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.”

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