killed 23-year-old college student Jaahnavi Kandula while driving nearly three times the posted speed limit. Kandula’s death led to worldwide outrage after a video surfaced of Seattle police union vice president Officer Daniel Auderer cackling and mocking Kandula on the night of her death. SPD took another hit in September when The Stranger published audio of Officer Burton Hill hurling a racial slur at his elderly Chinese neighbor. SPD faced broader criticism about racism within the department after prominent Black SPD detective Denise “Cookie” Bouldin filed a discrimination lawsuit in November claiming she’d endured decades of racial and gender bias while working for SPD. Just cop things!”

King County and National News:

Prosecutors began their final arguments in the Manny Ellis trial on Monday. The jury began their deliberations on Thursday.

Meanwhile, even the New York Times is saying body worn cameras haven’t lived up to the hype

“The story demonstrates the mixed results of police-worn body cameras: Many people hoped they would help hold police officers accountable for wrongful shootings. But there has been a basic problem, as Eric Umansky found in an investigation for The Times Magazine and ProPublica: Police departments have often prevented the public from seeing the footage and failed to act when it showed wrongdoing.”

Recent Headlines:

 

Seattle Drug User Diversion (LEAD) Will Max Out Its Capacity in Spring 2024 Read More »