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The Homelessness-Jail Cycle

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The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has released their fourth and final SER report on the 2020 protests in Seattle. One of the report’s most noteworthy recommendations is that SPD apologize to protestors for its response. SPD provided KUOW with a statement saying Chief Diaz did apologize for the 2020 protests in June of 2021: I’m sure all the protestors who were harmed in 2020 feel much better now.

The SER report was produced by a panel that was chosen “with the assistance of the Planning Group.” When weighing the report, it’s important to take note that of the 12 members of the panel, 5 are employed by SPD and 3 are employed by city accountability bodies (OIG, CPC, and the Monitor). Thus only 4 participants were community members.

Earlier this week Mayor Harrell announced his new plan to activate downtown, which is marked by more enforcement of the distribution and sale of drugs, although detail is lacking in how this would differ from previous failed attempts at hot spot policing and criminalizing drug users, some of whom turn to low level dealing in order to support their habits. One of Health One’s three vans will also be used to respond to overdose calls, although no more money is being made available to Health One for this purpose, bringing up the question of whether they’ll have to turn down more calls due to lack of capacity. The Mayor also supports the idea of contingency management treatment, which would provide people with gift cards for participating in treatment. However, the new plan does not involve providing safe consumption sites, even though way back in 2017 King County found that such sites improve outcomes.

Missing from the plan is any further provision of housing or services for downtown’s large houseless population. This lack, combined with a tougher enforcement policy, could lead to an exacerbation of the homelessness-jail cycle. As Chloe Cockburn recently noted, several research studies have found “strong connections between homelessness and the criminal legal system, with causation going both ways. Unhoused people are extremely vulnerable to criminalization, and having a criminal record can make it very difficult to find housing.”

Following up on the case where SPD Officer Dave struck and killed Seattle student Jaahnavi Kandula in January, Erica C. Barnett has confirmed the caller to whom Dave was responding had used cocaine, not opiates. SPD has said officers need to be present when the fire department responds to opiate overdose calls to provide backup (a claim that lacks general consensus), but since this call was related to heroin, this policy would not have applied in this case.

WA State Legislature:

The state legislature passed HB 1324 preventing convictions under age 18 from being automatically counted in adult court. “According to Department of Corrections data collected by the ACLU, significant racial disparities exist in the current system of mandatory sentence enhancements using juvenile judgments. More than 40% of currently incarcerated Indigenous people have a juvenile felony on their record, as do 39% of Black people currently incarcerated. People of color are facing longer sentences because they were involved in the juvenile system as children.”

Unfortunately the Senate and House bills differ in terms of retroactivity, and the two chambers will need to come to an agreement on this issue. 

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Seattle City Council’s 2021 Draft Budget

Today CM Mosqueda presented the City Council’s 2021 draft budget. No big surprises here, but let’s dig right in. You can take a look at the presentation slide deck yourself, and you can read the live tweet threads here and here.

Proponents of the Solidarity Budget and large-scale change and divestment in SPD might be disappointed by this proposal, which falls far short of requests to defund from SPD by 50%, maintain the SPD hiring freeze, and make large-scale investments into community. In her opening remarks on public safety in Seattle, CM Mosqueda suggested she thinks the City is on the right path but has not yet reached a turning point. She emphasized this was the first year the Council had not increased SPD’s budget, and referenced the roadblocks they have faced. Her goal appears to be to introduce measured steps towards divestment in police and reinvestment in community resources and organizations, giving those organizations time to scale up and build capacity.

The main danger with this approach is perhaps the possibility that the political will to make this large-scale change in how the City approaches public safety will diminish as time passes. Indeed, we already saw CM Pedersen today distancing himself from the quite modest cuts to SPD represented in this proposed budget in spite of lots of assurances in past weeks that he stands against systemic racism. CM Juarez, on the other hand, was much more supportive of this plan than she was of the summer plan. At its best, this plan could cause further divestment from SPD to be more successful, with community organizations being better prepared to step in and serve their communities after 2021’s round of investments.

Interestingly, in a press release yesterday the Mayor signaled tentative approval of this new budget proposal. In spite of her $100m BIPOC communities investment being significantly shrunk (more on that in a moment), she has to be pleased that the Council is not attempting to downsize the police force any further than they committed to this past summer. It seems possible the Mayor might not feel the need to veto this budget. Opponents will say this means the budget didn’t go far enough, but on the bright side, this increases the likelihood that investments this budget makes will actually be spent.

Public Safety/Community Investments

  • The Mayor’s $100m investment into BIPOC communities, otherwise known as the Equitable Communities Initiative, will be shrunk to $30m, with a proviso: “The Council intends that these funds should be allocated towards investments that reflect alignment between the Task Force’s recommendations and recommendations from the Participatory Budgeting process.”
  • $30m will be restored to the Strategic Investment Fund
  • $18m will be allocated to the participatory budget process, in addition to $12m for this process obtained through SPD cuts, for a total of $30m
  • the $10m promised in the summer’s rebalancing will be allocated to community-led public safety investments
  • $1.08m will be restored for the Office of Civil Rights to provide funding for community organizations providing alternatives to or alleviating harm caused by the criminal justice system

SPD Changes/Alternatives to Policing

  • oh so many reports! The Council is asking for all the reports they asked for in the summer, as well as reports on SPD overtime use, monthly reports on police staffing, a traffic stops report, a report on using PEOs for special events, and a report on 911 response times.
  • Creation of the new Community Safety and Communications Center
  • a Statement of Legislative Intent about the new 911 Call Center
  • annualizing various SPD budget cuts from travel, training, and discretionary purchases from the summer
  • abrogating 93 vacant police officer positions
  • moving mental health providers to HSD and hiring eleven additional
  • cut $6.1m from SPD for vacancy savings and $3.7m from SPD for overtime savings; also proviso $5m for potential salary savings
  • Proviso for out-of-order layoffs for 35 officers (this is a carry-over from summer)
  • Health One expansion
  • a consulting nurse and crisis counselor for SFD’s dispatch
  • $550k for a DEEL restorative justice pilot program and a few other small expenditures

Other Budget Points of Note

The Council’s proposal refills the City emergency funds to almost $40m, which is in contrast to the Mayor’s proposal, which drained them, leaving them practically empty. It also continues work towards figuring out a replacement for the Navigation Team. I believe the cuts to the SPD still amount to around 17%, most of which is achieved through moving units outside the force.

Next Steps

After the CMs turn in their Form Cs by Thursday evening, the Council will discuss amendments on November 18 and 19, and vote on the final budget on Monday, November 23. There will be public comment at the beginning of each of these meetings.

Seattle City Council’s 2021 Draft Budget Read More »

SPD and Community Safety Issue Identification

We have a lot to cover this time! This week the City Council’s budget meetings consisted of presentations from Central Staff including issue identification, along with statements from CMs about their Form As. Form As are a preliminary way for CMs to mark their interest in and support of various topics during the budget process. Form Bs, due tomorrow, are the next step in this process, each requiring sponsorship by at least 3 CMs.


SPD Issue Identification and Form As

You can also reference the meeting’s slide deck and related memo.

First, a reminder of where we are. 81% of SPD’s budget goes to personnel and overtime. The Mayor’s proposed 2021 budget changes the following: 1. 1,497 sworn positions reduced/ abrogated to 1,450 sworn positions, only 1400 of which are actually funded, along with associated salary reductions; 2. parking enforcement, 911 call center, and office of emergency management transferred out of SPD, along with some back office support monies; 3. a new OPA inspector supervisor position is funded; and 4. funding for more automated traffic enforcement.

SPD Identified Issues:

Staffing: The Mayor’s plan tries to maintain the status quo on staffing issues, with staffing returning to 2019 levels by the end of 2022. If instead the hiring freeze were to be maintained through the end of 2021, that would result in 1213 fully trained sworn officers in 2022, compared to 1329 in the Mayor’s proposal, which is a significant difference. The Council’s options include: 1. maintaining the hiring freeze and shrinking the force in this manner; 2. reduce SPD budget to capture the savings from unfilled positions/attrition; 3. reduce SPD budget to reflect a target of shrinking the force that involves retirement incentives and buyouts; 4. proviso the SPD budget to reflect layoffs in 2021, potentially specifying out-of-order layoffs.

There was also discussion about Chief Diaz’s redeployment of more officers into patrol, how to decide the proper size of the police force, and how all response times to 911 calls aren’t equal (in that calls vary, most are not criminal, and not all require a fast response). They also discussed Chief Diaz’s intention to continue to prioritize patrol over specialty units should the number of officers continue to decrease, which would potentially mean no change to 911 call response times but less detective and investigative work.

Overtime reductions: The Mayor’s proposal has a small overtime reduction of $2.7m because of fewer special events due to COVID and the elimination of emphasis patrols. The Council needs to decide whether to decrease the overtime budget further and whether to reinstate emphasis patrols.

Consistency with the 2020 revised budget: The Council needs to decide whether to annualize changes in staffing, command staff pay cuts, and travel and professional services budget cuts to carry forward into 2021.

The last two issues are trying to consolidate different dispatch services for economy of scale and fixing some small issues related to moving the Office of Emergency Management outside SPD.

SPD Form As:

The CMs submitted 19 Form As related to the SPD, although one is actually about the fire department. CM Pedersen submitted four asking for various reports. CM Morales submitted one to reduce staffing and use participatory budgeting to invest the savings in BIPOC communities. CM Sawant submitted one to straight out defund the SPD by 50%, as well as one to transfer the CSO program to the Department of Neighborhoods and one that will place more rules around moving encampments in order to reduce harm.

CP Gonzalez is interested in making sure the OIG doesn’t need more resources given all the units moving out of SPD, ensuring officers receive training on how to appropriately engage with sex workers, capturing the spending of any unfilled SPD staffing, and transferring SPD’s Performance, Analytics, and Research unit, at least partially, to the OIG. CM Herbold submitted several Form As: to rename the Seattle Emergency Communications Center and add parking enforcement officers to it; to get monthly reports on SPD overtime spending (she also expressed interest in reducing the budget for OT spending); a similar funds capturing from unfilled positions as CP Gonzalez; potentially transferring some functions of Harbor Patrol to the SFD, although it sounded like there were complications here; and annualizing the changes made in the 2020 revised budget.


Community Safety & Violence Prevention Issue Identification and Form As:

Twitter avatar for @amysundberg

Amy Sundberg @amysundberg
Good morning, everyone! It’s almost time for the Seattle City Council budget meeting on community safety and violence prevention issue identification!

You can also reference the meeting’s slide deck and related memo.

This presentation looked at public safety programs that take place before or in place of law enforcement involvement, as well as harm reduction strategies within law enforcement, primarily crisis intervention teams comprised of a mental health professional and an officer. We also briefly went over the complicated structure the Mayor is proposing to reimagine public safety, which involves a work group, a task force, and three IDTs. There’s also a small amount of money that has an unclear purpose and might be available for other expenditures.

Identified Issues:

The City’s Community Safety and Violence Prevention Response: Basically the Council needs to decide how much to invest in each different type of response. Their options include community services that decrease opportunities for law enforcement (CSOs, call-in nurses, crime prevention programs) ; non-law enforcement government response instead of law enforcement response (Health One and similar); and law enforcement response that is paired with crisis response (crisis response units).

Health One expansion: The Mayor’s proposed budget expands this program to add a second team. The Council needs to decide whether to proviso this money until dispatch is adjusted, set it aside and wait for community input, or go ahead with this.

Lack of RSJI Lens and Duplicating Community Efforts: This is the biggest issue before Council in this area. Basically it is not clear that the Mayor’s plan has gone through a racial equity analysis. The worry is that since this analysis has not been done (or at least not been made public), it might (possibly unknowingly) further perpetuate racism in the city. This also covers the concerns about the lack of consistency around money allocated for purposes that disproportionately benefit BIPOC groups now being taken away to be given back in a different form to BIPOC groups.

Suggestions to deal with this issue include putting a proviso on some of these funds (probably on the $100m at the very least) until a racial equity analysis is done and made public; do not allocate these funds at all and instead spend them elsewhere; restore $1.08m to the Office of Civil Rights for criminal legal system alternatives (the issue here is the money in 2020 isn’t being sent out until December, so theoretically that money won’t be spent until 2021, meaning they can resume this funding in 2022 without an actual funding gap); and restore the $30m of the Strategic Investment Fund that we talked about last week that was supposed to go to equitable development and affordable housing from the sale of the Mercer Mega Block.

Another issue discussed is the conflict of interest of having the Office of Civil Rights not being independent. Their purpose is to speak truth to power, and yet their jobs are under the purview of the Executive, so that’s a problem.

Community Safety Form As:

Both CM Mosqueda and CM Lewis are potentially interested in expanding Health One beyond the Mayor’s planned expansion. CM Lewis is also interested in adding funding for a reentry program for the Native community, for a case manager for Native women facing domestic violence and sexual assault, and to SFD 911 dispatch for a consulting nurse. CM Juarez is interested in adding funding for Aurora Commons, which provides commercial sexual exploitation services. CM Herbold is interested in a report about needed funding for LEAD and in legislation that would help decriminalize poverty. CM Sawant is interested in getting draft legislation from legal about forming an elected Community Oversight Board that would have full powers over police accountability.


What does this all mean?

We’ll know more when we see the Form Bs, but we’re seeing a lot of friction play out between the Mayor’s vision and the Council’s vision. In terms of public safety, the Mayor is advocating for a mostly status quo budget while all her planning groups do stuff over the next year or two (some of which seems duplicative), and at the same time she’s moving money around in interesting ways. The Council has been taking a more hands-on approach since the summer and have their own ideas of how to proceed.

Certain CMs are not going to want to fund the Mayor’s promised $100m investment into BIPOC communities with its appointed task force, disregard for participatory budgeting, and her $30m Strategic Investment fund cut that allocated funds for similar purposes (not to mention the concern of where these funds will come from in future years, when JumpStart tax revenues have already been allocated to investments in things like affordable housing). There is a real concern about the lack of a racial equity analysis and an inconsistency of approach here. The Mayor hasn’t presented a plan that inspires a lot of confidence, and we’re seeing a lot of political maneuvering as a result.

CMs might try to capture some savings from the SPD budget to give to BIPOC communities instead, probably through a participatory budgeting process, and possibly less than $100m in order to retain the $30m in the strategic investment fund (and maybe also to fund the $13m gap in the balanced budget because of investments to community organizations for public safety that were supposed to be made this year).

Of course, enacting their own plan could cause more animosity between the Mayor’s office and the Council. Will it spill over and up-end their recent new deal regarding how to replace the Navigation Team, negotiated by CM Lewis? It’s hard to say how strong a commitment the Mayor has to this new plan.

One interesting point to reiterate is that with Chief Diaz’s priority of patrol staffing, a gradual shrinkage of the SPD wouldn’t necessarily impact 911 call response times all that much. Instead it would impact specialty units. This is noteworthy because so much of the public discourse on the subject of downsizing the police department has been focused on call response times.


Next week there is another evening public hearing on the budget on Tuesday, October 27 starting at 5:30pm, with signups beginning at 3:30pm. If you’d like to tell the Council your thoughts about the 2021 budget, this is a great time to share them! The rest of the week will entail budget meetings presenting CM budget actions and statements of legislative intent.

SPD and Community Safety Issue Identification Read More »