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

The hard work to uplift Black lives is far from done | The Seattle Times

UW’s Black campus police officers file multimillion-dollar claims over ‘unbearable’ racism | The Seattle Times

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

Mike McGinn has thoughts to share on the upcoming police contract, mayoral election, and reform roadblocks

Today really feels like spring!

First up, I want to recommend an excellent interview on Crystal Fincher’s podcast Hacks and Wonks with former Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn. It is worth listening to the whole thing or reading the transcription, but interesting topics covered include:

  • When the police union contract is being negotiated, if the parties cannot reach agreement then the process is brought to arbitration. In arbitration, the arbitrator is supposed to look at peer cities to determine the appropriate result. But if Seattle wants to be at the cutting edge of accountability reform, for example, then being held to other cities’ standards is a severe constraint upon what is possible. The main way out of this bind seems to be legislation at the state level that takes discipline and accountability provisions out of the providence of bargaining (like dead bill SB5134 was trying to do).
  • What the police contract DOES allow the City to do is reduce the total number of police officers because that is a budget question. However, Judge Robart saying the City cannot reduce the number of officers and remain in compliance with the consent decree largely ties the City’s hands in this way as well.
  • City Attorney Pete Holmes, who is up for election again this November, is in a unique position as an independently elected city attorney. McGinn: “Pete is now in a position to unilaterally decide what is or is not the City’s position on litigation – that’s what his position was. So it’s weird, you know? ‘Cause he represents himself as – his client is the public. Well, how does he know what the public wants? And so therefore he finds himself without a client, essentially, ’cause he can just divine it from within his own head.” Examples of some questionable decisions made in the last year by our city attorney are discussed.
  • The power about how to reform and whether reform is working now largely rests with the Judge, the City Attorney, the Mayor, the US Attorney for the Western District of Washington, the SPOG President, etc.: all older, white people. Meanwhile, BIPOC people have largely been silenced in this matter. Because “important people” told us police reform was on track, most people believed them when in fact the last year has shown us the system is still definitively broken: McGinn: “And I guess, you know, if we’re looking at the next mayor, it’s going to be who’s going to have the guts to just say, Look, this process – the process we were in, was broken and we’ve got to try to figure out how to fix it. And the contract’s an important piece of it, but it’s a lot deeper than that.”
  • McGinn discusses the mayoral election landscape in Seattle: Everyone’s a Democrat, and two candidates usually come out of the primary (in August), one endorsed by the Seattle Times and the Chamber of Commerce, one endorsed by the Stranger. Labor/unions are in the middle, with some falling on each side. A candidate needs to choose which of the two lanes they are going for while trying to fall somewhere in the middle. His assessment right now? Bruce Harrell and Jessyn Farrell are going for the right lane, and Lorena González, Andrew Grant Houston, and Colleen Echohawk are going for the left lane. He goes into a lot more detail in the interview. He also mentions Jessyn Farrell, while she might be aiming for the right lane, would still be a more progressive mayor than Mayor Durkan.

The Mayor’s office has released two recommendations for the participatory budgeting process here in Seattle. One hews fairly closely to the Black Brilliance Project’s recommendations by hiring an outside administrator who would hire the 25-person steering committee. This option would take 11-18 months and would use $7.475m in overhead to administer the process. The other option would be mostly run by the Department of Neighbors, involving the hiring of a 15-person steering committee, and would take 9-14 months and use $2.630m in overhead to administer the process. The letter also raises various logistical and legal issues that need to be settled in order for the Council to release the proviso on the $30m and get the process started. You can read the recommendation letter here. Kevin Schofield has written a detailed breakdown of the letter and points that need to be addressed.

Meanwhile, the Mayor’s Equitable Taskforce looks to be aiming to make its draft recommendations on investments for its $30m by mid-April. The minutes of its latest meeting are available to view online.

In state legislative news, EHB 1090 was voted out of the Senate this week and is being sent to the Governor for his signature. This bill bans private, for-profit prison companies that contract with local, state, and federal agencies such as ICE. One effect, should the bill be signed and survive legal challenges, would be that the ICE detention center in Tacoma would shut down in 2025 once its current contract expires.

State legislators are still grappling with how to address the Washington State Supreme Court ruling decriminalizing drug possession. There are several rival bills currently being considered, including HB 1558 and SB 5475, both introduced by Republicans, and SB 5476, introduced by a Democrat. HB 1558 and SB 5476 are both discussed further here, but there is clearly still work to be done to get the votes necessary to pass anything at all.

And that’s what I have for you today! As always, thanks for reading.


Mike McGinn has thoughts to share on the upcoming police contract, mayoral election, and reform roadblocks Read More »

Two Calls to Action and Two Possible Timelines for Upcoming SPOG Negotiations

Happy rainy Thursday! First up, a few opportunities for action.

In WA state: ESSB5226, which would end debt-based license suspension, has a hearing in the House on Monday. Because it needs an amendment to truly end debt-based license suspension, submitting written testimony or testifying live are highly recommended, but you can also sign in to note your support. Sample scripts for comments are available for your use here, but you’ll need to scroll down until you reach the ESSB5226 section on that page.

In Seattle: The Seattle Public Safety and Human Resources committee meets on Tuesday 3/23 at 9:30am to discuss whether they will cut $5.4m from the SPD’s 2021 budget. The Seattle City Council agreed unanimously to cut this money last December (via Resolution 31962) to effectively pay for the SPD’s overspending in 2020 using SPD’s 2021 budget. But now the CMs are wavering on this commitment.

Where would this $5.4m go? The CMs decided last year it would go to participatory budgeting. The reality is, participatory budgeting is expensive, and Seattle’s process could use the extra funds to pay the people serving on its steering committee and various workgroups. These are people who are often not paid a commiserate amount for their time and labor, instead being expected to work for free or a pittance. The goal is to pay them a reasonable fee for their work,while maintaining as much money as possible to allocate to different public safety projects.

You can contact your CMs to encourage them to stand firm on their commitment from last year to hold the SPD accountable for its spending. All the information you’ll need to email, call, or give public comment is available here.

In election news, we have two new mayoral candidates in Seattle.

Bruce Harrell served for many years on the Seattle City Council as well as serving as interim Mayor for less than a week back in 2017. He failed to call for then-Mayor Ed Murray to step down on serial child rape allegations and in fact defended him for months, unlike the majority of his colleagues in public service, which doesn’t exactly build confidence in his ability to lead an entire city.

Jessyn Farrell served in the WA state legislature for four years and previously ran for Mayor in 2017, coming in fourth place in the primary. She seems to have a similar stance on public safety to current Mayor Jenny Durkan and is positioning herself as a kind of outsider.

There have been conflicting reports of when the City of Seattle’s contract negotiations with SPOG are likely to begin. At the CPC meeting yesterday morning, the Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes said the next round of bargaining will probably start sometime next year after this year’s elections. He went on to say that sometime in early January we’re going to inaugurate a brand new mayor, and the city will be negotiating a new contract and just starting to set parameters for that new contract.

However, the Mayor’s office does not agree with this assessment. They say that once the LPRC has set the parameters of negotiations, the City will begin bargaining with SPOG, and that they expect this to occur “well before November.”

In practice, this means we have two different possible timelines the SPOG negotiations might take. Holmes’s assessment is based on historical precedent, but there is additional urgency this year that might add pressure to speed up the timeline of the negotiations.

Finally, Washington State is making national news for the progressive decisions coming out of its Supreme Court. This article explains the recent decisions wiping the state’s existing drug possession law off the books entirely and forbidding mandatory sentencing of life without parole to offenders under age 21, both of which have sweeping ramifications to the criminal justice system here in Washington State. It’s worth a read to greater understand how much influence the courts, and specifically judge appointments, wield in which laws are allowed and how they are enforced.

Thank you for reading, and I’m wishing you all a Happy (belated) St. Patrick’s Day and a Happy Nowruz!

Two Calls to Action and Two Possible Timelines for Upcoming SPOG Negotiations Read More »

A slow Monday but there’s still a bill for you to support.

I have a short update for you all today, starting with a state bill that could use your support. HB1310, the bill on de-escalation and police accountability, has its public hearing in the Senate tomorrow, March 16 at 10:30am.

If you’re interested in what happened at this morning’s Seattle Council Briefing, you can read my live tweets.

Nothing much was discussed in the Public Safety space. Here are some news tidbits:

  • The big news is that the federal American Recovery Act plan will offer $239m to Seattle in aid.
  • CM Morales will not be discussing the legislation to lift the proviso on the participatory budgeting funds ($30m) at her committee meeting this week after all.
  • The Public Safety and Human Resources committee meeting next Tuesday, March 23 at 9:30am is when the legislation to cut the $5.4m from the SPD’s budget to allocate instead to the PBP might come to a vote. We might well see some amendments on that legislation, or the CMs might decide to leave that money within the SPD, so again, this week is a good time to email or call your CMs to discuss this. You might also consider making public comment at the meeting next week.
  • The Bring Business Home legislation passed in Full Council this afternoon, which will ease zoning restrictions for small home-based businesses for the next year. The sole vote against was CM Pedersen.
  • State Senator Joe Nguyen is considering running against Dow Constantine for King County Executive. Senator Nguyen is generally favorable towards police reform so this could be an interesting development on the County level.

We’ll see if this slow start presages a slow week (my novel revisions certainly hope so!). In the meantime, I hope you all had a wonderful Pi Day yesterday; I know I’ll be eating pie for the foreseeable future, a happy state of affairs indeed.

A slow Monday but there’s still a bill for you to support. Read More »

SPD swings back at #DefendtheDefund; and more state bills to support!

We have a lot to cover today, so let’s dive right in, shall we?

First up, state legislature news.

HB1054, a Tactics Bill for Limiting Deadly Force, has a public hearing tomorrow, March 11th, and you can weigh in!

SB5051, the decertification bill to increase police accountability, also has a public hearing tomorrow.

  • You can sign in to register your support. (This takes less than a minute.)
  • You can submit written comments in support of the bill.
  • You can sign up to testify live at the hearing tomorrow.

    You can read my livetweets of this week’s Seattle Council Briefing. Of particular note, CM Herbold said the consent decree monitor and the DoJ have reviewed the less lethal weapon draft bill passed out of the Public Safety committee, and they have questions. She will meet with them sometime this week along with counsel and CP González.

    At this week’s Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting, the committee discussed HSD’s spending plan for awarding the $12m in community safety capacity building and voted to lift the proviso on these funds. This legislation will move forward to a full Council vote next Monday. The RFP applications are now available and are due April 9 by noon; the resulting contracts will be in effect from 7/1/21-12/31/22.

    The SPD also presented at this meeting, declaring they are in a staffing crisis and that the instability of the 2021 budget is causing general instability in the department. This is SPD’s attempt to retain the $5.4m the Council has been talking about cutting from this year’s SPD budget, an issue you might remember from the #DefundtheDefend hashtag.

    The SPD had a much increased rate of attrition in 2020. As Kevin Schofield points out, attrition “steadily rose from 2011 through 2019. 2011 was when the DOJ investigation into biased policing by SPD began, and the Consent Decree was signed in 2012.” The SPD would like to use the $5.4m to mitigate their high attrition rates through further investments in civilian hiring, technology upgrades and solutions, officer wellness, lateral hires, separation and family leave pay. If the money is cut from the budget, it would be added to the amount currently allocated to the participatory budgeting process.

    At present, the Council seems more sympathetic to the SPD’s case than they have often been in the past nine months. This legislation is likely to receive a committee vote at their next meeting on Tuesday, March 23 at 9:30am before moving to a full Council vote. If you would like to see this cut go through, now is the time to contact your CMs, and you can also make public comment at the March 23 meeting.

In election news, Nikkita Oliver has announced their candidacy for position 9 of the Seattle City Council (the seat being vacated by CP González). They are a community organizer, lawyer, and activist who came in third in Seattle’s 2017 mayoral race. They have been a key player in the movement to defund the SPD by 50%.

There has been some reporting on the Black Brilliance Research Project’s final report and presentation. It is both striking and illuminating what a different tone the article in The South Seattle Emerald (a Black-led publication) takes compared to other articles on the same topic. I am going to quote that article extensively, and I suggest both supporting The South Seattle Emerald and going to read the entire piece:

But despite the setback, BBRP moved forward to complete its critical work. Glaze and Severe said that misleading news reporting on the BBRP and subsequent City Councilmembers’ decisions to create additional requirements in response to that reporting slowed down the research progress.

“We had a couple of examples where there were a few reporters who have put out stories talking about the report that we put together and have said things like ‘it doesn’t contain details,’ or ‘it’s too vague or not detailed enough.’ Meanwhile, it’s like are you kidding me? We have produced something that is orders of magnitude more detailed than is typically required of literally any research consultant who has ever done research for the City,” said Glaze.

Glaze and Severe also said that they faced double standards which Black people and People of Color often face in professional settings. “As a Person of Color, as a Black person, I’m very used to what happens when people move the goalpost. They’ll say, ‘Alright, you just have to do this and you’re good.’ And so you not only do that, but you go a little bit farther above and beyond, so you’re definitely good, and then they’ll move the goalpost again,” said Glaze. Glaze and Severe say this repeated addition of new requirements caused a lot of frustration for the research team. “Honestly, the goalpost was moved no less than four times in the beginning,” said Severe.

Severe said that these added obstacles were also a result of the political context of the research project. “The project was very politicized from the beginning,” said Severe, “coming out of the uprising in defence of Black lives and a call for defunding the police, having folks in the streets.”

It sounds like CM Morales isn’t sure the participatory budgeting process will hit the projected timeline, but in an article at SCC Insight she said, “We might be pushing it to actually get money out the door in the fall, but I still have faith that we’ll be able to get money out the door before the end of the year.” The above article also lists details about the participatory budgeting process that still need to be decided. We should receive further updates on the participatory budgeting process at CM Morales’s next committee meeting on March 16.

In a last few tidbits of news, Mayor Durkan’s office has asked the state auditor to expand the scope of its audit of the contract between Seattle’s legislative department and the Freedom Project for their $3M research project. CP González mentions the Mayor’s office has itself engaged in no-bid contract processes, which makes her office’s letter smack of hypocrisy. CP González also had this to say:

González, who is running for mayor (Durkan will not seek reelection), called the letter a “distraction” from the issues Durkan could be addressing in the final months of her term. “I’m just confused about why the Durkan administration is spending time, energy, and resources on this letter… instead of on the real problems facing the city in the remainder of her term,” González said. “This audit was already happening, and it’s going to go through its natural course, and I don’t understand how this letter helps advance our city.”

Meanwhile, Seattle’s Director of Labor Relations, Jana Sangy, has announced she is leaving in June. Apparently the city doesn’t anticipate this affecting the timeline for the upcoming SPOG contract negotiations. However, this resignation could indicate problems:

But Peter Nguyen, who represented the Labor Relations unit during the last round of bargaining with SPOG in 2018, thinks that Sangy’s departure ahead of one of her unit’s most crucial performances is a sign of a struggling unit. “The resignation of the city’s Labor Relations Director is troubling,” said Nguyen. “There is not a very deep well of stability to fall back on during this transition to yet another interim director. It begs the question why this mayor has had such difficulty retaining solid talent in such a critical role.”

And with that, I’ll leave you to enjoy this lovely sunny Wednesday afternoon!

SPD swings back at #DefendtheDefund; and more state bills to support! Read More »

Seattle’s Participatory Budgeting Process Moving Forward

Lots of news to discuss at the end of a busy week!

First off, the Black Brilliance Project presented their final report at the City Council committee meeting this morning. You can view the slide deck here.

CM Morales made a point to emphasize the City of Seattle has been doing participatory budgeting since 2015, albeit on a smaller scale, and that as a result, they have systems already in place to deal with both online and off-line systems for voting etc. The two highest priority focuses to guide the participatory budgeting process were housing & physical space and mental health, and the need for a big push for digital equity was also discussed.

A steering committee will create the rules for the participatory budgeting process. This body will consist of 7 people who meet various criteria that strongly emphasizes lived experience (you can see details of these criteria in the slide deck). The process of choosing the committee will be as follows: first job descriptions will be created and shared, then from the pool of most qualified applicants several will be randomly selected to serve on a jury. This jury will then choose the actual members of the steering committee from the remaining pool of most qualified applicants. There will also be several workgroups working on the PB process.

A potential timeline for the participatory budgeting process has been released. As you can see below, they are hoping the community can vote on proposals this summer, with implementation of the proposals later this year. This is contrary to some commentators’ predictions that participatory budgeting wouldn’t be able to be completed this year.

As you may remember, the City Council has been deeply interested in crisis response systems such as CAHOOTS in Eugene and STAR in Denver. When asked about the potential for a similar system to be funded through the PBP, Shaun Glaze said that community had expressed more interest in many small investments in crisis response and wellness management as opposed to a larger program run by city workers. They mentioned people might still not trust a CAHOOTS-style program that is run by the City.

The next step for the City Council is to lift the proviso on the funds allocated for the PBP, which CM Morales said she’d like to try to do at her next committee meeting on March 16. Right now in the PBP, we are currently in the design phase, and the next step will be brainstorming ideas, which they are hoping to start in March.

In election news, Brianna Thomas is running for CP González’s vacated seat on the City Council. Mike McQuaid is running against CM Mosqueda for City Council, and it has recently been reported that he was charged with assault and harassment over a landscape dispute in 2015. This doesn’t seem to demonstrate the kind of cool head and anger management skills we might hope for in a city council member.

The CPC voted this week to approve a list of recommendations for Seattle’s upcoming contract negotiations with SPOG, in spite of community urging them to collect more community feedback during a community conversation earlier in February:

“The commission generally agreed on the transparency proposals, which included a recommendation to require the city to make public the membership of its negotiating team, its bargaining priorities, and any concessions it makes during negotiations. Commissioners also broadly supported a recommendation that negotiators try to remove the parts of the SPOG contract that allow the agreement to supersede city law; Officer Mark Mullens, the only SPD officer on the commission, was the only member to oppose that proposal.”

The CPC decided against recommending to completely civilianize the OPA’s staff, worried that the police department would then be more likely to hide things from that department. They also chose not to advocate for a section in the bargaining allowing SPD to lay off officers “in a safe and effective manner,” allowing for out-of-order layoffs, citing a concern that this could cause mismanagement.

The new Police Monitor for the City of Seattle’s consent decree, Antonio Oftelie, had an op-ed in the Seattle Times this week. In it he echoes Judge Robart’s warning from earlier this month, basically coming out against defunding the police department, although he is not against finding additional funding for community-driven alternative approaches:

Through the consent decree, the city made a set of binding promises about how SPD will promote public safety. Compliance with the decree requires that the city provide resources necessary to carry out those promises. Stripping away funding from SPD without meaningfully standing up the alternative community resources and social programs necessary to provide for community well-being risks undermining the progress that Seattle has made over the past eight years.

In state legislature news, the Pathways to Recovery Act, also known as the Treatment and Recovery Act, is officially dead. The bill could be picked back up in 2022, although given its status as a “bigger bill” it would be more difficult to pass it during the short session of 2022. Advocates are also considering turning it into a ballot measure in 2022. A similar ballot measure passed in Oregon in 2020.

In related news, yesterday the Washington Supreme Court struck down the state’s drug felony possession law because unlike similar laws in other states, the law didn’t require prosecutors to prove someone knowingly possessed drugs. This ruling could have wide-sweeping implications. The Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys have instructed their members to immediately drop any pending cases for simple drug possession and to obtain orders vacating the convictions of anyone serving time for simple drug possession. State legislators are likely to take up this matter before the end of the legislative session this spring, introducing new legislation, so we’ll see what happens there.

Finally, SB 5051, a bill about decertification of police officers, has passed the Senate and moved onto the House. You can read more details about it at the Seattle Times and at People Power Washington.

Thanks for sticking with me, and have a wonderful weekend!

Seattle’s Participatory Budgeting Process Moving Forward Read More »

An important Seattle Public Safety Committee meeting tomorrow

Lots of news to cover today!

First of all, we have this morning’s Seattle Council Briefing.

CM Herbold’s report this morning was rather bracing. She spoke about the agenda for tomorrow morning’s Public Safety and Human Services Committee meeting. Included will be the continuation of the discussion about the less lethal weapons draft bill that she’s hoping they can vote to send to the DoJ and Police Monitor to review, as well as a discussion about legislation to reduce the SPD’s 2021 budget by $5.2m to hold them accountable for that level of overspending in 2020. Both of these deserve more discussion.

Kevin at SC Insight does a good job summarizing where we are right now with the less lethal weapons draft bill. Tomorrow the committee will be discussing an amendment to weaken the ban on SPD using tear gas, so now would be a good time to email your CMs to support the complete tear gas ban and/or to testify during public comment tomorrow (2/9) at 9:30am (sign-ups at 7:30am). Amendments both strengthening and weakening the private right of action (the ability of individuals to sue and hold the SPD accountable for misuse of these weapons) will also be discussed.

The CMs agreed to reduce SPD’s 2021 budget by the amount of their overspending in 2020 late last year and seemed generally in agreement about taking this measure to hold the SPD accountable for a long pattern of overtime overspending. However, today CM Herbold signaled that she was waffling on this course of action, mentioning that the SPD has other funding needs; for example, the SPD needs funds to fulfill public disclosure requests, meet minimum requirements for evidence storage, and to hire civilians for CSOs (community service officers) and the CPC. So there might be a bit of a fight over whether this $5.2m should be left in the SPD’s budget after all to cover these expenses or whether it should be removed and potentially allocated into the pool of money for participatory budgeting. It doesn’t look like there’s a committee vote scheduled for tomorrow on this issue, as CM Herbold said representatives from the SPD will be attending a future meeting to discuss further.

CM Herbold also defended the Council’s actions last year after Judge Robart roundly criticized them during last week’s consent decree hearing. During the hearing the new Police Monitor submitted a new work plan for 2021, about which the Judge appears generally favorable. It will be considered for approval on February 19. In the meantime, Judge Robart said that in this time of flux (the pandemic, the upcoming election with the mayor and two Council seats up for grabs, SPD having an interim police chief, and the upcoming SPOG negotiations) it is going to be hard to continue making progress with police reform. He is particularly upset that the Council acted in various ways in the summer (vocally supporting a 50% defund, for example) that contravened the consent decree.

Meanwhile CM Lewis mentioned that STAR out of Denver, a low acuity response program similar to CAHOOTS in Eugene, just released a six month report and has been quite successful thus far. Out of 748 incidents responded to by the program, none ended up needing police involvement.

In election news, Council President González announced she will be running for Mayor this year, creating a wide-open race for her Council seat. So far the most well-known candidate for that Council seat is Sara Nelson, co-founder of Fremont Brewing. Her top issues involve the hospitality industry (big surprise), economic recovery, and restoring public trust in local government. Ouch. You can read more about her here:

Even though the Seattle council seats are officially non-partisan, most members indicate party leanings. On her official website, Nelson — a lifelong democrat — characterizes herself as a “moderate pragmatist,” and many of her positions seem to be to the right of several current city council members (she said she opposed the recent tax on big businesses, for instance, as well as cutting Seattle’s police budget by 50 percent).

The CPC appointed a permanent director last week, Brandy Grant, who had already been serving as interim director. She was the only one of the three candidates who didn’t have a background as a police officer.

The CPC is also hosting a community conversation on the Seattle Police Contracts this Thursday, February 11 at 4pm. The description of the event is as follows:

A chance for the community members to discuss what they want out of police contract negotiations and how we achieve complete police accountability. This event is hosted by the Community Police Commission. City leaders and staff involved in the negotiations will also be there to listen and speak on specific issues.

Finally, some excellent investigative reporting dropped at the South Seattle Emerald today, an article about SPD officials asking King County Jail officials to override COVID-19 restrictions and book protesters facing nonviolent misdemeanor charges.

Expect an update later this week on tomorrow’s Public Safety committee meeting, along with a possible update on the Pathways to Recovery Act decriminalizing drug use and addiction, which may have a hearing in the state legislature on Friday morning.

An important Seattle Public Safety Committee meeting tomorrow Read More »

What’s going on with the summer investments in public safety? HSD is dragging its feet.

Lots going on during this last week of January!

First up, there will be a hearing for HB1202, a bill about ending qualified immunity at the state level, tomorrow, January 26, at 10am. You can learn more about it here. If you need help with a script, you can respond to this email and I’ll send you what I have.

There will be a hearing for HB1310, a bill mandating de-escalation by police, on Friday, January 29 at 10am. There should be scripts added to this website before Friday.

We had a long Council Briefing this morning, with presentations by both the national and state-level lobbying teams, about which there are many details in the following Twitter thread.

Robin from the state lobbying team said there are now over twenty bills regarding police reform making their way through the Senate or House. There is a bill on independent investigations that has a hearing tomorrow, as well as a bill about community oversight boards that they are watching with a bit of concern as it might impact our current OPA/OIG/CPC system in Seattle. There is no news yet about SB5055 vs SB5134 (regarding arbitration etc) as to whether these two bills might be reconciled or have amendments added to them.

Tomorrow morning at 9:30am there is a packed Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting. Among other things, they will continue to discuss the bill about less lethal weapon use; hear presentations about some of the money allocated last summer for violence prevention programs and scaling up community organizations; hear updated numbers of SPD attrition for 2020; and go over the promised action of decreasing the SPD’s 2021 budget to compensate for the SPD going over their authorized budget in 2020. I will be attending and will try to write up a report about what is discussed at this meeting in the next few days.

In election news, Colleen Echohawk, executive director of the Chief Seattle Club, has announced her candidacy for Seattle Mayor. She also served on the CPC in the past. You can read a comprehensive interview with her at the South Seattle Emerald. About policing in Seattle, she says:

We need a Seattle Police Department that protects and cares for the people in our city. So, there are a few changes that I would want to make changes in right away. I know this is already happening, but there would be no more sweeps of homeless camps by police officers. Yes, we need outreach and support, and we can take care of the garbage, but the sweeps are not effective. I want to be effective in our work. We also need to move some of the jobs like traffic control and mental health crisis support out of SPD and into the community.

We have to realize it’s going to take time. We’re not going to be able to wave a wand and make all this happen.

She speaks at further length about policing during the interview, as well as issues such as homelessness, public transit, and COVID recovery. My sense from the interview is that while she isn’t an opponent of current reform efforts, she’s walking carefully and mostly following in Mayor Durkan’s and the Council’s lead. I imagine we’ll get a better sense of where she stands on this and related issues as the campaign progresses.

Finally, you can read Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County’s most recent newsletter, which addresses both the recent tragic action in Tacoma with a police officer driving through a crowd and the demand that any officers participating in the insurrection in Washington DC on January 6 be immediately fired (as far as I know, we’re now up to five SPD officers who were in DC at the time of the insurrection, although their actions there are still being investigated).

Best wishes to those of you participating in ACLU Lobby Week, and thank you for your advocacy. I’ll be checking back in sometime later in the week to fill you in on what happens at the Public Safety meeting tomorrow.

What’s going on with the summer investments in public safety? HSD is dragging its feet. Read More »

Lining up the pieces on the chess board of local and state politics

Happy 2021!

First up, the first Council Briefing of the year was this past Monday.

This week the Seattle City Council passed their legislation granting the OPA and OIG subpoena powers. It’s worth noting these subpoena powers have to be bargained with the police unions before they’d come into effect, making this legislation another move in the City of Seattle’s attempt to come to the bargaining table in a stronger position (similar to their move late last year allowing for more representation for the various oversight authorities and the Council at the closed bargaining meetings).

The SPOG contract has officially expired now that we’re in the New Year, and it sounds like the city is probably going to delay the bargaining until spring in the hopes that legislation might be passed in the upcoming state legislative session that will assist in bargaining efforts. Both sides are currently maneuvering to be in the best possible position.

CM Morales mentioned the Black Brilliance Project’s preliminary report was delivered to her office before the Winter Recess, and she’ll be passing it along to the other CMs sometime this week. She did not say when the report might be made public.

This morning CM Mosqueda announced that this year she’ll be running for her City Council seat and NOT running for Mayor. This leaves the field open for a potential run by CP González, and we can expect more candidacies to be announced in upcoming days. The filing window for mayoral candidates is in mid-May in preparation for the primaries in early August.

The Court is also expected to be discussing the CM Sawant recall case later this week.

Meanwhile, all eyes are turning towards Olympia, with the state legislative session scheduled to begin this Monday, January 11. Many bills pertaining to police reform are on the docket, and Publicola published a good overview about the upcoming session. As the session gets going, there will be opportunities to write/speak to your representatives and give public testimony (remotely) to support some of this important legislation.

Here is a chart of some of the important events happening in 2021. The SPOG contract negotiations is an estimate and could easily start later and/or take longer than five months, but this gives us an idea of what the year might look like.

I hope your 2021 has gotten off to a good start, and thank you for reading!

Lining up the pieces on the chess board of local and state politics Read More »

Never a dull moment in Seattle politics

We’ve had a busy couple of days in Seattle politics, so let’s catch up on recent events, shall we? I’m afraid this is a long one!

Mayor Durkan announced she won’t be running for a second term next year. There’s been speculation for months that she might be offered a position in the Biden administration so we’ll see if that comes to pass. After making a big deal about how she was paying her own legal defense fees against a recall unlike CM Sawant, she is now asking for the City to pay her fees, an early signal of this announcement.

What does this mean for Seattle? We’re in for an interesting election season!

At Council Briefing yesterday, the CMs talked about their committee meetings and what they’re discussing this month. In addition to today’s Public Safety and HSD meeting (more about that in a minute), there was an education and governance committee meeting this afternoon to discuss new grassroots lobbying regulations. The interim director of HSD, Director Johnson, is stepping down, as is Randy Engstrom from the Office of Arts and Culture.

There is also a special meeting of the Housing and Finance Committee tomorrow at 1pm. Among other things (including new COVID relief for restaurants and restaurant workers), they’ll be speaking about additional SPD overtime expenses in 2020, and it has the potential to get a bit heated.

The Council also adopted the City of Seattle’s state legislative agenda for 2021.

Remember the lawsuit brought against the City by Black Lives Matter Seattle King County and the ACLU? Well, the judge is holding the city of Seattle in contempt for violating his crowd control injunction. He found four clear instances of the SPD violating this injunction between late August and September; three of these instances involved blast balls. He said he was also troubled by how many instances were inconclusive. The plaintiffs have until Friday to submit their proposal for sanctions and the City will have a week to respond. The City could also choose to appeal the ruling.

There was a Public Safety and HSD committee meeting this morning, with three items on the agenda: the semi-annual accountability report from the OPA, OIG, and CPC; discussion on legislation to give the OPA and OIG subpoena powers; and discussion about the possibility of creating a basic needs defense for misdemeanors. During public comment, 10 people spoke against this basic needs defense and 8 people spoke in favor of it; there were also a few comments on the police accountability system being broken.

I’ll limit my comments here about the OPA and OIG subpoena powers to saying that even were this legislation to pass, it would still need to be bargained with the police unions, so it would take awhile to be implemented. It is, however, a positive change in terms of increased accountability. There has been some speculation that city government is using this legislation to assume a tougher stance for the upcoming contract negotiations with SPOG.

The misdemeanor basic needs defense is receiving a lot of negative attention, which is somewhat baffling as it probably wouldn’t change much in terms of how things are currently being done. The current City Attorney already has a policy of not prosecuting necessity cases as a matter of principle. There is also a lot of misinformation about this proposal being spread.

This proposal does NOT decriminalize misdemeanors. What it does is create an affirmative defense to misdemeanors committed in order to fulfill basic needs (other examples of affirmative defenses are the common law defense of necessity and the “under duress” defense). An affirmative defense requires the defendant to admit to the crime and then present extenuating circumstances, in this case, circumstances of poverty, allowing the judge and jury to hear the defendants’ stories and factor them into their decisions.

A lot of the discussion today was highly technical in nature, reviewing various possibilities of what this legislation could look like. The King County’s Director of Public Defense and a representative from the City Attorney’s Office were both present to answer questions and present their departments’ views on various aspects of this issue. Both departments are generally in favor of this potential legislation but differ in the details of how they believe it should be written. More details can be found in my tweets above if you’re interested in the nitty gritty. This proposal will continue to be discussed in January.

There will be a special Public Safety and HSD committee meeting on Thursday, December 17 at 9:30am. Discussion of the basic needs defense will NOT be on the agenda, although CM Herbold didn’t say what would be discussed.

Kevin Schofield reported on the Black Brilliance Project last week and is concerned about some red flags he found. Because I think local journalism exists to provide scrutiny, I don’t object to this deep dive nor think it differs substantially from the deep dives Kevin routinely does. What he glosses over is that this research project is emphatically not business as usual for the City and seeks to do research in a different way, centering different populations, and by populations that are typically not paid to do this kind of work. As such, it is not surprising that this effort would not look the same as other past research projects, nor is it surprising that rules might be bent in the process. Kevin says:

But taking this kind of approach to surfacing embedded wisdom is high-risk: for the Council as it cuts corners and bends the rules; for KCEN as it pushes the edges of creativity at the expense of rigor; for BIPOC communities as they place their hopes on this effort to deliver solutions for them; and for the city as a whole: if the intent is to downsize SPD across the whole city, then the alternatives stood up in its place will also need to be city-wide.

I do agree this is a high-risk project, and I will go further and say it always has been. There has always been an enormous amount of pressure on this attempt to divest from policing and re-invest in community alternatives to public safety, working against significant resistance. Whatever the details of the Black Brilliance project, the risk was going to be there. That being said, KCEN’s preliminary research report will be delivered on December 21, so in less than two weeks we’ll have a much better idea of the details behind the project.

If anything interesting transpires at tomorrow’s special Finance meeting, I’ll be sending a (hopefully brief) update to keep you in the loop.

I hope you’re staying warm and dry on this rainy December evening!

Never a dull moment in Seattle politics Read More »