drug criminalization

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 »

Seattle’s Dual Dispatch Pilot Doesn’t Sound Like a True Alternative Response to Behavioral Crisis

Seattle News:

Last week the City Council voted 6-3 to pass the drug ordinance that criminalizes simple drug possession and public drug use. CMs Morales, Mosqueda, and Sawant voted against.

The Stranger published a powerful op-ed on #JusticeforJaahnavi

The truth is, our communities have been creating safety with each other outside of policing for a very long time. Getting people housed, helping people into well-paying jobs, increasing access to child care, delivering healthy food and good schools–these are all ways that communities create safety. The “safest” communities are never the ones with the most police, they are the ones with the most resources.  

For those less familiar with the vagaries of police accountability, Ashley Nerbovig writes about how Officer Auderer is unlikely to be fired for laughing at Jaahnavi Kandula’s death.

Meanwhile, SPD is already embroiled in another scandal, with audio being uncovered of an SPD officer, Officer Burton Hill, using racist slurs and sexist language towards his neighbor, an Asian school bus driver. He also threatened her with jail. Chief Diaz has put Officer Hill on paid administrative leave pending the investigation. This is yet another piece of evidence showing the racist and toxic culture of SPD. If you’re wondering why the officer gets paid while on leave, you need look no further than the SPOG contract.

Mayor Harrell had a press conference last Thursday on the CARE department, the new third public safety department replacing the CSCC, which will be led by Amy Smith. The new department will consist of three divisions: emergency call takers and dispatchers, behavioral health responders, and community violence intervention specialists. 

Mayor Harrell is proposing CARE’s budget increase by 30% in 2024’s budget, up to $26.5 million. 

The dual dispatch pilot will launch in October, and it will require officers to arrive at the scene at the same time as the behavioral health responder teams, which is very different than the programs in, say, Denver or Eugene, both of which the Mayor cited as models but which handle the vast majority of calls solely with behavioral health responders. Proponents of alternate 911 response who wanted to see reduced contact of communities with police will be sorely disappointed. 

It sounds as if the pilot will mainly be responding to person down calls and so-called “paper calls” that include things like parking issues and noise complaints. When asked why the behavioral health response teams weren’t going to be dispatched to behavioral health-related calls, Chief Diaz remarked that some person down calls do have a behavioral health component, skillfully dodging the question. But from all we’ve learned thus far, this pilot doesn’t sound like a true alternate mental health response. 

When Erica Barnett asked Mayor Harrell if he could give a preview of his proposed 2024 budget relating to diversion and drug treatment programs, given the recent passage of the drug criminalization law that he supported, he was either unable or unwilling to do so, in spite of the fact this new law and the lack of investment details around it have been front and center in the public discourse for weeks. His exact words? “I don’t have a great answer.”

But we’ll get an actual answer when he introduces his proposed 2024 budget tomorrow. That’s right, budget season is upon us! The Mayor will be giving his budget speech at 12:30pm tomorrow. The first opportunity for public comment will be at 9:30am this Wednesday, September 27, after which the Council will have their first meeting reviewing the proposed budget. After that, expect a slight lull as everyone scrambles to analyze the budget proposal and consider what changes to it they might want to see. 

King County News:

Last week the King County Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD) announced they were ending their contract with SCORE that the King County Council passed in a controversial vote this spring. The contract only began in June and has already been deemed a failure because the number of inmates eligible to transfer to SCORE wasn’t enough to make a dent in the crowding at the King County jail. There have also been four deaths at SCORE since the beginning of the year, an absurdly high number. 

Unfortunately the issues with the King County jail continue, and the failed SCORE contract has meant a delay in addressing them in other ways. The DAJD has now said they plan to reopen bookings at the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent on October 2. One can only assume booking restrictions at the King County jail will need to remain strictly enforced, in spite of the new Seattle drug law on the books.

Recent Headlines:

Seattle’s Dual Dispatch Pilot Doesn’t Sound Like a True Alternative Response to Behavioral Crisis Read More »

The New War on Drugs Could Increase SPD’s Biased Policing Problem

Seattle News

This week at a special Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting, the Council once more took up drug criminalization, hearing from a panel about gaps in services for people using fentanyl and a presentation from Andrew Myerberg from the Mayor’s Office about the new proposed ordinance and planned executive order. It became clear listening to the presenters on the panel that Seattle has many gaps in the services it provides those suffering from substance abuse disorder, that it will take time to address this issue, and that this ordinance would, as Derrick Wheeler-Smith, the Director of the Office of Human Rights, said, “disproportionately impact BIPOC communities, overpoliced communities, and especially Black folks.”

Andrew Myerberg discussed the threat of harm standard described in the proposed ordinance, which differentiates between threat of harm to others and threat of harm to self, and gives officers discretion to decide whether or not to arrest someone. This allowance of discretion is troubling given SPD’s pattern of biased policing in stops, frisks, and use of force. SPD is currently working on a new policy regarding this ordinance that should be complete in mid-September and is supposed to be informed by an executive order from the Mayor’s Office that is not yet complete. Myerberg said that in an ideal world, very few of the arrests due to this ordinance would result in jail bookings, with the intent being they would instead be directed to various diversion services, most of which have not currently been scaled up to be able to address the level of need present in Seattle.

As for the widely touted $27 million in investments, the $7 million in capital investments are intended to be used for a new post-overdose stabilization center and expanded facilities for case-working. The $20 million, which it bears repeating will be paid out over the course of 18 years, will be put towards operational costs for the new stabilization center, Health One’s overdose response, and theoretically other existing programs (LEAD, co-LEAD, REACH, etc). However, it is hard to believe $1.4m per year will be able to cover all the gaps in service discussed during the panel or provide enough increased funding to all the relevant organizations. Even with sufficient investment, it will take time to open a new post-overdose stabilization center and scale up existing programs.

CM Lewis indicated his eagerness to circumvent the normal Council procedures, skip a regular committee meeting and vote, and take the proposed ordinance straight to Full Council for a vote on September 5, even after Central Staff said such a rushed timeline would force them to work over summer recess. At Tuesday’s Full Council meeting, however, this break in normal protocol was defeated by a 4-4 vote; CMs Lewis, Strauss, Pedersen, and Nelson voted in favor, and CM Sawant was not present. This means we can expect a committee hearing and possible vote on the ordinance on Tuesday, September 12, with a potential full Council vote on Tuesday, September 19, which would run right up to the beginning of budget season.

The new revenue forecast predicts a 4% upgrade in the JumpStart tax for 2023. 2023 revenues are predicted to be $31.7 million higher than the April prediction, and 2024 revenues are predicted to be $21.3 million higher than predicted in April. Thus, near-term revenues have increased a bit, but longer-term growth is still expected to slow down as the technology sector cools and work-from-home impacts to sectors such as construction are anticipated. 

Seattle City Council’s summer recess will be from August 21 – September 4, with many CMs asking to be excused from September 5th’s full council meeting as well. I anticipate budget season to begin the week of September 25, and Solidarity Budget will be having their launch event on Saturday September 9th from 1-4pm. I will also be taking summer recess off to recharge for the budget season, so you can expect to hear from me again after Labor Day!

Recent Headlines:

The New War on Drugs Could Increase SPD’s Biased Policing Problem Read More »

Court Ruling Yet Another Example of SPD’s Racial Bias in Action

Personal News:

We’ll dive into the news of the week in just a moment, but I did want to take the opportunity to mention I had a book come out last week! I was supposed to write about it in last week’s newsletter, but I was so distracted by learning that the new drug criminalization legislation was almost exactly the same as the previous version that I forgot to include it.

Book cover of TO TRAVEL THE STARS with a couple dancing in close embrace with a starry space background

TO TRAVEL THE STARS is a Young Adult science fiction novel that is a retelling of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE in space. If that sounds appealing either to yourself or a teenager in your life, I hope you’ll consider picking up a copy.

Seattle News:

The Seattle Times reports: “A federal judge has found evidence Seattle police stopped and detained a Black delivery driver at gunpoint because of his race, then illegally searched his trunk in a 2020 incident detailed in a civil rights lawsuit now headed for trial.” Incidentally, SPD doesn’t have a policy for what is known as a “high-risk vehicle stop” as took place in this incident, and when the OPA suggested SPD develop one, Chief Diaz refused. This ruling means the City has been found liable for the illegal search, and the trial would determine the amount of damages owed.

Captain Brown, one of the officers named in the case and the new acting commander of the South Precinct, recently wrote a letter of his expectations to his officers and supervisors. Erica C. Barnett at Publicola reported that this letter “included an exhortation to “take care of our own” by handling “minor misconduct” internally, rather than reporting it to the Office of Police Accountability. The letter also said officers should view themselves as forces of “good” whose job is to “intervene and stop evil” in the world.” When questioned about the letter, Brown said he didn’t intend to disparage the OPA. 

Brown has been the subject of 14 complaints since 2015. The OPA investigated the case involving the Black delivery driver detailed above and dismissed the racial bias complaint against Brown as unfounded, a decision the federal judge obviously disagreed with. This discrepancy between the OPA’s findings and the Judge’s ruling is another blow to the legitimacy of Seattle’s accountability system.

Seattle’s three accountability bodies all sent representatives to the joint Public Safety and Human Services committee and the Labor Relations Policy Committee (LRPC) public hearing on Tuesday night about expectations around a new Seattle Police Management Association (SPMA) contract. The purpose of the meeting is for the LRPC to consider the public’s input before establishing bargaining parameters. The old SPMA contract expires at the end of this year, and a public hearing must be held at least 90 days before the City and the SPMA enter negotiations.

The public meeting was sparsely attended, with many commenters noting the insufficient amount of notice they received that the meeting was taking place and one commenter suggesting the hearing was “performative and pointless.” The Community Police Commission (CPC) had a few requests for the Council to consider, including details around the 180-day clock for OPA investigations, how long and in what situations personnel files should be preserved, and reform to secondary employment of officers, while also noting their concern about the biased culture prevalent within SPD. 

Still centered in conversation was the 2017 police accountability ordinance that has never been fully implemented due to conflicts with the SPMA and SPOG contracts. Unfortunately this failure has sometimes meant a continued focus over the past several years on trying to implement this ordinance instead of pushing for greater gains or other ways in which public safety in Seattle might become more equitable.

There will be a special meeting of the Public Safety and Human Services committee on Monday, August 14th at 2pm to discuss the new drug criminalization legislation. Now is the perfect time to email your councilmembers or plan to give public comment. I’ve already written at length about some of the problems with this legislation the last time it was introduced in early June. BJ Last has a new op-ed in The Stranger about some of the budgetary concerns with this bill.

The bill won’t be voted on in Full Council until sometime in September after the City Council’s two-week summer recess from August 21 to September 4.

The Revenue Stabilization Workgroup has issued a final report on options for further City revenue and will be delivering a presentation on Thursday, August 10th to the Finance and Housing committee. Among the options identified for revenue are increasing the Jumpstart payroll tax, instituting a city-level capital gains tax, and instituting a high CEO pay ratio tax. 

I particularly recommend you check out the Transit Riders Union’s Revenue Options Report, which outlines 26 different revenue options and how to make them more progressive. For example, the City could institute a flat 1% income tax, which would not be inherently progressive, but by pairing this tax with tax credits, rebates, or a basic income program, it could be made more progressive.

The mid-year supplemental budget passed out of Full Council yesterday. The package includes $1 million to expand opioid addiction treatment in Pioneer Square and $1.6 million to the Community Safety and Communications Center (CSCC) to hire new staff for their dual dispatch pilot.

A state appeals court issued a stay that will allow Seattle to continue its practice of no-notice sweeps–for now.

The Public Safety and Human Services committee met this week and heard reports from the Seattle Community Safety Initiative (SCSI) and the King County Regional Approach to Gun Violence. The Regional Peacekeepers Collective (RPCK) is expanding into Skyway, as well as adding service hubs in Kent and Burien.

Recent Headlines:

Court Ruling Yet Another Example of SPD’s Racial Bias in Action Read More »

The Seattle War on Drugs Redux

Seattle News:

Everyone is talking about the primary results, with some commentators claiming a progressive victory and other publications saying November looks dire for progressives. As always, a strong push to turn out the vote is likely to favor progressives, who will also need to keep fundraising to match the big business dollars pouring into their moderate opponents’ coffers.

Mayor Harrell has announced new “War on Drugs” legislation. As Erica C. Barnett in Publicola reports (bold-faced mine):

So what does the bill actually do? Exactly what an earlier version of the bill, which the council rejected 5-4, would have done: Empower City Attorney Ann Davison to prosecute people for simple drug possession or for using drugs, except alcohol and marijuana, in public. The substantive portion of the bill, which comes after nearly six pages of nonbinding whereas clauses and statements of fact, is identical to the previous proposal.”

CM Lewis, who voted against the earlier, very similar bill back in June, has said he now plans to co-sponsor it. You can’t make stuff like this up.

He told The Stranger “his time on the Mayor’s workgroup assured him the City intends to front-load treatment rather than send people to jail.” However, the new legislation would not require front-loading treatment, and much of how the system would work in practice would be up to the discretion of the City Attorney–the same City Attorney who unilaterally shut down Community Court only a few short months ago. As The Stranger reported:

“King County Public Defenders Union President Molly Gilbert wanted to empower Seattle Municipal Court judges to divert cases when cops arrest someone, but instead the bill leaves all the power to dismiss charges in the hands of the City Attorney.”

Much of the reporting on this legislation has emphasized the Mayor’s $27 million dollar plan. Not only are none of these new dollars, it is critical to emphasize $20 million of this amount is expected from an opioid lawsuit settlement that will be paid over the next 18 years, a detail that demands scrutiny. Calling this a $27 million plan seems to be a rhetorical hat trick bordering dangerously close to dishonesty, given it will only result in an additional investment of $1.15 million per year for programming.

According to the press release, the remaining $7 million will go “toward capital investments in facilities to provide services such as post-overdose care, opioid medication delivery, health hub services, long-term care management, and drop-in support.”

CM Herbold has said she will hear this legislation in the Public Safety and Human Services committee before the summer recess (August 21 – September 4), which would mean it would have to be on the agenda next Tuesday, August 8.

Seattle’s Public Safety and Human Services committee and the Select Labor Committee is having a special hearing at 5:30 pm on Tuesday, August 8 to hear an introduction to collective bargaining with the Seattle Police Management Association (SPMA), followed by a period of public comment. The SPMA represents fewer than 100 SPD lieutenants and captains, making it much smaller than the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG). The latest SPMA contract was approved last June and lasts through the end of 2023. The City is required to provide a public hearing at least 90 days before opening negotiations with the SPMA to allow the public to weigh in on what should be included in the new contract. 

The SPMA contract is often considered to set the stage for what is possible in the SPOG contract, as SPOG tends to take a more hardline approach to contract negotiations. One unfortunate aspect of both of these contracts is that they tend to linger for years after their expiration before a new contract is agreed upon, creating the necessity for a large dollar amount going towards back pay. While most labor unions do negotiate for back pay should their negotiations run long, this would normally only be for a relatively short period of time (for example, six months). Compare this to the more than two and half years of back pay in play within the SPOG contract currently being negotiated, a number that could easily grow to three or even three and a half years. The evergreen nature of these police guild contracts doesn’t incentivize the guilds to come to an agreement with the City.

On the morning of Thursday, August 10 at the Finance and Housing committee meeting, the Progressive Revenue Stabilization Workgroup will issue its recommendations. Given the $200 million gap between 2025’s projected revenue and expenditures, it behooves the City to consider any options presented very seriously indeed.

King County News:

A fight involving eight kids broke out at King County’s youth jail last week, leading to more room time for kids in the jail this past weekend. Executive Constantine has committed to closing this jail by 2025, but while the daily average population had dropped to 15 in 2021, that number started to creep back up in 2022 and is now up to 34.7. The population the day of the fight was 41. The average length of stay per kid has also increased. The King County Executive Spokesperson Chase Gallagher says the plan to close the jail remains on schedule.

Recent Headlines:

The Seattle War on Drugs Redux Read More »