It’s hard to believe it’s already September. Let’s catch up on the happenings of the last few weeks, shall we?
SPD Budget Amendment Vote Tomorrow
Today’s Seattle Council Briefing
Compassion Seattle Challenged in Court
Last week the ACLU and two advocacy groups filed a lawsuit against the Compassionate Seattle ballot initiative. There will have to be a quick ruling as this initiative is set to be on the ballot in November. Opinions are mixed about the merits of the suit and whether it is likely to succeed.
Seattle Election News
Lastly, in some embarrassing local election news, the top local Trump donor, George Petrie, is also a top donor to an independent expenditure campaign supporting Bruce Harrell for Seattle mayor, as well as a max contributor to Harrell’s campaign. As of July, George Petrie was also one of the top two donors to the Compassion Seattle charter amendment, having donated $50k. This isn’t a great look for either Bruce Harrell or the Compassion Seattle campaign, but it’s a good reminder that following the money continues to be a worthwhile practice.
I was on vacation last week, and quite a lot happened! Get ready because this newsletter is a bit on the long side.
East Precinct Abandonment Last Summer
Yes, we finally found out what happened on June 8, 2020 when the SPD abandoned the East Precinct on Capitol Hill, thanks to KUOW’s investigative report. It turns out Assistant Chief Tom Mahaffey, the incident commander, was the one who made the call, without the knowledge of Chief Best or the Mayor’s office. The OPA’s report on this incident is expected shortly.
More on the 6 SPD Officers at “Stop the Steal”
Whether they were “directly involved” in the insurrection, or if they attended with the intent to passively support the unlawful insurrection and violent assault of our nation’s Capitol, neither act is an example of protected free speech nor should our support of free speech shield accountability for these acts.If public employees knowingly travelled to a location in support of people whom they knew were intending to attempt an insurrection, even if their participation was as a passive observer, that is a ‘clear connection between conduct and duties or…responsibilities’ and is an offense that merits termination. I will review the OPA investigation with an eye towards whether questions were asked of the four officers without sustained findings, and whether evidence was sought, to determine the advance knowledge they had of the planned violent events at the Capitol insurrection of January 6.
In practice, we’re very limited in how we can obtain information and documents from officers…but we’ve been told repeatedly that we don’t need subpoena power because we can just order officers to turn over records. And obviously, given the union’s objections to the order we issued, that’s not really the case.
OPA and OIG News
There are two major factors driving this election:
1) Extreme voter anger – targeted at the Seattle City Council.
2) ONE ISSUE (next tweet).
I’ve been fielding and reading polls for 30 years and I’ve never seen people this pissed. 1994 wasn’t this bad. https://t.co/Xz7sZjite4
The one issue referenced above? Homelessness.
The Seattle City Council finally passed their new less lethal weapons bill out of committee. However, it won’t be voted on by the Full Council until after a consent decree status conference with Judge Robart on August 10.
Seattle City Council’s Central Staff wrote a memo analyzing how much the Compassion Seattle proposed charter amendment might cost. As Kevin Schofield writes, “…The answer is complicated, because there are varied interpretations of vague language in the bill. At the low end: $30 million up-front capital costs, and $40 million annually in ongoing operational costs. At the high end: $839 million in capital costs and $97 million annually for operations.” This is a huge spread, of course, which shows how widely the amendment can be interpreted.
The Washington Supreme Court ruled in favor of the families of people killed by police officers, restoring reforms to the inquest process in King County that have been on hold for the last few years.
King County is looking at two finalists to become the new Director of OLEO (Office of Law Enforcement Oversight): Eddie Aubrey and Tamer Abouzaid. Both are similar in their outlook for the organization, although only Abouzaid said he’d support a state law prohibiting police unions from negotiating on issues of oversight.
The City of Seattle has filed a countersuit against The Seattle Times. If you’ll remember, the Times filed a suit against the City because of mishandled public record requests, including Mayor Durkan’s missing text messages. It’s also worth noting the City’s legal strategy for this matter is decided by City Attorney Pete Holmes, who is up for re-election.
Remember Mayor Durkan’s pot of $30m in this year’s budget for the Equitable Communities Initiative? Well, she has asked the Seattle City Council to lift the proviso on those funds, unveiling her spending plan proposal based on recommendations from the task force. Most of the funds will be dispersed through the RFP process. This legislation will be discussed at the Finance and Housing committee meeting on July 20.
Recent Headlines and Tweets
OIG finds deficiencies in OPA investigation
In other words, the OIG memo is saying that the OPA’s investigative report appears to be specifically designed to support the officers’ actions and their narrative, rather than approach the situation as a neutral body.
Today the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission voted unanimously to release mayoral candidate Andrew Grant Houston from the democracy voucher program’s $400K primary-election spending cap, due to Bruce Harrell’s campaign hitting the cap.
The commission has agreed (6-0 vote) to release Houston from the $400,000 cap. https://t.co/NBq37k6OjV
Also today, Compassion Seattle announced they have collected enough signatures to get their measure on the ballot, and it looks like they’ll hit the deadline to be on the November ballot, which is what they wanted from a strategy perspective (November will have a much higher turn-out of voters).
Seattle Police Officers’ Guild News
Illustrating the continued erosion of public mores, SPOG tweeted this week, taunting the community with news of a fatal shooting, implying the small amount cut from SPD recently caused this outcome. To be clear, there have still yet to be ANY police officer layoffs from SPD and their staffing plan was fully funded in the 2021 budget.
But the latest group of appeals reached the city attorney’s office as the next election for SPOG’s presidency looms on the horizon, as does the beginning of the next round of contract negotiations between the union and the city.
Seattle Election Strategy
Meanwhile, in Oakland….
SPD K-9 Problems
While SPD later adjusted its K-9 policies, a 2020 audit by Seattle’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found that the department’s policy revisions included notable flaws, including ambiguity about whether officers can use police dogs at protests.
Drug Decriminalization in Oregon
Seattle City Council Meetings
Good morning, and welcome to the Seattle Council Briefing!
Lewis said he will “almost certainly” drop an ordinance to make psychedelics the lowest-level enforcement priority for law enforcement at the city level after the task force releases its recommendations, but both he and Herbold stressed the opportunity here for state-level action.
This morning’s Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting included a Crisis Response Continuum Roundtable with representatives present from SFD and Health One, Crisis Connections, Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC), LEAD and REACH, and the SPD crisis response unit. All these providers agree they don’t have enough capacity to meet the high demand for their services, and they don’t have enough service providers either. They also briefly discussed the new 988 system that comes online in July 2022, for which funding has been provided by the state legislature, which will make a better response possible, although they expect a much higher demand as well. CM Lewis said they need to consider LEAD as an indispensable leg of the stool of overall public safety and treat it as a standing budget priority.
Also at this morning’s meeting, Carlos Lugo of Central Staff presented his report entitled “Realigning Seattle’s Criminal Legal System through a Public Health Approach.” This report, reflecting two years of work, represents the academic piece of the conversation, while a community task force also worked on recommendations that will be presented at a later meeting. The report suggests shifting our criminal legal system from being punitive to using a public health model, using the RNR model to understand factors of why violence occurs and what prevents violence, followed by implementing interventions and monitoring their impact. He also used the sequential intercept model that we’ve seen before in Council meetings during the last year. The intercept model looks at points where it’s possible to divert people from the criminal justice system to alternatives.
My takeaway from his presentation? He suggests investing in programs that reduce criminogenic needs and ACEs (adverse childhood events), possibly through participatory budgeting and possibly using money saved by negotiating to reduce jail services purchased from King County. When asked specifically by CM Morales, he said they should absolutely use funds diverted from SPD as well, calling out as an example the fact that if you use summons instead of arrests for misdemeanor crimes, that would save a lot of officer time.
At a time of tremendous grassroots organizing for change, the consent decree is heavy from the top down. The decree, a preferred tool of former President Barack Obama and possibly President Joe Biden, has a singular goal: to ensure that local policing is constitutional. But it doesn’t go deep enough to meet the demands of people advocating systemic change.
Elsewhere in Washington State
It strikes me that we are now living in an era defined not so much by “racial reckoning” but more so by the desperate, gasping grasps at reclaiming white innocence from the perils of such a reckoning. Do not teach us or our children honestly about our past or our present, the opponents of racial justice demand. Do not question our allegiance to an openly white supremacist political leader. Do not impugn the institutions that uphold white supremacy and do violence to those not like us. But most of all, they ask that we absolve them of their sins for having made all those demands. Affirm our innocence, they ask. We are not racist, men like Arnold Schlei demand we understand in spite of the evidence.
It is the City’s policy to make available emergency and permanent housing to those living unsheltered so that the City may take actions to ensure that public spaces remain open and clear of unauthorized encampments. The City shall develop policies and procedures to address those individuals who remain in public spaces, balancing the City’s strong interest in keeping public spaces clear of encampments and the possible harm to individuals caused by closing encampments. While there is no right to camp in any particular public space, it is City policy to avoid, as much as possible, dispersing people, except to safe and secure housing unless remaining in place poses particular problems related to public health or safety or interferes with the use of the public spaces by others.
Seattle Office of Police Accountability
Washington State News
Other Articles of Interest
Lots of news to report on this week! But first, a little housekeeping….
Changes to this newsletter
WA State legislature news
Other WA State News
Other Articles of Interest
Time for some early April news!
First off, you can read my live-tweeting of this morning’s Council Briefing here.
CM Herbold mentioned that she had a meeting last week with the DoJ and the Monitor about the draft bill on less lethal weapons, and that they will have additional questions for the SPD and the City’s Central Staff, so that is continuing to move forward. The next public safety committee meeting isn’t until next week, and we don’t yet have word on the agenda.
Meanwhile, Seattle is busy discussing the new proposed charter amendment from Compassionate Seattle, led by former CM Tim Burgess, that would create a new Article in Seattle’s city charter called “Provision of Homeless Services.” This proposal is unprecedented in that it attempts to use the city charter to dictate specific policy and budget priorities, while charter amendments in the past have stuck to causing governance changes. The purpose of this amendment appears to be to cause the City to stand up 1,000 new units of “emergency or permanent housing with services” in 2022, stating the City must allocate 12% of its general fund annually to a separate Human Services fund.
More controversially, the proposed amendment also contains the following language: “As emergency and permanent housing are available, the City shall ensure that City parks, playgrounds, sports fields, public spaces and sidewalks and streets (“public spaces”) remain open and clear of encampments. The City also may require individuals to shift their belongings and any structures to ensure accessibility and to accommodate use of public spaces.” Given the initiative’s major financial backer is the Downtown Seattle Association, this section shouldn’t come as a big surprise.
There are several different interpretations of what that language might mean, and it is disturbing that a major initiative on which the public may be expected to vote is so ambiguous:
- Kevin Schofield of SCC Insight says: “This does not appear to be bringing back “sweeps.” The text of the proposed amendment makes clear that parks and public spaces should be cleaned up and restored “as emergency and permanent housing are available.”
- Marcus Harrison Greene of the South Seattle Emerald says in an interview on Hacks & Wonks: “Other than, as you were saying, people essentially just don’t want to see any type of blight on their fair city or what have you. And are trying to essentially make it more and more of a hardship on people who are unhoused to be in areas that are “public spaces” or public amenities. And so for me, I mean, this just seems like an extremely – just extremely callous potential initiative that is couched in this language of compassion and love.” Crystal Fincher then responds, “I think the question is – the mandate in here to ensure that parks and public spaces are open and clear of encampments, is a clear direction and clear indication to return to aggressive sweeps. And to return to just default, I see someone in public – call the police, get them out.”
- Erica C. Barnett of Publicola reports: “Supporters of the amendment say the mandate to ensure that parks and public spaces are “open and clear” of encampments does not mean a return to aggressive encampment sweeps, although that provision will be open to interpretation if the amendment passes.”
In one further wrinkle, one of the members of the coalition supporting this amendment is Chief Seattle Club, the executive director of which is Colleen Echohawk. In her statement on this initiative, she says it “prohibits sweeps unless there is a place for people to go.” However, a prohibition doesn’t seem clear from the actual language of the amendment. How her support of this amendment might affect her chances in the mayoral election is anyone’s guess, but it does seem to pull her into a more center position and align her clearly with the interests of Seattle’s business community. Of course, this could also easily weaken her prospects with more progressive voters concerned about the possibility of renewed sweeps.
In order for this city charter amendment to appear on the ballot in November, it will need to collect 33,000 signatures from Seattle voters, to be filed by early August.
The other big piece of news in Seattle is the Court’s ruling that the recall of CM Sawant can proceed. The recall campaign will now begin collecting signatures; they need 10,000 signatures from District 3 voters and have 180 days to collect them. Depending on when these signatures are turned in, this recall might be voted on during the November election or there might need to be a special election at a later date. So far CM Sawant has out-fundraised the recall campaign.
Finally, you can attend free virtual bystander intervention trainings to stop anti-Asian/American and xenophobic harassment. Hosted by Hollaback! and Asian Americans Advancing Justice, you can sign up for a training here. There is still one available training in April and several in May, and if you finish this first training, there is also a conflict de-escalation training workshop available.
Thanks for reading!