consent decree

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.

Recent Headlines:

 

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

Real Change Reporting Reveals Federal Monitor Oftelie Getting Cozy with SPD

Seattle News

In a fascinating piece of reporting in Real Change, Glen Stellmacher wrote about how SPD and the City of Seattle controlled the media narrative around the 2020 protests and the Defund Movement. I highly recommend reading the entire article, but here are some key points:

  • In a June 19, 2020 survey, SPD leadership recommended at least 12 areas of service within SPD that would be better with civilian employees.
  • In the face of defund demands, SPD claimed they would have to cut the SW precinct, SWAT, or traffic enforcement if cuts went too far. However, this narrative was shown to be false by both the June 19, 2020 and June 27, 2020 surveys of SPD leadership.
  • By August 2020, SPD and the City were aware that 45% of SPD patrol service hours didn’t require an officer. However, Mayor Durkan requested a second IDT; the results, not available until June 2021, also said nearly half of calls could be handled by a civilian response. At that point, you may remember SPD insisted on a risk managed demand report, which wasn’t completed until September 2022.
  • SPD played with the numbers to make the loss of diversity in the force, should there be layoffs, seem as bad as possible.
  • It appears then-SPD Chief Strategy Officer Chris Fischer may have ghost-written a Crosscut op-ed for Antonio Oftelie; Crosscut says they didn’t know SPD was involved and has since removed the op-ed from their site. Two days after publication, SPD’s Executive Director of Legal Affairs was pushing for Oftelie to be named the new Monitor of the consent decree. He was named the new Monitor the next month, beating out several qualified candidates. 

This Sunday, July 23 from 12-7pm in Othello Park, there will be a Participatory Budgeting cookout to launch the idea collection phase of participatory budgeting. You can also submit a proposal here.

In a court ruling this week, a judge ruled the City of Seattle has been using an overbroad definition of “obstruction” to justify its sweeps activity, writing that it constitutes “cruel punishment.” The definition was expanded in 2017, increasing obstruction removals in the City. The lawsuit is scheduled for trial in September.

On Tuesday, an SPD officer shot a man downtown. SPD is supposed to release video footage of what happened within 72 hours.

The Office of Police Accountability (OPA) is investigating the incident of the mock tombstone of a man killed by SPD police displayed in an SPD breakroom. Chief Diaz has ordered inspections of precinct HQs for other potential inappropriate displays. At a CPC meeting this week, Chief Diaz had very little information to share.

And finally, it’s supplemental budget time! The proposed supplemental budget includes around $815k in additional funding for SPD, including increasing overtime to pay for more downtown emphasis patrols, paying for additional online crime reporting, and hiring six civilian positions, including four new public disclosure officers. It also adds an additional $19 million for the City to pay for lawsuits, many of which are related to police misconduct. The City already added $11 million to the 2023 for lawsuits last year, but apparently that wasn’t enough.

In addition, the supplemental budget funds a graffiti clean-up team, and because the contracts have already been executed, the Mayor’s Office has potentially forced the Council’s hand into cutting other Seattle Public Utilities programs to pay for this. More money is also being requested for the CSCC for its dual dispatch pilot and updating its call center technology and for OIG to take over the consent decree’s Monitor duties. 

There is a vote scheduled on the supplemental budget on the morning of August 2. 

Recent Headlines

Real Change Reporting Reveals Federal Monitor Oftelie Getting Cozy with SPD Read More »

SPD Responsible for 1 out of 10 Killings in Seattle, Data Scientist Says

Seattle News

First up, I wrote an article for The Urbanist about the proposed drug legislation being voted on in Seattle next week. If you’d like to email your councilmembers and/or give public comment at the City Council meeting next Tuesday June 5, you can find a quick email submission here, and scripts here and here. It looks like the vote will be a close one.

Late last week, City Attorney Davison informed the Seattle Municipal Court she will no longer be participating in their community court, effectively shutting it down. Those people on the High Utilizers Initiative list were already barred from using community court, which was a court for people who had committed certain low-level crimes. This step is likely to significantly add to the caseload of the City Attorney’s prosecutors. It will be interesting to see how the office’s case clearance rate, rate of dismissals, and attrition rate will be impacted by this change in the months to come. CM Lewis has been vocal in defense of community court, tweeting, “Misinformation about Seattle Community Court success rates is circling in the media, so let’s get a few things straight. Approximately 75% of people who enter Community Court complete the program, and 80% of them go on to commit no new criminal law violations.” 

It has come to light that during the 2020 George Floyd protests, SPD called for help from at least 23 different law enforcement agencies. Officers from these agencies were not ruled by SPD policy relating to use of force, reporting, and accountability, and used weapons such as “Stinger” rubber pellet blast grenades, 12-gauge beanbag “shotgun” rounds, military style SAF smoke, HC smoke, and Aerial Flash-Bang devices. As Glen Stellmacher reports:

If SPD holds a backdoor policy that allows for the use of these weapons, that policy is not available to the public, nor are the conditions for the use of these specific weapons. If SPD solely relied on communication with these agencies to prevent the use of certain types of weapons, that dialogue appeared chaotic and indecisive.”

There were at least 547 uses of force by these other agencies during the 2020 protests, and it doesn’t look like any of them were investigated by the OPA. The OIG is performing an audit about SPD use of “mutual aid,” but no results of this audit have yet been made available to the public. It also appears that SPD orchestrated their infamous Proud Boy “ruse” because they didn’t know how to deal with crowd control without their mutual aid partners.

Meanwhile, Seattle has spent a whopping $20.1 million on outside legal fees for four lawsuits related to the 2020 protests.

The 2020 protests are also haunting Bob Ferguson, who launched an exploratory campaign for governor at the beginning of May. He announced the endorsement of former SPD Chief Carmen Best on Twitter this week. His base in Seattle didn’t take kindly to this news, as Best admitted to deleting text messages and was in charge of SPD during the tear gassing of Seattle neighborhoods during the 2020 protests. 

On the Consent Decree

This week, Judge Robart held a hearing in response to the DOJ and City of Seattle’s request for reduced oversight and an imminent end to the consent decree that has been in place for over eleven years. While it is unclear when the judge will issue a ruling, he signaled he will be rewriting parts of the proposed order but that overall he is proud of the work SPD has done under the consent decree. Not everyone agrees with this assessment:

“Ultimately, Seattle’s experience shows consent decrees to be a trap — one that results in more expensive police departments, but which leaves untouched the violence at the heart of policing. Consent decrees first offer communities validation for the harm police have caused them, along with a promise of someone else coming in and “fixing” the police. In practice, they cut off community voices, inflate police budgets at the expense of everything else, and legitimize the very police force that continues to harm the community.” 

Meanwhile, data scientist Dr. Sherry Towers wrote to the judge before the hearing to share some alarming findings, saying, “During my examination of police shooting and homicide data from 2015 to 2021[*] in my research, I found that the rates of police killings per homicide in Seattle were significantly higher than in other areas of the US (nationwide around 3% to 4% of all homicides were due to police killings, whereas in Seattle during that time period that number was 11%, well over twice the national average – to put this in perspective, one out of ten people killed in Seattle since 2015 was killed by a police officer).” 

She went on to say, “I found that by all measures I examined, fatal police violence and racial disparities in police shootings became worse after the consent decree, both in total number and per homicide.  In addition, significantly more police officers were involved in each shooting incident after the consent decree (2.5 on average), compared to before (1.5 on average), and police shootings became significantly more likely to be fatal.” 

Finally, a particular wrinkle of police union contract bargaining was discussed at the hearing. In general, if the negotiations between the City and the police union reach an impasse, the next step is to go to interest arbitration. However, the only issues that are allowed to go to interest arbitration are those that were included in the list of contract issues to be bargained that is created at the start of negotiations. So if a new issue comes up in the middle of negotiation, that can’t be forced into interest arbitration. This had huge implications for the 2017 police accountability ordinance, which hadn’t been included on the list of contract issues for the SPOG contract that was approved in 2018. 

Recent Headlines

 

SPD Responsible for 1 out of 10 Killings in Seattle, Data Scientist Says Read More »

Disproportionate Incarceration is Alive and Well in King County

Seattle News

Judge Robart has set the next consent decree hearing for Tuesday, May 30 at 1pm. Buckle your seatbelts because this one should be interesting!

Seattle’s Public Safety and Human Services committee heard a presentation from the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) on Tuesday regarding the work that office will be doing should the new consent decree agreement be approved. The Monitor’s oversight work will be transitioning over to OIG, which will also review other parts of SPD beyond those mandated by the consent decree. OIG will be producing a use of force assessment to be delivered to the court by the end of July, which will include force used in crisis incidents, use of less lethal devices, and force used during crowd management, using data from 2021 and 2022. Note this data is provided directly by SPD. They are also hoping to analyze data on traffic stops that aren’t Terry stops, the data of which has been fairly inaccessible up until now. 

OIG’s fourth and final Sentinel Event Review (SER) covering the 2020 protests should be released in the next few weeks. In total, OIG has made more than 400 recommendations to SPD based on these SER reports, the implementation of which they’ll be monitoring. They are also considering utilizing the SER model in the future for officer-involved shootings in crisis incidents. In addition, they will be investigating whether SPD has the appropriate systems to comply with the new state decertification law. 

OIG has made a number of comments designated as “matters of consideration,” which don’t go as far as recommendations. CM Herbold asked about the matter of consideration pertaining to the fact that historically SPD police chiefs have chosen to apply the lower end of recommended discipline when there has been misconduct; Director Judge replied this was a good time to refresh that data and see what Chief Diaz’s trend has been in this regard. OIG is looking at several other issues, including limiting deception during interrogation and reviewing SPD’s “ruse” policy; work around traffic stops with the Vera Institute; case closure rates in the investigative bureau; and a report to be released in Q2 analyzing SPD’s compliance with the city’s youth rights ordinance that requires youth be allowed to consult with counsel before waiving their rights. 

OIG has a new Deputy Director, Bessie Marie Scott, who worked previously for the Public Defender Association and as the Interim Director of the CPC. OIG is currently hiring for three additional full-time positions, including a team lead and two policy analysts. 

This week the Seattle City Council also received an economic forecast report, including a revenue forecast, which shows the core general fund revenue sources are not expected to keep up with inflation. Actual revenues from the Jumpstart tax fell from $293m in 2021 to $253m in 2022, and are expected to be $263m this year, revised significantly downwards from the previous estimate of $294m. The REET revenue forecast for 2023 has also significantly dropped; in November, these estimates were revised from $95m to $68m, and that number has dropped even further to $55m. The REET revenues aren’t expected to recover fully until 2027.

All of this is to say that the Council will be looking at an even smaller pot of money than expected during this fall’s budget season, and the results of the progressive revenue task force have become even more critical.

King County News

This week seems like a good opportunity to dig into the recent booking data from the King County Jail. In the last two weeks, there have been 148 total bookings; 38.4% of bookings have been misdemeanors, of which 50.2% were booked by SPD. If you remember, the King County Council mentioned Executive Constantine can enact booking restrictions for misdemeanors. That being said, 88.6% of the total jail population were booked for a felony. And 21% of the population have been imprisoned in the King County Jail for more than a year.

If you look at how race correlates with charge type, 34.2% of those misdemeanor bookings were Black people, whereas for felony bookings, 27.7% were Black people. Looking at the total jail population, Black people constitute 38.6%. For comparison, Black people make up around 7% of both Seattle and King County’s populations. As we learned in the last few King County Council meetings, many of those in the King County Jail are there because they cannot afford to pay bail or are waiting for competency restoration. 

Thus we can see how disproportionate incarceration is alive and well in King County, and how systemic racism, the racial wealth gap, and underinvestment in marginalized communities continue to cause harm today.

charts showing percentages discussed in text
KCJ bookings showing misdemeanors 4/12/2023
Chart showing percentages discussed in text
KCJ bookings showing felonies 4/12/2023
Chart showing percentages discussed in text
KCJ Population by Charge Type, Race, and Length of Stay

WA State News

While this year’s legislative session has been very productive in some ways, it’s been a disappointing year for police accountability. None of the major bills designed to improve police accountability made it through the legislative process, and SB 5352, the bill that rolls back reforms to lethal police pursuits made in 2021, was passed by the House this week in a vote of 57-40, in what Representative Julia Reed called “the most bizarre debate experience I’ve had to date.”

On Tuesday night the House voted on the Blake bill, SB 5336, which passed 54 to 41. The Senate version set drug possession as a gross misdemeanor, and the new House version changes that to a simple misdemeanor. The potential jail time for a gross misdemeanor in Washington State maxes out at 364 days, whereas for a simple misdemeanor it maxes out at 90 days. You can read more about this bill here, which will now move on to negotiations between the House and the Senate.

Two gun control bills have also now passed both houses. The one getting the most press is the assault weapon ban, which now goes to the governor for a signature and is expected to be the subject of a future lawsuit. The other bill would require potential gun owners to get trained, screened, and wait for 10 days before being able to purchase a weapon. 

Meanwhile, Austin Fields criticized the recent capital gains tax ruling by the Washington Supreme Court for falling short of making a case for a more equitable economy:

The Court’s cautious path was predictable—and widely predicted—but that doesn’t excuse the justices’ failure to endorse a more democratic, equitable tax system. Of course, the state desperately needs the estimated $500 million from the tax to fund early childhood programs. But the Court could have gone further and acknowledged the State Legislature’s existing authority to directly tax the incomes of Washington’s mega-rich to pay for thousands of affordable homes, a health care system capable of treating everyone, and everything else a truly progressive state would guarantee its residents.”

Recent Headlines

Disproportionate Incarceration is Alive and Well in King County Read More »

“Stealth Jail Expansion”: The Fight Over the SCORE Jail Contract Continues

Let’s take a moment to celebrate that the Washington State Supreme Court upheld the capital gains tax!

Seattle News

On Tuesday the City of Seattle and the Department of Justice filed a request to replace the 2012 Consent Decree with a new “Agreement on Sustained Compliance” that would focus on SPD’s use of force particularly related to crowd control and accountability. Among other measures, SPD would need to adopt a revised crowd management policy, and the City would need to hire a consultant to make recommendations about the accountability system. In addition, Mike Carter reports the city also acknowledges that it must address racial disparities that have shown up in reviews of both police use of force and investigative stops.” 

Mayor Harrell’s office has calculated the consent decree, lasting 11 years thus far, has cost the city $200m. The motion asks Judge Robart to find the SPD has reached “substantial compliance” with most of the original consent decree requirements. As Erica C. Barnett reports, ongoing labor negotiations with SPOG, including whether important accountability advances agreed upon in the recent SPMA contract are included in the next SPOG contract, play an important role as to whether the city will be able to be found in compliance with the accountability piece of either the original consent decree or any new agreement.

This new “agreement on sustained compliance” would be anticipated to be completed in about a year, and unlike the original consent decree, it wouldn’t require a two-year sustainment period before exit, which would give Mayor Harrell his coveted exit before the end of his term. The next step in this process is for Judge Robart to schedule a hearing.

Advocates in Seatle have often had mixed feelings about the consent decree in recent years. In the last three years in particular, it has often been seen as a barrier to more systemic change and a way to potentially apply a veneer of respectability to the SPD while maintaining the status quo. The SPD’s budget has grown substantially from when Seattle entered into the consent decree, from $252.2m in 2012 to its present size of $374.3m. 

Seattle’s Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting on Tuesday had a surprise addition to the agenda: a project update on SPD’s recruitment and retention. While the council members received a memo on March 14 detailing current progress with the hiring incentives passed last year, none of this information was presented at the meeting, with Senior Deputy Mayor Monisha Harrell saying “it’s too early to draw a definitive conclusion.” 

In 2021 SPD hired one officer for every 12 applicants; these figures aren’t yet available for 2022. In spite of all its new hiring, recruiting, and retention efforts, the department is still struggling to maintain its size: as of 3/16, SPD’s hiring numbers are at -6, a number that was amusingly omitted from the presentation. SPD has hired 19 officers and experienced 25 separations since the beginning of the year. 

No mention was made at the meeting of the difficulties of retention given the recent suit filed by Cookie Bouldin alleging racial and gender discrimination or last year’s lawsuit in which an SPD officer was awarded $1.325m in damages due to getting carbon monoxide poisoning on the job.

The team presenting to the CMs announced their goal of 30% of officers being female by 2030 with no mention of the Bouldin lawsuit. CM Nelson also stated the importance of “having a positive place to work at” without addressing the implications of these suits.

When considering SPD’s attrition rate, it’s important to remember some people leave the department because they’re under investigation for less than savory reasons. For example, the OPA released a report last week about the case of Officer Cleades Robinson. As DivestSPD reported: “OPA found there was more than enough evidence to show that Robinson committed at least two gross misdemeanors: patronizing a prostitute and communicating with a minor for immoral purposes.” Robinson resigned before final discipline was handed down in January. Another SPD Captain was arrested in November 2019 for trying to buy sex and retired before the investigation was completed. 

Once Mayor Harrell took the helm of the city at the beginning of 2022, sweeps of homeless people substantially increased, Guy Oron reports. The City of Seattle performed 943 sweeps in 2022, which means sweeps were happening on average twice or more every day. Of these sweeps, 771 sweeps–almost 82%–were obstruction sweeps, meaning the City wasn’t required to give notice to those being swept. To get an idea of how much sweeps have increased, there were 158 sweeps in 2022 where notice was given, whereas in 2021 there were 53 sweeps done with notice, meaning the rate of sweeps with notice has TRIPLED. Many locations were swept multiple times, including 66 sweeps in Occidental Park, 53 sweeps near the Ballard Library, and 18 sweeps at the Ballard Commons.

By comparison, there were 1,192 sweeps in 2019, meaning we’re seeing the return of an old status quo that was interrupted by the pandemic and a temporary acknowledgement due to the George Floyd protests that just maybe we should treat people more humanely.

Matthew Mitnick, currently running for Seattle CM for District 4, has been accused by former supporters of breaking child labor laws, wage theft, and creating a toxic work environment

King County News

The King County Council postponed their vote on the SCORE jail contract for the second time this Tuesday. They are working on a variety of amendments (discussed last week) that would limit the size and scope of the transfers from the King County Jail and require various reporting and Council approvals. Unfortunately, none of these amendments would stop the SCORE contract outright; this contract would cause what opponents are calling a stealth expansion of King County’s system of incarceration. 

The sense of urgency around this SCORE contract is interesting given it’s been almost three years since Executive Constantine said he wanted to eventually shut down the “decrepit” King County Jail. In the intervening time, the death and suicide rates in the jail have gone up and the staffing numbers have been in continuous decline, not to mention it was without potable water for a month last fall. However, it’s only since the ACLU of Washington filed a suit against the County due to the appalling conditions within the jail that the County’s message has shifted to sudden action without the necessary time to build a good plan that would not expand incarceration in the County.

To weigh in on the SCORE contract, you can email or call your King County CMs and/or give public comment at the next King County Council meeting on Tuesday, April 4 at 1:30pm. Talking points will be updated at tinyurl.com/TellKCC.

In addition, sources say the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD) is planning to move 50 additional people from the King County Jail to the Maleng Regional Justice Center (MRJC) in Kent this weekend (April 1-2). The DAJD already moved 50 people from the KJC the weekend of March 11-12, a move that has resulted in consequences: those 50 inmates are being double-bunked in cells in which the toilets can only be flushed twice an hour, resulting in unsanitary conditions. And Erica C. Barnett reports on another problem as well:

“Folk says the jail guards’ union has filed a demand to bargain over the decision to move 50 people to the RJC, noting that the 1:104 ratio of guards to inmates is far below the usual “direct supervision” standard of one guard for every residents. Haglund told PubliCola previously that although 1:104 isn’t ideal, the unit will be safe with just one guard because no more than 64 people will be out in the unit’s common area at one time. Folk disagrees, telling PubliCola, “The staffing ratio for this is just not safe.””

Meanwhile, King County reported that as of last week there have been 296 King County residents who have died due to drug or alcohol poisoning since the beginning of the year, a number that exceeds the total number of overdose deaths in 2012. 

Recent Headlines

“Stealth Jail Expansion”: The Fight Over the SCORE Jail Contract Continues Read More »

Recent Drop in Violent Crime Takes the Wind out of Fearmongers’ Sails

We’ve Moved!

As you know, I’ve been working on finding a new home for Notes from the Emerald City. And here’s what I’ve got for you!

Newsletter subscribers will continue to receive every issue emailed to them through Substack. Yes, I have feelings about Substack. Yes, this is the compromise I referenced having to make last week. But you as the readers should experience a seamless transition. 

But there’s more! There is now an official WEBSITE of Notes from the Emerald City. I am really excited about this because it provides a searchable archive of all the articles I’ve written. I’m also tagging posts with relevant topics, a process that I expect to become more fine-tuned over time. I hope this will make Notes from the Emerald City even more useful as a community resource. I used it just this weekend to quickly pull up recent SPD staffing numbers, and it worked beautifully.

For those of you who had paid subscriptions in the past, I have new options for you! You can set up a monthly subscription payment through either Patreon or Paypal. You can also give one-time donations through Paypal. (This same information can be found on the new website’s Donate page.)

If you have any trouble with the transition, please don’t hesitate to reach out and I’ll do my best to get you sorted.

Seattle News

Speaking of those SPD staffing numbers, let’s talk about Danny Westneat’s recent column in the Seattle Times: Seattle’s pandemic crime fever may finally be breaking. I’m glad it’s finally becoming mainstream to admit that the increase in certain types of violence we’ve seen over the past few years is very probably closely related to living through a historical and deadly global pandemic. Westneat reports that violent crime started dropping in October, and December saw the fewest number of violent crimes reported since March 2020. 

It is important to note that while violent crime is now dropping, SPD staffing of officers in service was significantly lower in October of 2022 than it was in 2019 before the pandemic, or even in 2020. This is a powerful argument against the story that “defunding the police” or even just run-of-the-mill staffing woes caused the spike in violence. 

graph of SPD staffing showing a drop from a bit over 1200 officers in service in 2019 to a bit under 1000 officers in service in 2022 YTD.
Slide from SPD budget presentation given in October of 2022

As for media’s incessant fear-mongering over crime throughout 2021 and 2022, which we’re already seeing being walked back by the likes of a Walmart executive saying they might have cried too much over retail theft last year, what reflections does Westneat offer? “Crime going up is a story that grabs you; crime going down will either be ho-hummed or outright disbelieved, especially by Seattle’s many national critics. It’s also one of the riskier stories one can do in the news business, as the next big shooting or killing, which is certainly coming, will make me look like an idiot.” Translation: don’t expect improvement in the quality of the media discourse any time soon. 

Today’s Public Safety and Human Resources committee meeting was unavailable to watch due to technical difficulties at the Seattle Channel, but you can read about OIG’s 2023 work plan here and here. They are gearing up to take over some of the SPD monitoring duties currently covered by the Court Monitor and his team as Mayor Harrell continues to try to maneuver the city out of a consent decree that has now lasted more than ten years. Given their staffing difficulties, it remains to be seen how taking over some of these duties will affect the organization as a whole.

A head’s up that SPOG President Mike Solan is almost finished serving his three-year term that began in March of 2020. Mike Solan ran against incumbent Kevin Stuckey and won in what Seattle Times referred to as a “landslide vote” of more than 500 out of 750 total votes. Mike Solan made the news in 2021 when he blamed the January 6th insurrection on Black Lives matter protesters, prompting 8 out of 9 city councilmembers (all but CP Juarez) to call for his resignation. 

Matthew Mitnick, a member of Seattle’s Human Rights Commission who is running for the open councilmember seat in District 4, announced that at their Feburary 2nd meeting, the HRC will be seeking amicus status with the federal court overseeing the consent decree. About this decision, he says on Twitter, “The only way to inform the court about what is actually happening here is by allowing those most impacted by police violence to speak out.” The HRC has been trying to take this step since last year, which ultimately resulted in several members resigning in protest in the fall. 

Meanwhile, the City of Seattle has been named in a lawsuit claiming its anti-graffiti statute is unconstitutional and that the SPD selectively enforce it against those creating anti-police graffiti. 

WA State News

The Washington State legislative session began yesterday, huzzah!

Legislators are attending a public hearing this afternoon on HB 1087, the bill that would ban long-term solitary confinement. It might be too late by the time you read this to do the quick bill signing on PRO that you may remember from prior years, but it is never too late to email the legislators on the appropriate committee to tell them you support it.

Kari Plog reports that the state’s new Office of Independent Investigations, which was supposed to start reviewing cases last July, has only filled 15 of its 80 positions. There is no timeline on when they will have enough staff to actually begin conducting investigations. 

National News

The Guardian reported that killings by US police reached a record high last year; at least 1,176 people were killed by police in 2022, which comes out to more than 3 people every day of the year. Only 31% of the incidents leading to the killing began with an alleged violent crime. Racial disparities in who is getting killed by police also remain, with Black people making up 24% of those killed by police while only being 13% of the general population. 

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Grim Economic News Leads to Extended Seattle Budget Season

Seattle Budget News

Amy Sundberg
Good morning, and welcome to today’s Seattle budget meeting. I won’t be live tweeting all details (and have to leave for a bit mid-meeting to drop Nala at the vet) but I’ll throw some info up here.
Above you can view my tweet thread on last week’s budget meetings covering proposed amendments for the CSCC, HSD, SDOT, and SPD. However, given yesterday’s bleak revenue forecast, many of the over 100 amendments discussed in last week’s meetings are likely toast. The new forecast foresees a net $64 million decrease in real estate excise tax revenues, a net $9.4 million decrease in general fund revenues, and a net $4.5 million decrease in revenues from the sweetened beverage tax over the next two years (2023-2024). There is also worry that the Jumpstart tax, which as a new tax is hard to predict, might begin to bring in less revenue. The REET revenues are dedicated to capital projects listed in the comprehensive plan, and the sweetened beverage tax revenues go towards “programs that increase access to healthy food and supports children’s health and learning.”
Due to this bad news, the budget season schedule has been changed. The last two public forums for public comment remain at the same times: Tuesday, November 8 at 9:30am and Tuesday, November 15 at 5pm. But everything else has been shifted back by about a week to give Budget Chair Mosqueda time to adjust her balancing package to account for the revenue shortfalls.
Thus, the balancing package will be announced on Monday, November 14. The votes on the balancing package and proposed amendments will take place on Monday, November 21. And then we have to wait until after Thanksgiving for the final budget committee vote on Monday, November 28 and the final Full Council vote on Tuesday, November 29.
The Solidarity Budget has arranged a week of action that began this past Monday. Today the website “Should SPD Do It?” was launched, which I encourage you to go give a spin. Tomorrow will be a call-in day to protect JumpStart. Next week, there will be a webinar on ShotSpotter on Monday at noon, a rally at 8:30am on Tuesday to support human services workers, and a Women in Black vigil on Wednesday at noon. So if you want to get involved, now is a great time!

Other News

The King County Council ratified the new police union contract with KCPOG on Tuesday. In addition to the new powers this contract grants the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO) including the ability to subpoena, the contract also gives King County Sheriff deputies a raise of 20% over the next three years: 6% for 2022 (to be paid retroactively), 10% for 2023, and 4% for 2024. This raise will require a substantial increase to the King County Sheriff Office’s overall budget.
This contract was approved right as news dropped of a case from 2021 where a Black female detective from SPD was undercover monitoring a protest and was menaced by two men in a truck who she believed might be Proud Boys…but ended up being KCSO deputies. Both deputies have since left the department, one for a position in the Chelan County Sheriff’s Office.
As Will Casey reports in The Stranger, SPD officers have apparently been breathing in toxic gas while on the job, both in the garage and in the sergeant’s workroom adjacent to the garage. It took one SPD officer bringing forward and winning a lawsuit, after being harassed at work for wanting to protect his health, to daylight this issue. As Will Casey says, “If this is making you wonder whether, perhaps, mean statements from City Council members in 2020 doesn’t amount to the sole reason for attrition within the department, then you’re not alone.”
Finally, Seattle has released its Q3 accountability report required by the consent decree, which you can read here.

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The New Proposed SPMA Contract Is Out

Seattle News

This week, the Seattle Full Council passed both CM Nelson’s resolution on SPD hiring incentives and CM Herbold’s legislation on SPD moving expenses, a recruiting advertising campaign, etc. Both passed with a vote of 6-3, with CMs Nelson, Herbold, Lewis, Strauss, Pedersen, and Juarez voting yes. In covering this resolution in The StrangerHannah Krieg wrote, “The resolution does not indicate a specific dollar amount or fund a specific bonus program from the $4.5 million in salary savings, but rather leaves it up to the Mayor to develop one with council’s approval. “Frankly, whatever. I don’t really care what it’s used for,” Nelson said.” I quote this to confirm that CM Nelson actually did say those words during one of the discussions on the resolution, proving that I do indeed still have the capacity to be shocked by what elected officials say in public meetings.
In any case, that resolution might be a bit of a moot point because the new SPMA contract was just released this week. In Central Staff’s summary of this contract, they note that “the Executive has indicated that it intends to instead use sworn salary savings in SPD’s Adopted Budget to fund the $3.39 million that is required to pay SPMA members for retroactive and current wage adjustments through the end of 2022.” That would leave only $1.11m of salary savings on the table, and CM Herbold’s legislation has already allocated $1.15m of that. Yes, the math already doesn’t entirely add up there.
The SPMA contract has already been referred to Full Council so we can probably expect a vote on it sometime in June. More details on this when I have them.
At this week’s Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting, council members heard a public safety presentation from neighborhood business districts. CM Lewis said he appreciated the support and advancement of some sort of alternative response model to supplement first response options. He sounded eager to work together with the business community to amplify this message and asked to promote it together publicly with the same level of enthusiasm that the business community promotes police staffing levels. He also mentioned SPD has spent $700k so far this year on overtime for traffic direction, a function that doesn’t need an armed officer with a badge.
Finally, Will Casey covered the brouhaha between the Seattle City Attorney’s Office and the Human Rights Commission. If you feel you could use a brush-up on the history of the consent decree and what the Human Rights Commission is attempting to do right now, this article will get you up to speed.
All of this leads to the obvious conclusion that no one mired in this controversy wanted to say on the record: The only reason for the City agencies involved in this process to try to intimidate the Human Rights Commission in this way would be to prevent Judge Robart from hearing what the commission had to say. And, given the congratulatory tone of the monitor’s latest preliminary report, it certainly sounds like the people responsible for delivering community feedback want the judge to hear that SPD is doing just fine – aside from that one outlier period of wantonly abusing people’s civil rights in the summer of 2020.

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The New Proposed SPMA Contract Is Out Read More »

Seattle To Get Alternate Response Service in…2024? 2025?

News from the Seattle Mayor’s Office

This week my favorite podcast, Hacks & Wonks, featured a conversation between host Crystal Fincher and Senior Deputy Mayor Monisha Harrell on the topic of public safety. I highly recommend listening to the entire podcast or reading the transcript to get insight into what the Mayor’s Office is thinking at this time, but I’ll pull out a few highlights for you.
First, it sounds like the Mayor’s Office is serious about instituting a new third department of public safety to go along with the fire and police departments. While this idea sounds great in theory, the timeline is less inspiring: Senior Deputy Harrell said they hoped to have a white paper on this by the end of the year (2022), would then begin structuring the department in 2023, with hopes of deploying the new department in 2024. If the Mayor’s Office decided to work with existing community groups, much of this work could be expedited, but that doesn’t seem to be the way they’re leaning at this moment.
If that timeline makes you feel sad, the news only gets worse from there. When asked about the current SPOG contract negotiations, Senior Deputy Harrell said the priority for this contract is definitely accountability; one reason for this, of course, is the Mayor’s desire to exit the consent decree. [She] went on to say: “…some people will want to jump ahead and say, well, let’s negotiate what the third department looks like and the trading off of those roles. The police contract is only three years and we’re already one year into a three-year contract. We can negotiate the roles of that next contract in the next cycle.”
Let’s break that down a bit, shall we? The contract currently being negotiated will run till the end of 2023. The subsequent contract could easily take another year or more to negotiate, meaning it might not be done until the end of 2024 or even into 2025, which would be after the next mayoral election. Any related state legislation is likely to focus on accountability, not alternate response, at least if we’re going by past years’ efforts. So we might be waiting several years before bargaining about alternate responses could bear fruit.
Another option not discussed on this podcast episode might be making the argument that SPD cannot currently meet its functions due to its staffing shortage, making alternate response necessary to meet the public safety obligations in the City’s Charter. UW saw some success in defending its recent alternate response against officers’ objections, although it used a different defense due to its status as an educational institution. Regardless, alternate response in Seattle continues to face an uphill battle.
Well, you might say, at least we’ll get a better contract as it pertains to accountability. But Senior Deputy Harrell says, “It will probably take us, it will take us more than this contract to get to a fully civilianized team, investigative team at OPA.” So keep those expectations lowered for now.

Seattle News

Seattle City Council is expected to vote on the resolution and legislation about SPD hiring incentives/moving costs/etc. next Tuesday, May 24 at 2pm. You can give public comment at the meeting or call/email your council members to give feedback. More information and scripts are here.
Also on Tuesday is the next Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting at 9:30am. The agenda has not yet been released, but we might be hearing from the Mayor’s Office about their work on analyzing alternate response, as detailed above.
At this week’s council briefing CM Herbold reported the OPA Director search committee will be meeting again sometime this week and is getting ready to start interviewing candidates.
Carolyn Bick has released a few valuable Twitter threads recently. One of them is a live tweet of this week’s CPC meeting:
CE Bick
Today’s @SeaCPC meeting agenda has a review and vote on an MAR for Terry Caver and a “community conversation” regarding stop-and-frisk (and, presumably, the racial disparity data in the Monitor’s most recent Comprehensive Assessment). Meeting 🧵
https://t.co/qEs0fXduds

The other is a helpful overview of Monitor Oftelie’s Comprehensive Assessment of the SPD submitted to the court overseeing the consent decree. For more about the assessment, you can also read Will Casey’s scathing review, which he concludes with the fiery “This is all to say that when you bungle the only tool that could theoretically compel at least some real police reform, you don’t leave accountability advocates many options other than Becoming Abolitionists.”

CE Bick
Okay! As promised, here is a longer thread breaking down the revamped @monitor_seattle @AntonioOftelie‘s Comprehensive Assessment (May 2022). 1/
https://t.co/BVlGUi7jtw

Meanwhile, Carolyn Bick also received three leaked communications for the Seattle City Attorney’s Office regarding that pesky Seattle Human Rights Commission voting to apply for amicus status with the federal court overseeing the consent decree. It looks like someone really doesn’t want that to happen. Two commissioners have been forced to resign following the vote, as their employers deemed their service to constitute a conflict of interest. Exactly what the Seattle Human Rights Commission will do going forward remains unclear.

State and County News

If you’re interested in the new 988 service being rolled out in July, there was a great piece about a recent fact-finding mission to Arizona led by legislators Manka Dhingra and Tina Orwall who want to overhaul the way Washington State deals with mental health crises. “Senator Dhingra’s ultimate goal involves standing up a statewide crisis response infrastructure that operates 24/7 with enough capacity to treat every person who needs medical help during a crisis.”
And Crosscut‘s Brandon Block wrote a piece about American Rescue Plan Act money (federal relief money due to the pandemic) being used by local jurisdictions for law enforcement, including: buying new squad cars, buying new body cameras, giving $10k retention bonuses to sheriff’s deputies in Pierce County, paying officer salaries, and buying new tasers. Not exactly the first use of money that comes to mind when thinking about addressing the huge amount of need that has arisen as a result of the pandemic.
Oh, and the King County Council confirmed Patti Cole-Tindall as King County Sheriff yesterday.

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Seattle To Get Alternate Response Service in…2024? 2025? Read More »

It’s Police Union Contract Negotiation Time in King County

Seattle News

 

The tensions between CMs Herbold and Nelson over SPD hiring incentives continued this week at both Council Briefing and the Full Council meeting. CM Nelson spent the bulk of her Council Briefing time talking about it, in fact, including offering the claim that she had the approval of the Executive (a claim that Publicola fact-checked and found a bit misleading.) However, CM Herbold prevailed, meaning the Public Safety committee will vote on both CM Nelson’s resolution and CM Herbold’s legislation next week on 5/10, while CM Nelson’s conflicting legislation will not receive a vote until a later date (if at all). If you would like to give public comment on 5/10 about this issue or email your council members, you can find some talking points here.
Also originally on the schedule for the 5/10 meeting is the report on SPD’s analysis of 911 calls and which types could be fielded with non-police response. If this schedule plan stands, the meeting will be jam-packed.
CM Herbold also reported the first meeting of the search committee for the new OPA director happened last Friday 4/29.
When asked where they think the city should direct its resources to deal with crime, 92% of respondents said funding for more addiction and mental health services. Eighty-one percent want to see more de-escalation training for police officers, 80% want more social programs to address crime’s root causes, 75% want to add more nonpolice staffing, and 73% want to see an increase in court staffing to process the caseload.
Particularly striking is that 92% of respondents wanted to see more funding go to addiction and mental health services, suggesting a broad base of support for scaling up the City’s offerings in these areas. Respondents were fairly equally divided between thinking crime is underreported in the media, overly reported in the media, or accurately reported in the media.
Meanwhile, in consent decree news, the Seattle City Attorney’s Office appears to have tried to pressure the Seattle Human Rights Commission into not seeking amicus curiae status on the consent decree.
CE Bick
NEW: Federal Monitor @AntonioOftelie just filed to extend the deadline for filing his compliance status update for the @CityofSeattle to May 13, in order to allow for “additional time for the Monitor and parties to validate the data in the Comprehensive Assessment, 1/

The Monitor’s compliance status update deadine was extended until May 13 (next Friday). This apparently has to do with the data error I reported on here; while the error is being fixed, there is speculation that the new data might rise additional questions. Stay tuned!

King County News

The bargaining process with KCPOG (King County Police Officer Guild) has begun. Once an agreement on a new contract is reached, it will need to be accepted or rejected by the King County Council. This contract will determine how much authority OLEO (Office of Law Enforcement Oversight) will have to hold officers accountable for misconduct, as well as the transparency and fairness of the disciplinary process. People Power Washington – Police Accountability has drafted some priorities for what should be included in this contract, and I encourage you to email your King County council members and let them know that you care about this issue. You can find more information and talking points here.
King County released its poll on “Reimagining Public Safety in Urban Unincorporated King County,” and as Will Casey pointed out in The Stranger, “More than half of the written comments from people surveyed expressed a desire to have an unarmed behavioral health professional available to respond to emergencies.” The County will spending around $500k to fund pilots for alternate emergency response programs that they expect to launch in mid-2022. Let’s hope Seattle isn’t far behind.
Earlier this week Executive Dow Constantine announced his choice for the next King County Sheriff, Patti Cole-Tindall, who is currently serving as interim Sheriff. The King County Council will vote on whether to confirm this nomination later this month.
Meanwhile, over in Bothell, which straddles King and Snohomish Counties, the City Council has voted 5-2 to approve federal funding of police body cameras.
#VeryAsian #American Han Tran
Bothell City Council voted 5-2 to approve federal funding of police body cameras while we were out protesting for abortion rights. 1/

If you’d like to learn more about police-worn body cameras and why their usage can be problematic, you can read more here.

Washington State News

Yet another survey of 832 Washingtonians (‘tis the season) found majority support (53%) for Initiative 1992, which is currently collecting signatures to be placed on the ballot later this year and would decriminalize drugs (while allowing cops to continue to seize them) and allocate $141m in pot revenues to drug outreach and recovery services. You can read a little more about it over at The Stranger.

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