drug decriminalization

Another Egregious Example of SPD Culture in Action

Seattle News:

Some shenanigans late last week in Seattle in preparation for All star week, as reported by Ashley Nerbovig:

“Meanwhile, the City so highly prioritized the removal of unhoused people around the stadium that on Friday morning SPD had two detectives from the department’s Special Victims Unit—one of whom investigates domestic violence cases—standing around waiting for one man to pack up his tent and move along. A police lieutenant with SPD’s Directed Outreach Unit, which typically works with the City’s Unified Care Team, stood around waiting as well.”

And what’s going on with Seattle’s drug criminalization task force? Well, it’s been broken into three different groups (court system issues, treatment, and enforcement), and only the court issues group has met so far. The group appears to have agreed that the best course forward involves expanding the Vital program and LEAD, since the Seattle Municipal Court has no additional capacity for more cases and the King County Jail would be unable to increase bookings. Erica C. Barnett with Publicola reports:

 “Lewis said that now that the work groups are meeting to discuss the best way to respond to public drug use, the legislation making public use a gross misdemeanor in Seattle is “almost a Macguffin”—a device that gets the plot going, but isn’t particularly significant in itself.”

On Wednesday, Mike Carter at the Seattle Times broke the story that in January of 2021, a breakroom in the SPD’s East Precinct featured a mock tombstone marking the death of Damarius Butts, who was killed by SPD officers on April 20, 2017. The breakroom was also decorated with a Trump 2020 flag and a protestor’s sign saying “Stop Killing Us.” SPD has so far refused to apologize to Damarius Butts’s family. As Mike Carter reports:

“Ann Butts, the young man’s mother, said his family misses him every day. “I can’t express how hurtful it was to learn that SPD endorsed joking about the killing of my son by displaying a fake tombstone with his name on it,” she said in a statement through her attorney, former King County public defender La Rond Baker. “I didn’t think SPD could take more from me,” she said. “I was wrong.””

At Tuesday’s Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting, the three accountability bodies–the Office of Police Accountability (OPA), the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), and the Community Police Commission (CPC)–gave their mid-year accountability presentation. Of particular note, thus far in 2023 there has been a 46% increased in cases sustained by the OPA, from 13% sustained in 2022 to 19% sustained in 2023. Allegations of use of force have increased slightly in 2023. And if you were wondering what ever happened in response to the infamous Proud Boy ruse of 2020? OIG recommended a new SPD ruse policy in October of 2022, and the draft was submitted to SPOG for review in December 2022. Seven months later…nothing has moved forward. 

There was also a discussion about the CPC’s recent move to no longer allow public comment at its twice-a-month meetings. Co-chair Reverend Harriet Walden said this change was made because she feels threatened by the presence of public commenters, and she referenced their loud voices. She said the commenters are not interested in building the CPC, which seems to imply a resistance on the CPC’s part to hearing criticism from the community. She also said she will call SPD the next time the commenters come to a meeting if she feels threatened; one of the regular commenters is Castill Hightower, the sister of a man who was killed by an SPD officer during a mental health crisis, who could suffer additional trauma if forced to interact with the police in this way. 

CM Lewis said getting rid of public comment altogether goes further than what is generally expected of government practice and suggested the CPC instead develop new policies and procedures to protect commissioners as necessary.

The bill changing certain aspects of the governance of the CPC was also up for discussion and vote. It was confirmed that adding a new Deputy Director position would require an additional $191k to be allocated to the CPC beginning in 2024. Activists oppose passage of this bill without a public forum on its impacts and an audit of the CPC; they are also calling for the CPC to divest itself of involvement in the new Affected Persons Program. The bill passed out of committee with an unanimous vote, with CM Mosqueda being absent, and will be voted on in Full Council on July 18. 

Finally, People Power Washington has released their Voting Guide for the Seattle City Council primaries. Check it out!

King County News:

On Monday, the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs released its annual crime report. As Amanda Zhou from the Seattle Times reports: “In King County, officials saw most violent crime slowly trend downward the first half of 2023, dropping from a high point during the height of the pandemic. But the county’s homicide rate was relatively steady through the first quarter of 2023, with a slight rise compared with the same period last year.”

Washington State

The Office of Independent Investigations, a new state agency, is now ready to begin reviewing past cases where police officers used deadly force. Members of the public can submit previous cases for review here. The office has not yet started investigating new incidents of deadly force.

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Seattle City Council Votes Against New War on Drugs

Seattle News

On Tuesday, the Seattle City Council voted against criminalizing simple drug possession and public drug use in a close 5-4 vote, with CMs Herbold, Lewis, Morales, Mosqueda, and Sawant voting no. The swing vote is widely understood to be CM Lewis, who said in his remarks he’d arrived at the meeting prepared to vote in favor of the bill but found that he simply couldn’t because the public deserved more discussion. He cited the recent unilateral decision by City Attorney Davison to end Seattle’s Community Court as a key factor in his decision, saying he felt the Council should figure out how they would do the diversion and treatment component as part of the package. He also mentioned how well the legislation was polling (one source says his district polled 60% in favor), but that this vote was more important than retaining his seat (CM Lewis is up for re-election in November.) For more details, you can read Ashley Nerbovig’s excellent write-up.

Council Central Staff had reported the City Attorney’s office hadn’t bothered to run a racial and equity analysis of this legislation, nor would they say how many new cases they anticipated pursuing or how much that would cost. Because the legislation skipped the normal committee step, councilmembers were not even able to ask the sponsors questions about the bill. It seems possible we’ll see a different version of this bill in the future, assumedly one with clearer information about its impacts and with diversion and treatment programs to go along with it—although where the money for such programs would come from is an open question, given current budget constraints. 

It is also important to note the effect of this legislation not passing is NOT legalizing drug use and possession. Seattle police officers can still arrest people for possessing and using drugs, as well as seize drugs as contraband. This bill determined the matter of jurisdiction, meaning where these cases would potentially be prosecuted. For now, they will continue to be prosecuted by the King County Prosecutor’s Office instead of by the City Attorney’s Office. The City Attorney’s Office can, however, still prosecute drug use on buses and bus stops as this was already part of municipal code.

King County News

Allen Nance, the director of King County’s Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD), has written to the state supreme court asking them to rescind a ruling barring local courts from issuing warrants against and jailing young people who fail to appear at their hearings or violate other court orders. This ruling was originally made in 2020 and made permanent in 2021. If it were to be rescinded, Anita Khandelwal, director of King County’s Department of Public Defense, says the result would be a spike in youth incarceration, especially for youth of color, who she says received 82-84% of warrants in 2019.

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Oakland’s police department budget increases in spite of misleading reporting

Seattle Election Strategy

This week Seattle mayoral candidate Jessyn Farrell published an op-ed in The Stranger, in which she takes shots at both Bruce Harrell and Lorena González for having voted for the current SPOG contract in 2018 that failed to enforce the Accountability Ordinance of 2017. This is more interesting as positioning strategy than anything else, as it was Farrell’s campaign that released an early poll a few weeks ago showing Harrell and González as the two frontrunners, with Farrell in a tie for third place. By attacking both of them in the same op-ed, she is attempting to show her viability as a candidate.
Farrell’s campaign is also interesting in that in many respects she is positioning herself as a progressive, urbanist candidate while at the same time supporting the Compassion Seattle initiative. Some observers believe that support for Compassion Seattle acts as a dogwhistle showing which candidates are positioning themselves into the right track of the race…which would also usually be the candidate endorsed by The Seattle Times. It appears Jessyn Farrell might be trying to position herself in the middle, running both sides, so it will be interesting to see if this is a strategy that has any legs in Seattle in the current political climate.
In other election news, The Urbanist has run a questionnaire for Seattle City Council Pos. 9 candidates with a few heavy-hitting questions about SPD’s budget and police accountability measures: you can read answers from Nikkita Oliver and Brianna Thomas.

Meanwhile, in Oakland….

 

The city of Oakland, California has been going through their own reckoning with their police budget, and their City Council made an important vote this week. The local TV news reported on this with the headline “Oakland City Council votes to divert millions from police funding.” In fascinating fashion, you can read the entire article without learning the basics of what happened: that the Oakland Police Department’s budget will still be larger in 2022 than it was in 2021, growing by $9m. Why the fuss then? Oakland’s mayor had proposed an even larger increase of $27m, and the Oakland City Council decided to make a smaller increase and use the difference to fund policing alternatives.
Similar to Seattle, in 2020 the Oakland City Council agreed on a policy goal of cutting the police budget by 50%. And similar to Seattle, this goal has since been cut back significantly, while a task force to “reimagine” policing has been formed.
Over the past year, as the reimagining task force did its work and the council considered policing alternatives, many people made the point that it’s probably impossible to fund non-police alternatives at the scale necessary to have any positive impact without reducing police spending, which is the single largest departmental outlay for Oakland.
The lazy reporting on display in the TV news report above is yet another example of why it’s important to support quality local journalism. The South Seattle Emerald is one excellent Seattle-area example.

SPD K-9 Problems

Publicola reports that a woman attacked by a police dog during a training exercise in 2020 has filed a lawsuit against the City of Seattle. The article reviews several missteps by SPD’s K-9 units in recent years; the OPA has investigated 10 allegations of excessive force involving dog bites since 2015:
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

Last fall Oregon voters passed Measure 110, the drug decriminalization bill, which says if you possess a small amount of the drugs it covers, you will be punished by a civil citation and a $100 fine. You can have the fine waived if you get a health screening from a recovery hotline. Washington State is looking into a similar decriminalization effort, the urgency of which has been increased by the Washington Supreme Court’s recent Blake decision.
The concern in Oregon right now is that there isn’t a robust and comprehensive enough health care/treatment system in place to help people seeking treatment, especially as that number increases. While Portugal saw large successes after decriminalizing drug use in 2001, with dramatic drops in problematic drug use, drug overdoses, and drug-related crime, they paired decriminalization with access to treatment and harm reduction services, as well as encouraging a cultural shift in how society viewed drugs and drug use. Washington State will face a similar issue of needing to scale up drug treatment services in the next few years in order to support the effort to decriminalize drug use.

Recent Headlines

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Oakland’s police department budget increases in spite of misleading reporting Read More »