drug laws

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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Seattle to Decide Whether to Launch a New ‘War on Drugs’

Seattle News

As a result of the new state level drug legislation, the Seattle City Council is on track to vote on a bill giving the City Attorney the authority to prosecute drug possession and the new crime “public use of drugs” as soon as Tuesday, June 6, without running the legislation through committee. Drug possession is currently prosecuted by the King County Prosecutor, and in practice, King County has stopped prosecuting cases involving the possession of small amounts of drugs. Criticized by opponents for reigniting a new War on Drugs in Seattle, this legislation would further criminalize poverty while turning away from evidence-based strategies of drug treatment. Furthermore, because this is the first time Seattle would be prosecuting such crimes, the City currently has neither a drug court nor prosecutors and judges with experience in these matters. There is also the open question of how much putting new structures in place, as well as increasing prosecutions and jail use due to the new legislation, would cost the City. 

Opponents of the bill, including the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, ACLU Washington, SEIU 925, Real Change, Collective Justice, and VOCAL-WA,  are hosting an Emergency Teach-In virtually on Tuesday, May 30 at 6:30pm. You can register for the webinar here to learn more about the legislation and how to take action.

Carolyn Bick has uncovered yet more SPD chain of command confusion regarding the use of tear gas during the 2020 George Floyd protests.

SPD has announced they are beginning their pilot use of the BOLAwrap, also described as a high-tech lasso, a less-lethal weapon that “uses a Kevlar rope aimed at the legs or arms of an individual to detain them.” Its design was inspired by a hunting technique of nomadic peoples in Latin America and has been criticized for being cruel and dehumanizing. Guy Oron at Real Change News reports that we don’t know how much these BolaWrap weapons cost and writes: “In a 2020 Human Rights Watch report, researchers found that the BolaWrap and other weapons like stun guns could result in increased police violence against populations who are stigmatized by society, including mentally ill, poor, Black, Brown and Indigenous people.”

The OPA released its 2022 Annual Report this week. Some highlights: 454 cases were opened (compare this to 929 cases opened in 2019), and 13% of investigations had sustained allegations. Force allegations were down 36%. 411 SPD employees had at least one complaint in 2022, 94% of whom were sworn officers (385), and 142 employees received more than one complaint. 945 sworn officers were in service during Q4 of 2022, which means about 40% of sworn officers received at least one complaint.

This week’s Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting featured a presentation about overdose trends and harm reduction programs in the city and the Q1 2023 SPD staffing and overtime report. In the first quarter, SPD had 26 hires and 28 separations, with 2023 estimates of the force having 928 deployable sworn officers out of 1028 total sworn officers (the difference are those on long-term leave, such as disability, parental, etc.). CM Herbold reported that police hiring is picking up across the country but still not able to keep up with the number of officers leaving. That being said, the rate of separation at SPD does appear to be slowing.

SPD is expecting around $3m in salary savings this year, and they’re also expecting to exceed their overtime budget, possibly by more than their realized salary savings. Not very much of the money allocated (with much fanfare) for recruitment and retention has been spent, but the Mayor’s Office says they’ll start spending much more in the second half of the year, probably mostly for their big new marketing campaign that is supposed to launch around August. Stay tuned!

King County News

The quarterly King County Firearm Violence Report is out, showing gun violence in King County is continuing to decrease from its high in mid-2022:

“Compared to the average of the previous five quarters of data, shots fired incidents in Q1 (348) were down around 3% (-12) and the number of shooting victims (50) were down 34% (-35). More specifically, the number of fatal shooting victims declined almost 17% (-3) and nonfatal shooting victims declined 41% (-35) over those averages.”

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