The Seattle City Council passed the 2023-2024 municipal budget last week in a bitter 6-3 vote. CM Sawant cast her usual protest vote against a budget she characterized as an austerity budget, while CMs Pedersen and Nelson voted against the budget because…they were upset 80 unfillable positions were eliminated from SPD. They were also concerned that the Council will be continuing to practice basic fiscal oversight over a police department that ran completely amuck as recently as two years ago, as well as having a track record of habitually overspending their overtime budget. Quelle horreur.
Before we get any further, a correction. Both my reading of Seattle’s City Charter and consultation with others had, back in 2020, led me to the conclusion that the budget needed a ¾ vote to pass, which if rounding up, meant 7 out of 9 council members needed to approve it. However, since the budget passed with 6 votes last week, this understanding was clearly incorrect. Unless more comes to light about this matter, we can expect future budgets to require only 6 votes to pass.
Let’s talk some more about those 80 abrogated positions, shall we? The Seattle Times editorial board weighed in last week, saying:
Against this backdrop, council members Lisa Herbold, Dan Strauss, Tammy Morales, Debora Juarez, Kshama Sawant and Teresa Mosquedaflouted the mayor’s request andvoted to eliminate 80 unfilled SPD positions. Mayor Bruce Harrell wanted these positions to support his effort to rebuild the department to 1,450 officers.
This ignores the fact that these abrogated positions are unfilled and will remain unfilled for several years. Those positions will remain unfilled regardless as to how the Seattle City Council feels about it because of simple mathematics; SPD literally cannot hire and train enough new officers to expand the department quickly, especially given the number of separations every year. 160 unfilled and still funded positions remain in SPD even after this abrogation, and CM Herbold estimates it will take EIGHT YEARS to fill 120 of these positions. That means that even if Council members wish to aggressively grow the police department, no additional positions will be necessary until 2030. Furthermore, additional positions are added to city departments all the time; this is standard practice, and the idea that Seattle council members will be unable to do this in 2030 (or whenever the need might arise) if they are in agreement as to the proper size of the department is absurd.
It is also worth noting the overall SPD budget will grow by around $15m in 2023 after shrinking for the last two years (2021 and 2022). The Council’s changes to SPD’s budget from the one proposed by Mayor Harrell at the end of September amount to a less than 1% decrease. Fiscal realities due to lower-than-expected city revenue meant there simply weren’t a lot of additional resources to devote to any part of the budget, including to a police department that is only expecting to gain a net of 15 police officers in 2023 in spite of funding hiring bonuses and an expensive media campaign. Unfortunately, this also negatively impacted investment in alternative public safety programs that are often both more effective in making people feel safe and more cost effective than hiring more police.
This was CM Nelson’s first budgetary vote, but why did CM Pedersen choose this year to put his foot down budgetarily speaking, given the above? Certainly the budget included much more controversial choices back in 2020, when he chose to vote in favor of it. One cannot help wondering if next year’s elections have something to do with this change in approach.
Other Seattle News
Seattle has released its legislative agenda for the next state legislative session, which begins in January. The following items related to public safety and the criminal legal system made the city’s agenda, among others:
ending qualified immunity for police officers
allowing police chiefs to lay off officers on the Brady list
removing issues of “disciplinary action, appeals of discipline, subpoena authority, and any state reforms related to law enforcement” from collective bargaining
supporting independent prosecutions of deadly use of force
supporting more training for cops
supporting “increasing the flexibility for local jurisdictions to allow civilian personnel to respond to 911 calls and low-level criminal calls, as in the CAHOOTS program”
eliminating or significantly reducing the role of local law enforcement officials in immigration law enforcement
supporting various gun laws, such as limiting or banning assault weapons and having a ten-day waiting period for purchasing a firearm
supporting criminal legal system reform, including “decreasing mass incarceration and supervision, decreasing racial disproportionality, making the system more equitable, and ending the death penalty” (note no specific mention of solitary confinement)
funding for behavioral health care and substance abuse disorder treatment as well as permanent supportive housing
While all of this is very interesting, mostly in seeing what made the cut and what didn’t, it’s worth noting the city’s legislative agenda as it pertained to public safety last year was barely addressed. That being said, the climate is considerably more friendly towards getting things done this year.
Meanwhile, both Will Casey at The Stranger and Doug Trumm at The Urbanisthave called out the difficulties of progressive voter turnout in Seattle in odd years. Unfortunately, changing our local elections to even years would require a change in state law, but it is a popular idea, as is evinced by the success of the measure in King County in last month’s elections to move some elections to even years. Otherwise, Will Casey talked to political consultant Michael Ferkakis, who suggests, “If progressives want to have a shot at winning, they have to really focus on turning out low-turnout voters and having policies that are progressive but can’t be construed as radical to scare consistent voters.” Not the most inspiring strategy for progressives who want to get things done. Ferkakis particularly called out District 1 as a difficult district for a progressive.
Further documentation reveals that the City plans to spend — or, at the time of this writing, has already spent — $50,000 on Seyfarth Shaw to “fact-find” for the OIG, despite the fact that the OIG is not looking at the formal allegations as articulated in Lippek’s original complaint. In other words, the City is apparently spending thousands of public dollars to fund a fact-finding mission based on a flawed investigatory premise.
Five cities in our region–Kirkland, Bothell, Kenmore, Shoreline, and Lake Forest Park–have agreed to band together to offer a regional crisis response that merges Kirkland’s program with the RADAR Navigator program. It will begin operation at the end of Q1 2023. Kirkland CM Black said about the program, “We are committed to reducing reliance on law enforcement as the primary responders to our community members experiencing behavioral health crisis and finding other ways to connect them to care and resources.”
As we near the end of 2022, it seems like a good idea to check in with the Mapping Police Violence resource to see how the US has been doing this year. US police have killed 1,074 people so far this year. There have been 13 days this year during which the police succeeded in not killing someone. Black people have been three times more likely to be killed by police than white people during the last decade, even though they are 1.3 times more likely to be unarmed. Only 1 in 3 killings over the last 6 years began with an alleged violent crime. 35 people were killed by police so far this year in Washington State.
NEW: Lawsuit seeks to stop disqualification of WA ballots for signature mismatches, arguing practice is arbitrary, error-prone & disproportionately disenfranchises young voters, voters of color #waelexhttps://t.co/R5E81NALZ1 via @seattletimes
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Police in San Francisco will have the ability to deploy potentially lethal, remote-controlled robots in emergency situations after supervisors of the politically Democratic city granted permission Tuesday in a board vote. City Supervisor Rafael Mandelman said SFPD will have access to seven robots “designed to neutralize dispose of bombs, and provide […]
After a marathon budget meeting yesterday lasting almost twelve hours, we have a much better idea of the final shape the 2023 Seattle budget will take. The Council will vote on the final budget in budget committee on Monday, November 28 and take the final vote in Full Council on Tuesday, November 29. However, barring a dramatic event and/or last minute shenanigans, most changes to the budget during the next week will be technical in nature.
So where are we with the budget in terms of public safety?
the PEOs will be moved back into SPD (more about this later, as it is the subject of much opining); CMs Herbold, Juarez, Lewis, Nelson, Pedersen, and Strauss voted yes, CMs Sawant and Morales abstained, and CM Mosqueda voted no.
in the same budget move that achieved the PEO move, a few SPD balancing package cuts were restored: $750k for a recruitment media campaign and $191k for an assistant city attorney position within SPD
the following SPD cuts remain: $450k from police equipment (guns, tasers, etc); $450k from additional retention initiatives; $1m for a gun detection system like ShotSpotter
80 “ghost cop” positions were abrogated; CMs Herbold, Juarez, Morales, Sawant, Strauss, and Mosqueda voted in favor; CMs Lewis, Nelson, and Pedersen opposed. While CM Mosqueda argued for the measure as expected (since she included it in her balancing package), CM Herbold and CP Juarez both also argued strongly in favor of this proposal. Central Staff found there were even more ghost cop positions than previously known; the total number was 240. With the abrogations, the new number of ghost cop positions will be 160.
SPD salary savings will continue to be under a proviso to allow Council to be part of the conversation about how these dollars will be spent; all CMs but Nelson and Pedersen voted in favor.
Seattle will be spending some unexpected SPD salary savings to fund a seaplane awareness campaign, among other priorities.
Sweeps will continue to be funded.
Human Service workers will be paid commiserate with inflation.
$50k was added to develop an Impacted Person’s Program for victims of SPD violence and their families; this work will be done by forming an OPA workgroup.
Other items of interest:
CM Morales’s amendment to create a Municipal Housing Administration Program (one that could interface well with I-135 should it pass in February) failed to pass. CMs Lewis, Morales, and Sawant voted in favor, CMs Herbold, Juarez, Mosqueda, Nelson, Strauss opposed, and CM Pedersen abstained.
CM Sawant’s amendment to increase the JumpStart tax also failed, which was not a surprise, but it did garner support from two additional CMs: CM Morales and CM Mosqueda.
The law will not be changed this year making the JumpStart tax a permanent fill-in for General Fund woes at the expense of its intended spend plan.
Seattle Public Schools look like they’ll be getting around $1.5m for mental health services, which is better than nothing but far below students’ $9m ask. Let’s hope this fight for much-needed funding is taken to the state during the next legislative session in January.
What about the PEOs?
As Erica Barnett reported in Publicola, the PEOs’ ULP (Unfair Labor Practice) against the City was rejected. This suit was one reason given for wanting to move the PEOs back into SPD; however, CMs couldn’t resist the lure of several million more dollars to invest in pet projects if they went ahead with the move. The failure of this suit is still relevant, however, since the PEOs argued they needed access to the Criminal Justice Investigation System (CJIS), a database they can only currently access if part of SPD. However, the Public Employee Relations Commission (PERC) said access to this database is not necessary for the PEOs to do their jobs, clearing the way for them to be located in CSCC or another department in the future, an idea favored by several CMs.
If you want a rundown of the history of the PEO controversy, look no further than Will Casey’s article on this in The Stranger. If it seems like a strange issue to be fighting over, you are not alone in this assessment. And it is true that in their year over at SDOT, the PEOs weren’t supported in making any kind of meaningful culture shift away from a policing, punitive mindset. They were even still housed in an SPD building, and their uniforms and vehicles retained SPD labels.
However, this doesn’t mean the location of the PEOs doesn’t matter. They certainly won’t succeed in shifting their culture from within SPD, and they are part of a bigger policy question: do civilian workers belong within a non-civilian department like SPD or are they better housed in civilian departments? In 2020 the Council came down clearly on the side of the latter, when they also moved the 911 dispatchers and victim advocates out of SPD.
Another policy question looms large over Seattle: will our elected leaders ever choose to make meaningful investments in addressing root causes of crime and suffering, or will they continue to primarily invest in a strategy with a thus far poor track record: police and sweeps? Only time will tell, but looking at allocated dollars remains a powerful way to understand a city’s priorities.
As most of you already know, Twitter is not the most stable service right now. This newsletter is currently running through a Twitter-attached service. I am weighing options on the best solution to meet Notes from the Emerald City‘s needs in the future, but rest assured, I will be continuing to report, and I will keep you informed about any changes that might be coming.
I am also on vacation next week, so there will be no newsletter. Yes, this was planned before budget season was extended for an extra week. I’ll do a wrap-up of budget season upon my return, from which we will all benefit from the wisdom of everyone else’s wrap-ups!
Budget Chair Mosqueda released her budget balancing package yesterday morning, after delaying its unveiling a week to wrestle with lower than expected revenues.
Looking at the public safety portion of the budget, it lays out the following:
80 “ghost cop” positions to be abrogated
the PEOs to remain in SDOT with increased supports until a study about their final destination can be run
many small cuts in SPD: to the retention program (although the main program passed earlier this year remains intact); to the recruitment media plan; to police equipment; elimination of the gunfire detection system (ShotSpotter); and elimination of an assistant city attorney position that was to be housed within SPD, for cuts totaling around $2.84m. These cuts were all originally funded by empty positions SPD can’t hope to fill anytime soon.
$4m additional to LEAD, which is less than CM Herbold asked for
$300k for a gun violence prevention pilot run at Haborview through the Regional Peacekeepers Collective, which is half of what CM Herbold asked for
$50k to develop an Affected Person’s program for those impacted by SPD violence
$1m to expand mental health services in schools, in answer to Seattle Student Union’s demands for $9m to improve the ratio between counselors and high school students
the dual dispatch emergency response pilot doesn’t get any additional funding until 2024, and the expansion of CSO duties isn’t funded
In addition, transportation projects took a big hit, unsurprising given the much lower forecast of the REET funds. Sweeps remain well funded. Given the poor revenue forecast, CM Mosqueda opted to use JumpStart funds to avoid an austerity budget for the next two years but chose not to permanently change JumpStart to become a General Fund slush fund in perpetuity as Mayor Harrell had wanted. She seems to be pinning her hopes on the task force looking for new progressive revenue for the city. You can read another overview of the balancing package here.
At the meeting on Monday, one could already observe the “tough on crime” part of the Council wringing their hands, and CMs Nelson and Pedersen quickly published an op-ed in The Seattle Times, complaining specifically about the public safety portions of the balancing package. The piece seems to claim that somehow Seattle’s homeless problem will be addressed by…keeping those 80 perpetually open SPD positions? moving the PEOs back into SPD? undoing the less than $3m in proposed cuts to SPD in the balancing package? It is an incoherent argument at best, given that meaningfully addressing the homeless crisis will cost hundreds of millions of dollars spent on HOUSING and supportive services, not SPD.
Given the hysteria over what amount to fairly small changes from the Mayor’s proposed budget, perhaps it is time to revisit WHY 7 out of 9 Councilmembers agreed in 2020 that as a general policy position, the idea of shrinking SPD might have some merit:
In response to the mostly peaceful George Floyd protests, SPD indiscriminately used less-lethal weapons such as tear gas, pepper spray, blast balls, and flash bangs, as well as using their bicycles as weapons and punching and kneeling on the necks of people who had been arrested. They did so night after night, at protest after protest. The OPA were contacted over 19,000 times between May 30 and the end of 2020 with complaints about police behavior at protests.
The City of Seattle also withdrew the motion “to terminate most of the Consent Decree” on June 3. 2920 because of community outcry and SPD’s egregious use of force, a consent decree which has now been in place in Seattle for over TEN years.
The protests were marked by both a lack of communication from SPD and the Mayor’s Office (for example, pertaining to the evacuation of the East Precinct, for which no one would take responsibility) and flat-out lying, for example in the case of the Proud Boys ruse executed by SPD and the SPD press conference on June 10, 2020
The public later discovered text messages from the period in question had been illegally deleted from the Chief of Police’s phone, the Mayor’s phone, the Fire Chief’s phone, and several other SPD command staff members’ phones. Former Chief Best later admitted she had gone in and manually deleted some of her texts
A strong coalition of protesters came together to demand cuts to SPD and investments to address the root causes of violence, meet community members’ basic needs, and begin to address the systemic racism that has been at play in our city since its founding
And yet here we are, a little over two years later, arguing over less than $3m, the civilian PEO unit staying in a civilian division, and 80 SPD abrogations that SPD has no way of filling for years to come. Meanwhile, the much small 911 dispatcher unit is undergoing 26 abrogations in the same budget, a move that hasn’t caused an outcry even though the “tough on crime” proponents make frequent complaints about increased 911 call response times. This is because abrogation of positions that cannot be filled is simply good fiscal practice.
The last public hearing on the budget was held tonight beginning at 5pm. You can still email council members with your thoughts on the balancing package; here are a fewscripts. The next round of amendments, which need to be self-balancing, will probably be released towards the end of this week. You will have the opportunity to make public comment on these amendments on Monday, November 21 starting at 9:30am (signups beginning at 7:30am), after which the amendments will be voted upon.
The budget committee will vote on the entire budget on Monday, November 28, and the full council will make their final vote on Tuesday, November 29.
Carolyn Bick reported today that the OPA may have broken city and state public records laws by deleting emails they were legally required to keep. Given the “missing” text messages of 2020, it is perhaps no surprise that other city departments will now follow that precedent, secure in the knowledge that we don’t currently have a city culture of transparency or accountability and that they won’t suffer any consequences for improper actions.
UW graduate student Matthew Mitnick announced his run today for the Seattle D4 council member seat currently held by CM Pedersen.
The King County Council voted on the 2023-2024 biennial budget today, which passed unanimously.
Here’s your roundup of criminal justice and civil liberties stories: Arizona tries to hide its execution methods and protocols from the press. The state has an execution scheduled for tomorrow. More on the career public defender who was just elected DA in Hennepin County, Minnesota (Minneapolis).
During a multi-hour meeting yesterday that was at turns deeply dull and gut-churningly suspenseful, Seattle council members discussed amendments to the balancing package for Seattle’s 2022 budget.
The Council voted to fund the expansion of the CSOs within SPD, although with slightly less money due to expectations that it will take time to hire more CSOs. There were also three amendments on the table to restore different levels of SPD funding that were in the Mayor’s proposed budget but reduced by the balancing package. Both of CM Pedersen’s amendments in this vein were handily defeated. CM Lewis wished to add back $2.7m in order to use SPD’s estimates of hiring and attrition rather than Central Staff’s. While it is rather neat that Central Staff’s estimates for attrition and hiring equal out, it seems everyone is agreement these estimates tend to be off-base in any case. It also seems likely SPD’s estimate for hiring is on the high side and that their attrition estimate is on the low side (it doesn’t seem to take into account the probable increased attrition due to officers who choose not to get vaccinated for COVID-19, for example). Lewis’s amendment as it stood was narrowly defeated, but it’s possible he’ll walk on a new amendment on Monday that includes a proviso on these funds, which may gain him the extra needed vote.
A source of surprising controversy was CP González’s amendment that would have abrogated unfilled 101 positions from SPD. In what Kevin Schofield characterized as “an inflammatory press release,” Chief Diaz accused the Council of voting to eliminate 101 officers, which is simply not accurate. The amendment would have removed 101 of the 134 open and unfillable officer positions currently in SPD. This doesn’t affect in any way the 125 positions for which SPD is planning to aggressively hire in 2022. In fact, given their hiring pipeline, SPD will be unable to fill any of those funded yet unfilled positions until 2024 at the very earliest. And if they were suddenly able to hire more than anticipated, there would have been 33 funded and unfilled positions maintained, just in case.
Instead, CMs Herbold, Juarez, Lewis, Pedersen and Strauss chose to vote against this amendment. CM Herbold specifically called out her concern that this amendment would send the message that the right number of officers in SPD is 1256. She said this in spite of the fact that the SPD can’t possibly hire enough for that number to be higher within the next few years. Further, there is no general consensus as to what the right number of officers actually is or will be in the future, especially if dragging alternate response programs finally get resourced, stood up, or scaled up. It seems reasonable to expect the number of police officers in any given department will need to be revisited on a regular basis regardless. It’s also worth noting that no other city department is allowed to maintain such a large number of funded but unfillable positions from year to year in the budget.
For a council eager to prove—contrary to Diaz’s claims—that it is not at war with the police department, the optics of González’s amendment seemed too daunting. Instead, the council opted to rubber-stamp SPD’s budgetary sleight-of-hand, ostensibly as a peace offering to the department. SPD will enter 2022 with a larger budget and more positions than it can likely fill. The vote represents a dramatic reversal for a council that, one year ago, expressed its interest in redistributing a portion of police department’s budget to build a more diversified public safety network. The decision also underscored that SPD now has the upper hand in the messaging battle.
You have one more chance to make your voice heard about Seattle budget matters. The Council will have their last budget committee meeting on Monday morning after the usual Council Briefing, and they plan to vote on the final budget balancing package at Monday afternoon’s meeting at 2pm. There will be public comment at the afternoon meeting, and as always, you can also call and/or email your CMs to give them budget feedback.
Well, the cat is out of the bag. @Crosscut Opinion shuts down at the end of this month. Among other things, that means no more writing from yours truly. Needless to say, I have some opinions about this! Hope to share soon. https://t.co/7WojwGTyrZ
The local media landscape has been rocked by the announcement that Crosscut will no longer be running its opinion section, one of the few alternatives to the Seattle Times in the region. Doug Trumm wrote an in-depth analysis of the current state of local media coverage that is worth your time.
This is doubtless not the last time you will see concern over local media, which has been struggling across the country for decades. We know that media plays a crucial role in democracy, both in helping the electorate remain informed on current affairs and in acting as a check to hold government officials and bodies accountable. In a marketplace in which only one large print publication has survived and in which there are no progressive local TV outlets, it is perhaps even easier to see the impact of local media on the framing and content of the civic conversation.
The last week of Seattle’s budget talks is going to be a busy one! First, the Solidarity Budget is holding a rally outside City Hall tomorrow (Tuesday) from 6-8pm, which is an excellent time to make your support known. Happily, it even looks like the rain is going to hold off.
On Wednesday, the Council will publish a list of the proposed amendments to the 2022 budget. On Thursday morning, the last public hearing on the budget will be from 9:30-11am (signups beginning at 8am), followed by a budget meeting discussing the proposed amendments. If the Council can’t get through all the proposals on Thursday, they will also meet on Friday.
Then on Monday, the budget committee will convene in the morning directly after the Council Briefing to vote on budget-related legislation. Finally, they will make a final vote on the 2022 budget and all related legislation Monday afternoon at 2pm. There will be one last chance for public comment at that meeting (11/22 at 2pm). And of course, you can always email and call your CMs as well!
We have heard about two potential amendments that may be discussed on Thursday. CM Sawant announced an amendment to raise the JumpStart tax to fund more investments in affordable housing and the Green New Deal. Thus far, her colleagues have been reluctant to increase this tax so it is uncertain whether she’ll have enough co-sponsors to bring the amendment to a vote.
Meanwhile, CP González has signaled she’s working on an amendment that will abrogate the extra SPD officer positions that the department is unable to fill this year. This is actually more important than it may sound on the surface. SPD has a huge number of funded but vacant positions, which results in a much larger amount of salary savings for them every year than is realized by the average city department. Having these unfilled but funded positions as the base for each year’s budget means the SPD starts out with much more money for staffing than they can possibly spend. In practice, what this means is if the Council retrieves this money (that isn’t actually going to be used for officer salaries) to use for other priorities (like community alternates to public safety or affordable housing), then this is characterized as a “cut” to the SPD budget and becomes immediately controversial. Having the SPD budget start closer to the actual salary spending needed will alter the conversation and make it more transparent when SPD is adding funds for expenses other than officer salaries.
Unsurprisingly, much of the conversation about the budget this year is about SPD. The Solidarity Budget is calling for further cuts to the SPD budget, while Mayor Durkan and Mayor-elect Harrell are calling for the SPD budget to be what Mayor Durkan originally proposed. There is even vigorous debate over what exactly constitutes a cut. For an excellent summary for the issues around SPD’s budget so far, check out this article from the South Seattle Emerald:
Based on a preliminary internal quality control investigation conducted in July 2021, it appears that Office of Inspector General (OIG) auditor Anthony Finnell failed to thoroughly review more than 30 protest case findings issued by the Office of Police Accountability (OPA), before issuing either full certifications or approving cases as “Expedited” — cases in which the OPA determines that findings can be issued mainly on intake investigations.
The article continues by laying out many examples that show Finnell’s pattern of not thoroughly reviewing OPA case findings and simply rubber stamping them as approved.
In light of the OIG whistleblower and the problems revealed in the OPA’s report on the Labor Day SPOG HQ protest, this is further evidence that the current accountability system is not working as designed. The lack of an established process for investigations of serious allegations related to the accountability system is alarming, as is the apparent lack of recourse for residents of Seattle who are concerned about the continued accountability issues we’ve been seeing. While it is frustrating that public officials don’t appear interested in addressing these concerns, it makes it all the more important to continue to both monitor and raise awareness about what is happening.